By WRAL Tech Wire STEM News 

RALEIGH, N.C. – Dr. Bob Beichner has received the Harold McGraw Prize in Education.

Beichner, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Physics at N.C State and the director of the university’s STEM Education Initiative, won in part for his work on the SCALE-UP project (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs), which has been adopted by more than 100 universities and is now moving into high schools.

According to the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, which sponsors the award, “SCALE-UP classrooms look like restaurants, with round tables and an instructor moving about the room. Students are focused on interesting tasks.”

Beichner calls them tangibles, ponderables, and visibles – while the teacher listens in, asks questions, and even starts debates between students. The approach works for many different content areas, with failure rates dropping to a fraction of that seen before the approach was implemented.

All this happens while learning standards are raised and students gain additional 21st century skills like communication, problem solving, and teamwork.

Dr. Beichner recently spoke with WRAL Tech Wire STEM News:

What was this award for?

One of the founders of McGraw-Hill, Harold McGraw, wanted to improve education, and his organization provides three awards to support innovation in education; one each for secondary, post-secondary, and elementary school grade levels. What’s interesting about this award is that it is about digital technology. I always say the most important technology is the tables; because it’s interaction between teams and fellow students that really makes a difference. That’s certainly been true for the SCALE-UP project – we spent a lot of time just deciding what tables to use.

What are the most important opportunities of education technology for 21st century schools?

Technology is basically a designed solution to a specific problem. Having access to information is the most important technology, especially the availability of quality search engines. It used to be, you went to school to get content, but that’s no longer true. Now, you go to school to find out which content is true. Technology frees students from tyranny of content delivery. Years ago, content delivery happened inside the classroom and help with homework happened outside; now, content delivery happens outside the classroom, and help with homework happens inside.

So, how is North Carolina doing in STEM Education? What can the state better?

Overall, I think the state is doing well on STEM education given our financial constraints. If you look at Virtual Public Schools, Early College High Schools, the research occurring in teaching and learning – these things are pretty well thought out and well considered. Years ago, we as a state realized tobacco wasn’t going to sustain us economically the way it once did. So, our leaders turned to STEM as an economic driver. Now, we need to be careful and make sure we don’t kill the golden egg with budget cuts. At some point, when the budget is better, I’d like to see an education extension service – where the state reaches out to teachers in the same way our agriculture extension services reaches out to farmers. Our classrooms could really benefit from that.

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