Brad McLain speaks as part of the Colorado Experiential STEM Learning Network

Before attendees at the Colorado Experiential STEM Learning Network (CESLN) summit got down to business in breakout sessions, a state education official painted a picture of today’s job market.

Violeta Garcia, the Colorado Department of Education‘s new STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) coordinator, used blue fish on each table to illustrate a STEM student and an orange cement truck to signify a non-STEM student.

“For every one non-STEM job, we have three people fighting for that job,” Garcia said. “Now, for every one fish, there are three jobs available. That’s the current unemployment situation at the state level.”

Her example of how science and technology are driving today’s economy set the backdrop for the launch of CESLN. Tuesday’s summit drew about 50 STEM stakeholders, including educators from CU Denver, CU-Boulder and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

The all-day meeting, held at the Boettcher Mansion on Lookout Mountain, was organized by XSci Experiential Science Education Research Collaborative at CU Denver. XSci is part of the School of Education and Human Development.

The CESLN now joins a growing, 15-state STEMx network. The groups focus on the experiential side of learning within the hub of science- and math-related education.

The summit, which also drew representatives from foundations, government labs and state Rep. Sue Schafer, had an agenda to kick off three initiatives. “We call them quick wins, to show results,” said Brad McLain, co-director of XSci. “If we’re successful with any or all of them, Colorado serves as a pilot case so that we can export our models to the national network through Battelle (Memorial Institute) STEMx.”

The breakout sessions focused on each of the initiatives for the next year:

  • STEM Harmony. To forge partnerships between Colorado schools and providers of experiential STEM learning. The goal is to connect “people who provide extraordinary experiences for their students and teachers,” McLain said.
  • Kick off a Denver hub of Roots & Shoots. Roots & Shoots is anthropologist Jane Goodall’s worldwide program to promote service learning programs for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.
  • Begin planning for the Experiential STEM Learning Conference at CU Denver in summer 2014. The national summit will be a chance to “rub shoulders with others across the country, share best practices, learn about experiential learning theory and collaborate on moving the field of experiential learning forward,” McLain said. “Even thinking about it as a field is a pretty new concept.”

Experiential learning is one aspect of the much larger STEM movement, McLain noted. He said the national conference will highlight the advantages of learning through first-person experience.

“It’s something researchers are working on, teachers are working on, industry wants it, the president keeps talking about it from his bully pulpit. We need a venue to bring these stakeholders together and get better at it,” McLain said. “…I always say it’s like flint steel — we’re starting a fire and hopefully it will catch hold.”

(Photo: Brad McLain, co-director of XSci, explains the goals of the Experiential STEM Learning Conference 2014 during the summit on STEM experiential learning.)

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