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MIT President L. Rafael Reif and Congressman Joe Kennedy III hosted a discussion on STEM education for K-16 students on Thursday, Sept. 3.

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MIT professors and US Rep. Kennedy talk STEM education

MIT faculty and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III met at the Media Lab on Sept. 3 for an event that highlighted technology’s potential to improve the quality of and access to STEM education. Called “Scaling STEM,” the event featured opening remarks by MIT President L. Rafael Reif, followed by presentations from Kennedy, Dean of Digital Learning Sanjay E. Sarma, and four professors from MIT.

Kennedy said that “MIT is leading the way” in reaching underserved parts of the population when it comes to STEM.

In a panel discussion, Mitchel Resnick, who leads the Lifelong Kindergarten lab, discussed one of his lab’s projects, Scratch, which K-12 students have used to learn programming for the past eight years.

Angela Belcher, a materials science and biological engineering professor, discussed her efforts to teach STEM to students at a young age. She shared her belief that elementary students should be taught about chemical reactions, solar cells, and other topics that are usually left to high school or college.

Eric Klopfer, an MIT professor and director of the Education Arcade, offered a compelling way for younger students to become engaged in STEM material through video games. One of his lab’s projects is Radix, which combines the excitement of a massive multiplayer online game with the educational value of science exercises.

The Scaling STEM event comes at a time when MIT is reconsidering the education that it offers to its own students, as well as beyond, given the development of digital tools and online courses. In August 2014, an Institute-wide task force on the topic proposed a more modular and flexible future for education at MIT.

—Drew Bent