4 Key Takeaways from Actua’s IDEAS Summit

May 30, 2021

On April 29 and 30, 2021, Actua hosted its first-ever IDEAS Summit on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity (EDI) and Access in STEM. The IDEAS Summit welcomed over 400 educators from across Canada interested in equity and allyship, anti-racism in STEM, Indigenous STEM education and inclusive activities in maker and coding education.

The two-day event was designed to move the dial on diversity in STEM education and careers, knowing significant gaps still exist. For example, in 2019, women accounted for only 17.9 % of newly licensed engineers in Canada (Engineers Canada, 2019), and only 13% of the executive teams in Canadian tech companies are women. (PWC, 2021). We also know that less than 2% of people working in STEM occupations are Indigenous (Conference Board of Canada, 2020) – all clear evidence that significant progress is still needed.

Together, presenters and participants discussed the critical conversations and learning approaches shaping inclusive K-12 classrooms and explored ways to sustain and strengthen this work. 76% of surveyed participants said the IDEAS Summit increased their knowledge and understanding of EDI in STEM “a lot” or “very much,” and 94% said they were “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with the IDEAS Summit. While this is encouraging progress towards moving the dial on diversity in STEM, we know there’s still a lot of work ahead. The IDEAS Summit left participants with numerous takeaways to help them on their EDI journey. Here are our top four:

1. Start by Unlearning

It’s no secret that as human beings, we often fail to recognize our own prejudices. When addressing diversity and inclusion in STEM, the first thing we must do is uncover, unlearn and dismantle the unconscious attitudes and stereotypes we’ve adopted over time that marginalize others. There are various resources online to help us do this, like this TEDx Talk by Kristen Pressner which explains how we can recognize our own hidden, irrational biases. Once these biases are unlearned, we can start to relearn by reaching out to individuals and communities outside of our own to build new, unbiased ways of thinking about different cultures and identities. As educators we can then start to change the conversations in our classrooms and, ultimately, the culture.

Start by Unlearning

2. Make STEM fun and relatable. Be playful!

Play is essential to STEM. Evidence supports that hands-on learning and exploration maximizes learning, particularly when compared to more passive methods of learning such as demonstrations, or exclusively reading or listening. Play takes complex STEM concepts and provokes curiosity. It also provides opportunities for exploration and builds both relevant and fun experiences amongst a diverse audience. We can also be playful in the way we frame and present STEM problems to engage various identities. Take Kyne Santos, for example – one of Actua’s IDEAS Summit keynote speakers. Kyne is a world-class drag queen, YouTuber, and mathematics communicator known for her educational math videos on TikTok and other platforms, reaching over 1M followers. Her online math videos feature entertaining tutorials on general mathematical concepts, riddles and memes. She’s mastered the ability to take complex math problems and apply them to real-world examples so youth and, in particular, the LGBTQ2S+ community, can relate to them.

Be playful!

3. Build storytelling into STEM

The arts are becoming recognized as an important discipline to integrate into STEM, sometimes referred to as STEAM.  But, what do the arts have to do with STEM? Art – whether visual arts, narration, dance, drama, or music – can tell stories. Storytelling is one of the most effective educational tools because of its ability to connect ideas with emotions. They can play a pivotal role in helping students grasp complex STEM concepts and make them relevant and relatable to real life. Indigenous land-based education is the perfect example of a learning approach that leverages the powerful relationship between Arts and STEM. Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, another keynote speaker at the IDEAS Summit, explained how in Indigenous land-based education, repetitive storytelling and personal observation are the primary vehicles for transmitting educational context and content. These stories pass Traditional Knowledge down from one generation to the next and help youth feel a sense of belonging in their education.

Build storytelling into STEM

4. Centre people and their unique identities in STEM education

When we talk about STEM, we often talk about innovation, especially in tech. At the centre of all innovation is people: we build solutions from a place of empathy, we tackle challenges to meet peoples’ needs and, as individuals in STEM, we are people first. As educators, we need to help students see technology as a vehicle for connection and for achieving something greater outside of ourselves.

When we think of the people building or using technology, we can see that innovation stems from diverse perspectives. It’s not surprising that evidence shows improved problem solving when groups are both inclusive and diverse, and honour unique identities. To advance innovation in STEM, we need to create inclusive and hybrid approaches to learning where all students can see themselves. Representation matters.

Centre people in STEM education

Learn More

To learn more about the insights shared at IDEAS, check out what participants had to say on Twitter, using #IDEASxActua. For questions about other professional learning opportunities offered by Actua, visit the Actua Academy