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D Sheehan & L Sweeney

MIT: a Partner for STEM Education - March 2010

MIT: A Partner for STEM Education

March 2010 


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is consistently recognized as one of the top universities worldwide for the quality and rigor of its education of engineers and scientists. The Institute is also well known for its rich history of educational research supporting improved science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

This document outlines a portfolio of initiatives that exemplify the Institute’s commitment and engagement in supporting STEM education in K-12. This portfolio reflects a diversity of resources  -- educational content, pedagogical expertise, teacher training experience, educational information technology, and research experience that are directed to address different aspects of enriching STEM education. Leading these initiatives is a set of faculty educators and educational technologists who care deeply about STEM education.

Examples of Current MIT STEM Outreach Activity

MIT’s STEM related outreach and research activities are spread across various departments, laboratories and centers. In addition MIT’s Office of Educational Innovation and Technology (OEIT),  in the office of Dean of Undergraduate Education, is charged with helping to support, promote and find models to sustain innovative educational programs at MIT and beyond. Many of these activities can provide candidate strategies for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Opening up Quality Educational Content- MIT is committed to developing and openly publishing media rich educational materials that reflect MIT’s commitment to academic quality. MIT’s leadership through OpenCourseWare (OCW), in making high quality materials from all of its course offerings available freely to the world, was a first step in helping launch the worldwide Open Educational Resources (OER) revolution. Specific MIT programs promoting open educational resources for K-12 include:

OCW Highlights for High School: Highlights for High School features MIT OCW materials that are most useful for high school students and teachers. The goal of Highlights for High School is to make it easy for teachers to find resources that can help to inspire students. MIT has selected a range of materials to help show science demonstrations by MIT faculty in the classroom, to provide alternate explanations that reinforce key concepts, to guide students to additional homework problems and exam examples and to enhance teacher knowledge. Teachers can use this site to help their students understand concepts by watching video demonstrations, study for advanced placement exams, and sample the kind of work they’ll be doing in college. (

BLOSSOMS: Led by Prof. Richard Larson, BLOSSOMS is a large, free repository of video modules for high school math and science classes created by gifted volunteer teachers from around the world. Seeded initially by MIT faculty, BLOSSOMS is partnering with educators in Jordan and Pakistan to add additional modules. The BLOSSOMS video modules are not intended to replace an existing curriculum but rather to enhance the teaching of certain lessons by the lively video presence of a gifted “guest lecturer.” Each video is designed for viewing in brief segments, allowing the in-class teacher between segments to engage the class in an active, goal-oriented exercise. The end goal of the BLOSSOMS project is to attract a larger fraction of students—young men and women—to math and sciences, leading to excellent careers in the increasingly dominating “knowledge economy” of the world. (

Experiential Learning,  the MIT Way -  While initiatives like OCW are designed to provide MIT course materials for use elsewhere, MIT also strives to provide experiential learning opportunities that reflect MIT’s philosophy of “Mens et Manus” (Mind and Hand), the excitement of discovery and solving big problems in tangible ways. A number of MIT’s K-12 projects and programs aim to help students and teachers alike experience these aspects of education and research at MIT.  The Edgerton Center ( ) has a notable history of student outreach programs in this area. Other activities include:

STAR: The Software Tools for Academics and Research Program (STAR) lead by OEIT seeks to bridge the divide between scientific research and the classroom. Understanding and applying research methods in the classroom setting can be challenging due to time constraints and the need for advanced equipment and facilities. The multidisciplinary STAR team collaborates with faculty from MIT and other educational institutions to design software exploring core scientific research concepts. The goal of STAR is to develop innovative and intuitive teaching tools for classroom use. STAR educational tools are freely available. To complement its educational software, the STAR website contains curriculum components/modules that can facilitate the use of STAR educational tools in a variety of educational settings. A number of Massachusetts state STEM teachers have already begun using STAR tools to supplement their curriculum. (

Learning Labs at the MIT Museum:The MIT Museum is poised to play an important part in addressing the challenges of enhancing STEM education in Massachusetts. The Museum is in process of a major educational development in pursuit of its mission: “Making research and innovation accessible to all”. The Museum serves more than 100,000 visitors annually at its headquarters facilities on the MIT campus, together with tens of thousands more through the annual Cambridge Science Festival. Key target audiences for the Museum’s work are middle- and high-school students (grades 6-12) and their teachers, and the adult public. The proposed Learning Labs at the Museum would create a facility that will more than double the Museum’s capacity for educational and general visitor programs year-round. The Learning Labs at the MIT Museum will comprise a suite of dedicated program spaces and support facilities capable of delivering a wide range of educational programs—lectures, debates, workshops, Lab Link events, etc.—to school students (grades 6-12) and their teachers.

Learning Lab: The Cell:This pilot Learning Lab has been developed jointly by The MIT Museum and the MIT Center for Environmental Health under the leadership of  Dr. Kathy Vandiver.  Learning Lab: The Cell delivers hands-on workshops to middle and high school students using a combination of specially designed (by Dr Vandiver) Lego DNA molecular models and computer simulations developed by OEIT’s STAR program to teach the fundamentals of molecular genetics, DNA transcription, translation, and protein structure. This facility is frequently used for teacher professional development workshops.  The Boston Public School Science Department Head highly values our curriculum and would like to have these materials in every Boston Public High School along with the teacher professional development.  We propose to partner with public and private agencies such Concord Consortium, FableVision and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Worcester in building on and greatly extending this pilot facility as well as creating basic learning resource packs for other sites (e.g., molecular biology labs at other universities, museums and science centers) (

Science and Engineering Program for Teachers: Each summer, MIT selects approximately sixty teachers to share MIT's perspective on how engineers apply the principles of science to meet the technological needs of society. The value of this integrated perspective, combining the leading-edge research in math and the sciences with engineering, advanced technologies, global economics, and policy issues has been enthusiastically endorsed by MIT.  The year 2009 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Science and Engineering Program for Teachers (SEPT) and its alumni network, the Network of Educators in Science and Technology (NEST). (

Edgerton LEGOTM Atoms and Molecules Curriculum: While visiting the MIT Edgerton Center outreach programs, public school students and teachers eagerly participate in “LEGO chemistry,” just one of the Center’s many hands-on offerings for kindergarten through 12th grade. Led by experienced teachers, students work through a curriculum written by science educators. They create a chemical reaction with exciting color changes and fizzing, and then figure out exactly what happened by modeling the molecular changes with LEGO bricks. Now Edgerton Center staff are writing up those lessons as curriculum packages, and building kits of LEGO bricks. The LEGO Atoms and Molecules kit contains the LEGO bricks necessary to teach concepts of chemistry, including photosynthesis. The project, entitled The Mind and Hand Alliance, is exploring ways to disseminate curricular materials and train teachers to use them to best effect. Future plans include creating a series of instructional films showing teachers how the lessons should proceed step by step.

Programs for Students: MIT offers a number of programs aimed at helping underserved and underrepresented students pursue academic opportunities in science and engineering.  These include: 


Innovative Platforms for Education– MIT has a strong history of developing platforms that allow content and experiences to be integrated with good on-line learning practice. For decades MIT has been in the forefront of developing educational software platforms to utilize the latest advances in computer technology to advance education, with a particular concern for scalability, sustainability and reduced cost. MIT’s various programs in this area focus on generation and integration of content, extending the classroom experience, leveraging consumer devices, and supporting and allowing new kinds of pedagogy.

The Education Arcade: The Education Arcade (TEA) is a collaboration between the Scheller Teacher Education Program (STEP, and Comparative Media Studies (CMS), focusing on research and development of new educational games. Through a combination of software development, professional development, classroom research and dissemination, TEA has become a recognized leader in educational games around the world. Much of the research and development in TEA centers on building both interest and expertise in STEM areas for students and teachers. The research includes not only what motivates students to learn new and difficult STEM content, but also how it can be delivered to schools and students in ways that are technically feasible. This includes investigations around games on cell phones and lightweight web-delivered games that are tightly integrated with standards-based education. Games such as Lure of the Labyrinth ( have reached many students and teachers around the world, while other projects focusing on mobile games have been recently funded by NSF and NIH.  In addition, the Scheller Teacher Education Program led by Prof. Eric Klopfer, has been developing Augmented Reality games that combine real-world experience with information utilizing location-aware mobile devices (

iLabs: The iLabs project and platform are dedicated to the proposition that online laboratories—real laboratories accessed through the Internet—can enrich science and engineering education by greatly expanding the range of experiments that students are exposed to in the course of their education. Unlike conventional laboratories, iLabs can be shared across a university or across the world. The iLabs vision is to share expensive equipment and educational materials associated with lab experiments as broadly as possible within higher education and beyond. iLabs teams have created remote laboratories at MIT in microelectronics, chemical engineering, polymer crystallization, structural engineering, and signal processing as case studies for understanding the complex requirements of operating remote lab experiments and scaling their use to large groups of students at MIT and around the world.

Guided Learning Pathways: The proposed Guided Learning Pathways project would mark a significant leap in the utilization of Open Educational Resources (OERs) such as those from OCW Consortium universities as well as K-12 targeted open content from organizations such as Kuroki ( The concept, developed by Prof. Richard Larson, would test a generic methodology for imbedding Guided Learning Pathways through a nonlinear learning space. The pathways would allow for a significant degree of learner choice, for instance in which of a set of homework problems to do, which of a set of readings to study, which of a set of tests to take, and alternative explanations of a concept. They would allow for different content based on learner profiles. In effect, the learning environment would be sized and stylized to meet the individual needs of each learner. No longer would we have as a teaching/learning philosophy, “One size fits all.” The Guided Learning Pathways platform would be made freely available to be used across multiple communities of practice, with K-12 STEM education being a primary audience.

Transmedia Systems and Applications: Within MIT’s OEIT group the Transmedia Systems and Applications (TSA) team is beginning to take the next step in the Open Educational Resources (OER) revolution, partnering with educational communities of practice both inside and outside of MIT to provide tools for teachers and learners that support more effective discovery, analysis and re-use of open content, from anywhere, to further enhance the educational experience. Secondary education in Massachusetts, and STEM related teachers and learners in particular, have been identified as a critical community of practice. OEIT’s Core Concepts Catalog project is being developed to support the sharing of educational learning objectives across the Institute, and is being designed to support not only higher education learning objective models but also educational standards in K-12.

Scratch: Developed by Prof. Mitch Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.  Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively (  StarLogo is an agent-based simulation language designed for education. It was also developed by Profs. Resnick and Eric Klopfer and has enjoyed wide adoption (

Platforms for Educational Outreach: OEIT’s educational outreach efforts use social tagging and networking tools that offer new opportunities for collecting information about content to help teachers and student more quickly find useful materials. Such systems, if appropriately linked with the repositories that host OER content, can allow curricular communities to come together to share content and also information about the quality and use of content to meet educational objects of common interest. In addition, these tools and platforms like the KEEP Toolkit also allow the meaningful sharing of pedagogical practices and innovation.

The activities (candidate strategies) described above are at various levels of development and have demonstrated initial success. Resources need to be applied to these to evaluate, replicate, scale and improve as necessary.


Community Engagement

MIT understands the importance of actively participating in state, national and international organizational efforts to help enhance K-12 education, and to identify and promote sustainable and scalable community approaches. Representatives of OEIT at MIT have taken a leadership role with a number of organizations in recent years, including:

The Learning Curve Consortium – MIT helped to launch and guide the formation of The Learning Curve Consortium. This not-for-profit Consortium has developed a model for supporting innovative educational technology in K-12 that is scalable and sustainable across many districts. The Consortium arose from the collective interests of teachers and school administrators from the ground up. Indeed, this community was initiated as a result of a request for help and support by a single local superintendent. In one year, however, the Learning Curve consortium has grown a cluster of more than thirty Massachusetts school districts based on voluntary participation, and offers a vehicle for scalable professional development, sharing and dissemination around MIT’s STEM related efforts (

CCSSO –The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) leads and facilitates collective state action to transform our public education system in these four strategic areas: Standards, Assessment and Accountability; Comprehensive Data Systems; Next Generation Learners; and Systems for Educator Development. MIT has advised CCSSO in the development of the proposed “Learning Resource and Exchange Network” (LEARN) initiative. Through the LEARN initiative, CCSSO is attempting to solve a number of major education information challenges by supporting an enterprise architecture solution designed, constructed, and maintained by a consortium of states (

Curriki – OEIT’s Director and Senior Associate Dean Vijay Kumar serves on the advisory board of Curriki, an online environment created to offer free, open-source instructional materials for K-12 (

AAAS – MIT is proud to be hosting the Project 2061 Atlas workshop at the MIT Museum on Jan 25-27, 2010.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Project 2061 produced the national benchmarks in science, "Science for All Americans," and it has  recently produced a 2nd Atlas of Science Literacy, which includes more of the benchmarks, showing at what age students need to learn particular concepts.   This is of enormous help when making decisions in regard to planning science curricula for different grade levels.

While the STEM outreach efforts outlined here are numerous and diverse, they are all grounded in the fabric that has made MIT a world-leading educator of scientists and engineers.  Collectively these activities can help realize a vision for Massachusetts characterized by an abundance of quality educational resources, contemporary and innovative practices, and sustainable, transformative opportunities for STEM education.  They not only address the ongoing need to improve the quality of instruction but also ensure a more effective pipeline, through motivating more people to enter STEM fields.

We also believe that these activities set the stage for more far-reaching collaborative work between MIT, Massachusetts’ educators, and the Commonwealth in advancing its STEM initiatives.


This document identifies only a partial list of K-12 outreach activities of MIT. A more complete list can be found at the MIT K-12 Outreach Programs web site:

July 7, 2010

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is consistently recognized as one of the top universities worldwide for the quality and rigor of its education of engineers and scientists.

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