STEM Education for Innovation
Education initiative in Latin America
Unlike any other crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need for digital teaching and learning materials in school lessons. In response to this challenge, we have joined our Latin American project partners in creating the STEM Education for Innovation initiative (Spanish: Educación STEM para la Innovación). With financial support from the nonprofit Siemens Caring Hands e. V., in less than a year we will set the wheels in motion for innovative education formats, including virtual seminars for teachers, digital STEM lessons, interactive climate change maps, and videos and podcasts about health and hygiene – for now, during the pandemic, and for education for sustainable development in the future.
If the pandemic forces teachers to stay home and conduct lessons outside the classroom through a computer, tablet, or smartphone, what are the best ways for them to effectively teach? Together with various partner institutions and Ministries of Education from Latin America, Siemens Stiftung is exploring answers to this question: from December 2020 to December 2021, we are working with local experts on the digital education initiative STEM Education for Innovation in seven Latin American countries.
Innovative STEM education for digital lessons
In less than a year, we’ve joined local partners in Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, and Ecuador on adapting analog teaching materials and methods for digital implementation in STEM lessons on subjects such as science, technology, sustainability, climate change, health, and digitalization.
This results in:
400 openly-licensed (OER – Open Educational Resources) digital and analog teaching materials for the entire education chain (teachers, students of all age groups)
- five teachers certificated learning programs
- regional workshops for improving instruction on STEM subjects, climate change, health, and sustainability
- a cooperative network for teachers, universities, and education institutions
The crisis as an opportunity, sustainable education as a goal
The online seminars will eventually reach up to 20,000 teachers, which impacts 450,000 students in seven Latin American countries. At the conclusion of the pilot phase in December 2021, the project partners will continue working to implement the new materials in national curricula and in teacher certification and advanced training programs at universities in Latin America. The materials will also be available, digital and free of charge, in the Siemens Stiftung Latin American education portal (CREA – Centro de Recursos Educativos Abiertos). This expands the reach of these platforms to potentially millions of teachers and students.
The initiative includes 14 projects in seven countries: six projects in Chile, three in Colombia and one each in Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil. The cooperation structures and learning materials are designed to accommodate additional partners from Latin American countries in the future. Already now, the project executing agencies are working with partner institutions from different countries, thus promoting interregional cooperation from the beginning of the project.
The Centro de Investigación Didáctica de las Ciencias y Educación STEM (CIDSTEM) at Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV) created this project which initially sees science teachers in seven Latin American countries complete a systematic questionnaire about their experiences in teaching during the pandemic. The resulting best practices are disseminated in pedagogical networks. The second step sees these practices integrated into the development of teaching materials. An educational team from the participating regions, coordinated by the CIDSTEM of the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, works with existing, analogue Experimento materials and blended learning seminar formats in the subjects of environment, health, and energy. These materials were originally created for German teachers but will be extended with regional content, adapted for digital lessons taking place under pandemic conditions and adjusted to fit local contexts. When the materials are finished, they are made available free of charge in the CREA database and promoted in the Siemens Stiftung Red STEM Latinoamérica network.
The project from Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV) makes use of MICA, an interactive map about climate change. It was developed from a multidisciplinary team at the PUCV. MICA consists of printable folding maps accompanied by a smartphone app with texts, videos, audio files, images, 3D objects, and links to regional information about climate change. These materials can be used in both a classroom setting and remote learning situations. Children and adolescents are taught to observe and document facts and learn through active participation about the impacts of climate change on specific regions. As part of the education initiative, existing MICA prototypes will be expanded to five territories and four countries. Seventy learning kits with six climate maps and 24 lesson sequences each will be created, and six apps – one for each of the six participating regions – will also be available in the usual app stores.
KEICA (Kit Escolar de Investigación Científico Ambiental) is a scientific, technological, and educational program to promote, in school education and society, the inquiry into socio-environmental problems in local territories, as well as encourage participation in environmental measurement and monitoring processes. It uses STEM methodology that enhances project-based learning and the curricular link, with a close relationship with the local environment. For the STEM Education for Innovation Initiative, KEICA SpA proposes developing an Open Digital Platform to learn about common socio-environmental problems in Latin America, exercise with official environmental data, and develop skills in scientific communication. In turn, the participating schools will be part of the KEICA Network and Program, composed in its original version of proposals from Experiences and Scientific Research, a set of low-cost sensors, and a Virtual Classroom to support teachers. A total of twelve schools from Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico will participate in the pilot project. The Open Digital Platform (KEICA WEB) arises from the collaboration between KEICA SpA and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV).
The Centro de Investigación de Estudios Avanzados de Educación at the Universidad de Chile (CIAE) works with other education institutions on developing and adapting digital materials about climate change for blended learning lessons at schools and educational authorities. The new content draws upon various existing materials, including the last two International Conferences for Education on Climate Change and Sustainable Development, which were organized by Universidad de Chile, CR2, Siemens Stiftung, OCE and UNESCO. In addition to the free lesson materials, a digital Blended Learning course for teachers is being developed.
This is a project by Campus Villarrica of Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile. It is a collaboration with teachers for developing digital materials and teaching formats for all grade levels on education for sustainable development (ESD). The materials include podcasts with interviews about innovative ideas for digital lessons during the pandemic; how-to videos on creating affordable instruments for measuring environmental data such as water quality, energy models, and air pollution; videos with insights from science and education experts about socio-ecological challenges in a variety of ecosystems; and audio capsules that explain to teachers and students how they can use innovative research techniques. This project is coordinated by the CIDS (Complejo Interdisciplinario para el Desarrollo Sostenible) of the PUC Campus Villarrica.
This project from the Faculty of Education at Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile seeks to build a network of Latin American deans of the education faculties at renowned Latin American universities. The network’s objectives include an increased emphasis on digital STEM education in teacher certification and advanced training. In addition, the project aims to create space for discussion and collaboration during the pandemic and beyond on innovative teaching methods, general research on education and teacher certification, and relevant regional and national policy issues.
In this project from Universidad de Antioquia, computational thinking will be implemented in the curricula of each school form over the next few years. Students will analyze a computer’s logic and apply this process to solving specific problems. Colombia’s Universidad de Antioquia is developing digital teaching materials and workshops to help teachers create and implement Computational Thinking lesson models. These include Open Educational Resources for students, such as the Experimento I 10+ teaching aids. Findings from the project’s pilot phase are to be published in a research publication so they can be systematized and disseminated.
This project is a collaboration of the medical and educational faculties at Universidad de la Sabana. Prosalud is a comprehensive health strategy: the project seeks to create a greater impact on community health by using learners as multipliers to spread the health lessons learned in school to their families. In addition to nutrition, the lessons include physical activity, rest, environmental consciousness, and socio-political awareness and participation. The project from Colombia’s Universidad de la Sabana creates digital media (videos, podcasts) and didactic handouts (workshops, manuals) for teachers and their students. The materials are designed to facilitate the use of the Prosalud principle for exploring and retaining issues relating to health and society, such as nutrition, water, the pandemic, etc. To ensure this knowledge makes its way to the rest of the family, additional workshops and guides for parents are also being developed. This is done in collaboration with regional education and health authorities, ensuring that the project has long-term viability and can be replicated in other regions.
In a collaboration between Pontificia Universidad Bolivariana and PUC Valparaíso (Chile), this project aims to improve STEM lessons in five Latin American countries by creating a program for advanced STEM training for teachers. Teachers learn about the relevance of innovative teaching methods and how they can teach STEM lessons collaboratively and digitally. It also links Pontificia Universidad Bolivariana in Medellín with other university instructor networks on the continent, including PUC Valparaíso in Chile. The project provides information and communication technology for establishing regional teacher networks for STEM teaching and education for sustainable development (ESD).
This project from Universidad San Francisco de Quito links the insights and methods of education for sustainable development (ESD) with indigenous knowledge from Ecuador’s native peoples. Based on a similar project in Colombia, new media and STEM learning formats (videos, didactic instructions, interactive elements) that emphasize biodiversity and indigenous culture are to be added to the Ecuadorian curricula. The newly-developed materials are for students aged 8 to 15. The university coordinates a Columbian multidisciplinary expert teams on the project’s development and implementation in Colombia and Chile.
This project is led by Fundación Siemens Argentina. Siemens Solid Edge is a software for creating and manufacturing products. It includes tools for 3D design, simulations, production, data processing, and more. A free version of Solid Edge is already being used in 70 countries by more than one million learners. In this project from Fundación Siemens Argentina, an open-source online course will be developed for teachers and their students to become familiar with the Siemens Solid Edge software. The project is designed to strengthen technical education at secondary schools in Argentina, with a particular emphasis on digital competencies. Fundación Siemens Argentina is working with Siemens Mexico on this project.
This project is led by the INNOVEC initiative, a nonprofit that supports quality science education in public schools. A series of online seminars is designed to show teachers how they can conduct digital or blended learning lessons using analog and digital materials. The project introduces them to CREA (Centro Recursos Educativos Abiertos – Open Educational Resources Center) and the Siemens Stiftung Media Portal; each platform includes teaching materials that have been adapted to the curricula of each country. Workshop modules for use across Latin America are in development and will be made available, starting in Mexico.
The Faculty of Education of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú is coordinating the development and implementation of a certified advanced training course for teachers based on online autodidactic modules. This consists of five courses with a total of 120 hours of training that are designed to promote STEM competencies (digital competencies, critical thinking, ethical and responsible actions) in its teaching methods. One of the Peruvian Education Ministry’s main priorities is to turn a group of teachers into multipliers and establish train-the-trainer expertise in certain regions of the country.
Representatives of the Associação do Laboratório de Sistemas Integráveis Tecnológico (LSI-TEC), an association affiliated with the University of São Paulo, the Ministry of Education of the State of São Paulo and the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry have established a local education network called STEAM Territory São Paulo. The network’s objective is to facilitate exchange, collaboration, and improvement when it comes to classroom lessons in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). The collaboration is meant to permanently strengthen STEAM education in the state of São Paulo. By connecting to previously established education networks in Latin America, the new network also promotes development in the region. Beyond expanding the network, three additional education projects are in the works as part of STEAM Territory São Paulo: a year-round advanced training course for teachers at the innovation center for primary school education, creating and distributing an online course of STEAM education, and sharing best practice teaching materials.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned teaching and learning on its head all over the globe. Teachers had to learn – essentially overnight – how to maintain contact with their students online. This transition had its share of technical hurdles to overcome, but it was also a challenge to implement familiar learning methods in a new online environment. Since December 2020, the Latin America-wide STEM Education for Innovation initiative, with the financial support of the nonprofit Siemens Caring Hands e.V., has introduced a number of projects and innovative teaching and learning materials that are now seeing heavy use in kindergarten and school classrooms. In our #STEMeducation4innovation interview series, five teachers share stories of how the pandemic changed their working lives – and how digital education can succeed.
Creativity sparks curiosity – even online
María Marcela Vargas Fernández teaches 32 preschool children aged five to six at the Escuela República de Brasil in Santiago, Chile. “It’s ‘full Zoom’ for us this year,” she reports. “Unfortunately, my school did not purchase a license, so we are working with the free Zoom version. This means our lessons are at most 40 minutes long. While this may seem like a very long attention span for five- to six-year-olds, we were surprised to discover that as the months went by, more and more children started to log on. The screen is a hive of activity, the classes are incredibly interactive.”
Even small teams stick together: creating cohesion through collaboration
Emma Janelle UC Artigas coordinates certification and continuing education for teachers at the state secretary of primary school education within the education ministry of Veracruz, Mexico. “Teachers’ initial reactions were varied,” she says in an interview. “Most thought the pandemic would be over quickly. When they realized it would take a while, they became worried and nervous. Many became depressed.”
Welcome to Antarctica: with school closed, the world is a classroom
Recently, Jessica Espinoza Fuentes said: “Kids, today we’re going to learn about water and its different forms. We’ve been invited to the Chilean Antarctic Territory by the head of the base there. It’s really cold, much colder than it is in the morning in Sebastián when the ‘vaguada’ – thick coastal fog – winds its way through the streets. Everybody needs to dress warm. Don’t forget your hat, scarf, and your winter jacket.” One by one, I held these items in front of the screen and saw the children do the same.
The joy of seeing children grow and succeed
Irene del Carmen Santos Cruz teaches in a suburb of Xalapa City, the capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz. Her students come from families without a steady income. “When the coronavirus hit last year, I conducted a survey and found out that only two of my students had a computer. The rest had to use a mobile phone to participate in the lessons, and in many cases, they had to share that device with other members of their family.”
No internet, no cell reception: Teaching in a mobile classroom
Selene Esparza teaches migrant children in Mexico. Often, they have no access to a classroom, let alone internet or mobile phone reception. “The circumstances of these children and adolescents are representative of about half of all students in Latin America. Digital learning is not an option for them,” she says. “On my first day, I was handed the key to the premises. I opened the railway car and then sat down to take it all in. I thought to myself: So, this is it. I am sitting way out here among the tomatoes, beans, and chilis. Computers and the internet won’t work here.”
The initiative is financially supported by the Siemens Caring Hands relief fund, that was set up at the initiative of Siemens AG. The amount donated by Siemens employees was matched by Siemens AG and is now used for specific, charitable COVID-19 relief projects worldwide. The German Federal Foreign Office supports the Latin American education initiative as part of its engagement for culture and education in the region.