Wednesday, October 22, 2014

400,000 Hours of Practice

This past June I had the satisfaction of holding in my hand a book my friends and I poured many hours into. Imagine taking some of the coolest things you know about a particular field and putting them into a volume that you can share with the world. That's what it felt like to finally have my copy. "Einstein Fellows: Best Practices in STEM Education" began as an idea in the mind of Tim Spuck and some of his colleagues. Tim and the rest of the authors in the book, at one point or another, served as Einstein Fellows--a shortened title for participants in a federal program for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers recognized for their excellence. Einstein Fellows work for a year or two at one of various federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, NASA, and on Capitol Hill, representing the voice of STEM teachers everywhere. 

A group of these K-12 teacher leaders had the great idea of putting into print some of the educator practices that helped them and their students achieve success. From conception to reality, this dream took over three years to manifest. Each author selected a topic of expertise to share with other STEM teachers--everything from the benefits and sources of research experiences for teachers to a historical overview of the STEM education "movement." Having both served at the National Science Foundation in the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, my colleague, Terrie Rust, and I co-authored a chapter on the potential benefits of informal learning experiences, such as citizen science projects, virtual field trips, and industry visits. 

While working in Washington, D.C. I delved into the world of "gamification." As the book's editors, Tim Spuck and Leigh Jenkins agreed this timely topic would add value to the volume. The more I now listen to STEM education conversations, the more I appreciate having made the decision to write about it. Gamification seems to be a term on many people's minds. The concept involves converting classrooms into a gaming environment. Rather than simply asking kids to play educational video games in class, the course structure itself becomes a game. Students don't receive grades; they level up. They don't take exams; they defeat bosses. Students explore their education as characters in a game with a variety of directions to take, partnerships to form, and challenges to overcome all for the sake of beating the game. I interviewed and wrote about a teacher that fully gamified one of her classrooms and described the endeavors of an entire school that chose to do the same (for more info visit While the idea existed before I came along, I hope to have captured its essence and communicated its precepts in language that STEM educators would relate to. I also shared some of my classroom experiences as a gamifier.

You can watch the speakers of the panel on Innovation in STEM Education at the Woodrow Wilson Center here:
Recently, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars chose to showcase the authors of this book on a talking panel where they shared some of their ideas about the state, challenges, and successes of STEM education. Kent Hughes, the center's former Director of the Program on America and the Global Economy and an avid supporter of effective reform in K-12 STEM education, invited these to share their story. A variety of guests listened to the panel, including public servants and leaders in STEM education from a variety of federal agencies, as well as universities from across the country. Other Einstein Fellows also sat in attendance, sharing their thoughts, as well. Cumulatively, the K-12 STEM teaching experiences represented on the panel added up to over 400,000 hours of practice. In the "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell argues that to become an expert one needs at least ten thousand hours of practice in a particular task or skill set. The excellent teachers featured in "Einstein Fellows: Best Practices in STEM Education" surpass that forty times over, and captured some of that expertise in their respective chapters. This is definitely a volume worth reading particularly for STEM educators and those that educate pre-service teachers...Then again, I might be a bit biased. 

For those interested, you can find the book at

*Note: "Einstein Fellows: Best Practices in STEM Education" is not affiliated with the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator program nor any of the federal agencies in which the authors served.

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