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MAPPING A PERSONALIZED LEARNING JOURNEY: New Report Links Students’ Interest in STEM to Technology in Classroom

“This is the first time we’ve noticed this correlation between the type of math and science instruction and the students’ interest in STEM careers.”

A survey of students and educators finds children are more likely to have an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields when their classroom’s instructional model incorporates personalized learning strategies, digital technology, and social media. The survey results are contained in Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey—K–12 Students and Parents Connect the Dots with Digital Learning, from Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up 2011 National Research Project, which gathered its data from an online survey completed by more than 416,000 K–12 students, parents, teachers, administrators.

“This is the first time we’ve noticed this correlation between the type of math and science instruction and the students’ interest in STEM careers,” said Julie Evans, chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow. “For a nation concerned with developing the next generations of scientists, engineers, and innovators, this finding should raise some eyebrows.”

According to the report, only 20 percent of children in traditional classrooms—where instruction is teacher centered and the use of technology is minimal or nonexistent—expressed an interest in pursuing STEM fields, compared to 27 percent of technology-infused classrooms with both student-directed and teacher-directed instruction models.

However, only 9 percent of students surveyed said they had a math or science class that was both teacher and student directed and provided consistent use of technology tools as support for students and teachers. Meanwhile, 43 percent of math and science classes were teacher directed and only included lectures, textbook assignments, group projects, and labs. Thirty-three percent of students said they had teacher-directed classrooms that utilize at least one technology-based instructional resource.

The report argues that the impending implementation of the common core state standards and the assessments that will accompany them, combined with the “continuing national self-interest in attracting more students to the STEM fields,” gives a “greater urgency” to transforming the in-school learning process through personalization enabled by technology.

“For three-quarters of today’s students in grades 6–12, math and science class is still much like it was when we adults were in school: predominately teacher centered with little or no opportunities for students to direct their own learning, at their own pace, with their own tools,” Evans notes. “Think about that in contrast to what is being called for by the new common core standards for math. The common core approach is based on teachers laying out a specific task and inviting the students to dig in and solve the problem using appropriate tools and resources. If our schools are able to implement this type of teaching and learning, the potential for interest in math and science should grow.”

The report also examines the use of social media in a learning environment and finds that, among high school students, participation in online communities through discussion boards and chats has doubled and the use of collaborative writing resources, such as Google Docs and Yahoo! Groups, has increased 57 percent since 2008.

Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey offers education experts the opportunity to gauge personalized learning and varied instructional models from the perspective of a student. It is the first in a two-part series based on the 2011 Speak Up national findings. The second report will offer educators’ perspectives and will include new data on how teachers are personalizing learning with a variety of emerging technology tools and strategies.

Download Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey at

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