Discussing new and innovative approaches for the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) was the primary goal of an interdisciplinary conference held Sept. 27-28, 2012 at the Charles F. Knight Executive Education & Conference Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

2012 Cognitive Science in STEM Education Conference

This novel conference, “Integrating Cognitive Science with Innovative Teaching in STEM Disciplines,” brought together 66 educators and researchers from 42 different institutions and variety of disciplines, including education, psychology, cognitive science, and STEM fields (biology, chemistry, engineering, physics) to stimulate interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration on the implementation and evaluation of innovations in STEM pedagogy.

The 2012 conference was sponsored by the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE) at Washington University with funding from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. The event began with opening remarks from University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and greetings from CIRCLE co-directors Mark McDaniel and Gina Frey. The second day opened with a welcome from Roddy Roediger, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor, Washington University and remarks from Provost Edward Macias, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Barbara & David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Art & Sciences.

2012 Cognitive Science in STEM Education ConferenceThroughout the two-day conference, attendees heard presentations on developing and evaluating educational innovations by more than a dozen experts drawn from the cognitive sciences, as well as physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering. Presentations included interactive components, and attendees also took part in small round-table discussions, and large-group discussions.

Round-table sessions attempted to synthesize the current state of knowledge on STEM education, identify issues in need of further research, encourage development of an evidence-based framework for STEM education, and facilitate the integration of ideas and collaborative efforts across disciplines. After the first day of round-table sessions, topics emerged that became the orienting themes for the second day of round-tables.

These discussions included the following questions and issues:

  • How do we make professional development effective?
  • How do you facilitate and measure deep conceptual knowledge?
  • How do we measure transfer?
  • How do we measure and teach procedural knowledge?
  • How and when do we need to introduce terminology?
  • How do we improve students’ metacognition?

2012 Cognitive Science in STEM Education ConferenceThe conference succeeded in creating a multidisciplinary forum for discussing the future of STEM education and encouraging the evaluation of pedagogical innovations. Over the two days of discussions, several collaborations emerged between participants, and others are looking forward to continuing the conversation at a second conference in the future. CIRCLE is planning to host this event in 2013 or 2014.

Scholars at CIRCLE and the James S. McDonnell Foundation are also at work on an e-book that will hopefully capture the energy and ideas of this year’s conference. (2014 Update: See news stories here and here to learn more about the recently published e-book.)