Engaging Students in STEM through technology: Verizon Innovative Learning HQ Digital Resource for Educators

A Discouraging Reality

Earlier this year, Google, in partnership with Gallup, released a report about the gender gap in computer science. According to their findings, 88% of girls are not likely to pursue a career in computer science, reporting, “I feel judged” and “it’s a boy’s career.” Despite their best intentions, parents, too, have reservations about their girls entering the technology workforce, believing, “it’s a man’s job.”

And it’s not only gender. Opportunity gaps exist based on race and ethnicity, where students who are white on average earn more high school credits in STEM than their Black and Hispanic peers, as the U.S. Department of Education noted in 2016. Opportunity gaps also exist for the nation’s 6.5 million rural students who are a “wealth of relatively untapped potential for STEM degrees and careers,” as stated in the National Youth-At-Risk Journal in 2018. These gaps create self-fulfilling prophecies where students do not pursue STEM degrees and careers because “these subjects are too hard”. Primarily, people cite “cost and time barriers,” “having difficulty with STEM classes,” and losing interest in STEM as reasons for not pursuing these in-demand careers per Pew Research in 2018.

Not surprisingly, employers are desperately trying to recruit individuals with STEM skills. In a survey of IT professionals, 45% of respondents agreed that “it’s difficult to attract candidates with the skills we need to our industry” and 35% agree that they “would hire more people if there were more qualified candidates” (Global Knowledge). We are facing a potential for significant worker shortages if more students don’t pursue these fields.

A Call To Action

We have a collective responsibility to help address economic disparities and unequal access to opportunities as a result of the digital divide.

Seeing a need to inspire educators in how they engage students in 21st century STEM skills, the Youth Entrepreneurship team at the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute at Arizona State University partnered with Verizon to develop engaging content for Verizon Innovative Learning HQ, a free next-generation K-12 online learning portal to support new hybrid learning models. It’s a key part of Citizen Verizon, the company’s responsible business plan to help move the world forward for all.

Image of a middle school aged girl holding a tablet in a classroom

Photo courtesy of Verizon

The site provides free access to the latest in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) education materials, standards-aligned lesson plans and credentialed professional development to build educator confidence in integrating technology.

Free, Open-Access STEM Lesson Plans

Imagine having the chance to time travel to Ancient Greece to learn about their architecture, currency and jewelry, and then building your own replicas. Imagine creating your own superhero who can fight a real-world sustainability problem. Now that the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab      curriculum is available to the general public, all of this is possible for students, and more! Learn more about each of the four courses that the Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Youth Entrepreneurship team wrote below, which comprise a total of 146 lessons that middle school educators can use in their classrooms tomorrow:

  1. Digital Product Innovations: This is a time travel-themed course that creatively empowers students to become changemakers in a digital economy. Students will practice prototyping, graphic design, 3D modeling and 3D printing through four hands-on units and sustainability-themed projects. This course is remote-learning accessible!
  1. Immersive Media: This is a space travel-themed course that creatively empowers students to become creators in the field of augmented and virtual reality. Students will practice digital storytelling, interactive experience creation, augmented reality design and virtual reality design through four hands-on units (each unit takes place on a different planet!) and sustainability-themed projects. This course is remote-learning accessible!
  1. Smart Solutions: This is a superhero-themed course that empowers students to become creators in the field of “smart” technology. Students will practice storytelling, creating electrical circuits and devices, design thinking, game design and coding through four hands-on units and sustainability-themed projects.
  1. Artificial Intelligence and Robotics: This is an environmental ocean voyage-themed course that follows a group of researchers and scientists aboard the research vessel, New Horizon, on the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition mission as chronicled in the book Plastic, Ahoy!, by Patricia Newman. Students will travel along with the scientists to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch while learning how Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Design Thinking can be applied to real-world sustainability challenges.

A Hopeful Future

Verizon Innovative Learning HQ is one way we are engaging in mission-driven work to continue cultivating an inclusive and diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem. How can we continue to bridge the gender gap in STEM? How can we encourage more diverse voices in emerging technology fields? We look forward to continued collaborations with educational stakeholders to address these questions and more to develop solutions that bring 21st-century learning and career readiness experiences to all students.

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