STEM needs to be more accessible for kids in school, says Microsoft Education Vice-President Anthony Salcito

Science, technology, engineering and maths need to be more accessible in schools in order for children to fully achieve their potential, Microsoft’s Vice-President of Education has told one of the world’s largest education conferences.

Speaking on the opening day of BETT in London, Anthony Salcito said parts of so-called STEM subjects should be embedded in other lessons so youngsters are regularly learning important digital skills they will need for the workplace of the future.

“Microsoft is focused on helping people build essential life skills – computational thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity,” he told a crowd of hundreds of teachers, education experts and technology companies at the ExCeL on Wednesday.

 Anthony Salcito, Vice-President of Education at Microsoft, speaks at BETT

Anthony Salcito, Vice-President of Education at Microsoft, speaks at BETT

“We have got to make STEM more accessible to all students, boys and girls, to help them code and bring their creativity to life. We need to make STEM democratic and embed it in subjects, using technology to bring lessons to life. Technology is only a tool to help a student progress and make a difference.”

Salcito suggested that the Microsoft in Education Transformation Framework – a guide produced by the company that highlights the need for education providers to rethink learning in the 21st century – was a good starting point for preparing children for the “fourth industrial revolution” and the forthcoming digital age.

“First, we need to establish a vision for change – what are we trying to achieve and who are we serving?” he said.

“This journey will be met with enthusiasm or scepticism, but it’s about helping every student to achieve more. Technology [in this area] should be driven by the need to empower children to make changes in their lives.”

Microsoft's Partner Campus at BETT

Microsoft’s Partner Campus at BETT

Salecito invited Jason Marantz, the principal of Ark Swift Primary Academy, in London, on stage to talk about how its teaching methods have changed since becoming a Microsoft Showcase School. He said technology had enabled his pupils to enjoy experiences they otherwise would have missed out on.

“We can’t take some of our children to places, so technology can give them exposure to the wider world,” he said. “They used Skype to link up with marine biologists in California, for example.”

“We worked with our teachers to build up their skills slowly. We took it term by term, developing one skill at a time. We taught them Sway, then moved on to Skype, and slowly built it [technology] into our regular development. Then the parents got involved, too.

“You need to be clear on where you want to go, then map it out, take it slow and be prepared to adapt.”

Surface Studio on show at BETT

Surface Studio on show at BETT

Microsoft, a worldwide partner of BETT, let thousands of people at the conference get a hands-on look at some of its most exciting products, including Surface devices, Surface Hub and Surface Studio.

Minecraft: Education Edition was also present, a year after the learning-based version of the game was launched at the conference. Visitors were offered demos just a day after Microsoft launched more features to help teachers in the classroom. One of the biggest changes was Global Pause, which allows teachers to put a Minecraft world on hold while the class works on something else.

“We have over 100 lessons on our website that have been submitted by teachers and they cover all grade levels and subjects – everything from logic gates that start as an intro to computer programming, to literacy lessons, math lessons, history lessons,” Deirdre Quarnstrom, Director of Minecraft Education, said.

“We see a couple of approaches to how teachers bring it into the classroom. One is the teacher may start with a world that’s already been created … and have students go in and explore and then they can talk about what they learnt. The other approach we see is teachers say: ‘We’re studying the human body, I would like you to go and make a model of a human ear in Minecraft.’

“Minecraft allows students to explore, to have their own self-driven motivation to solve a problem or a challenge, and help guide their learning.”

Minecraft: Education Edition at BETT

Minecraft: Education Edition at BETT