Peggy Brookins is the President & CEO National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and serves on the national board of Out Teach.  Peggy is also a Woodie Flowers Award Winner, named after the late Dr. Flowers, an engineer and MIT instructor and advisor to Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics.

To support #WomenInSTEM month, Peggy recently did a Q&A with us.

“I grew up in Florida and lived very close to the Kennedy Space Center, so I was able to have close contact with NASA engineers, one of whom was a family friend. Jacques, a Systems Engineer, would allow me to help him tinker in the garage, build aircraft with him, and design experiments related to the systems in his rocket design. It motivated me, engaged my curiosity and provided real-life examples of the power of STEM knowledge.

My earliest STEM experience was in the 3rd grade when I won a NASA contest to have my submission be a part of Freedom 7 – the first US human space flight. It was a capsule that was buried that would inform “extraterrestrial visitors” about who we are and was also slated to be a historical reference for future generations.

Like most students today, we like doing what we do best. For me, that was mathematics and asking a lot of questions. I have always been observant and very curious, and those skills and interests have helped me lead a deeply engaging and rewarding career.

Now, students who love math have even more access to interesting careers.  Coding is the language of math. Imagine coding being taught in every school? Learning to program involves many skills including organizing and analyzing data. Children can grow their math skills while coding, without even realizing it. Using their logic and calculation skills while creating something of their own can make math more engaging and fun. There are many practical and real-world benefits to teaching coding. If you want to give your child something enjoyable to do that will also be educational and help them to learn, learning to code is the perfect gift. You can read about the reasons why coding is important, but one of the main impacts is to give them a challenge while having fun!

Children will learn a range of skills, and with practice, gain some important talents that can help them through all elements of their life; and if they can do all of this while having fun, why not?

Understanding computers and learning the basics of coding helps children develop an appreciation of how things work. It also teaches them how software engineers use math in order to solve problems in a logical and creative way. This is an important reason that coding should be taught in schools, so children learn these skills while they are young.

The ability to solve problems is a skill that is useful in life in general. We all want our children to become excellent problem solvers so that they can overcome any adversity they face. Learning to code gives children the chance to learn this type of skill while they are young and it can help them along the way in life. This is another of the big reasons coding is important to learn. When children learn to code, they develop the ability to bounce back after failure. They learn that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact, it can often be something positive because it serves as a learning opportunity. Solving problems — ‘debugging’ your code is half the fun.

When you fail and try again you can learn from your mistakes. Coding gives children the ability to try and try again until they succeed and produce the result they are looking for.

To me, coding is math dancing and a method of communicating.

To help other children find that same love of Math and STEM I found early on, I co-founded the Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology.

There, the faculty and I had extraordinary freedom to shape our school in ways that we and the greater community wanted, rather than conform to a standardized system developed somewhere else.

The proof of our idea is found in the students. Everything we did ultimately focused on them and what kind of people they became after they graduated.

What I personally care about is fostering thoughtful and decent young adults, people who have an informed imagination and the restraint to use it wisely.

I wanted students to be accustomed to asking “Why?” and being satisfied only with an answer that had a solid base of evidence.

I care about how students use their minds, using all that they have learned, and know how to apply meaning, beyond any formal testing situation.

I care about their habits of mind and what they are able to do. Whether they become engineers in one of 30 fields, doctors, lawyers, pilots, nurses, Olympians, researchers, and teachers.

At least half of those STEM professionals should be women.  Girls can do much more than society has historically “allowed,” or delegated them to. Women have an incredible sense of detail and perspective, which is critical in design and prototyping. Diversity of thought and perspective is critical across all parts of society. Including men and women, people of color, and a range of backgrounds will make a team stronger.

Now, I head the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  There are currently more than 128,000 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs). Almost half of all NBCTs are certified in the STEM fields. So STEM fields are central to focus. Reaching girls and young women is at the front of our minds. Our 5 Core Propositions – the foundation of our work – insure we focus on equity and access for all students. Our work focuses on assuring teachers are the best they can be so they can have the biggest impact possible on their students. Deep content knowledge, pedagogy (teaching practices), and relationships are essential to providing the instruction necessary to succeed in STEM fields.

To help even more students find their future in a STEM career, I also work with 100Kin10, a nonprofit that unites the nation’s top academic institutions, nonprofits, foundations, companies, and government agencies to address the nation’s STEM teacher shortage. Together, we are tackling systemic challenges and getting 100,000 excellent STEM teachers into classrooms nationwide. By giving STEM teachers the support they need, we are helping to educate the next generation of innovators and problem solvers. Overcoming the complex challenges of training and retaining 100,000 excellent STEM teachers demands an innovative approach: what we call networked impact. We inspire our partner organizations to make ambitious commitments, leverage the strength and trust of the network, and access opportunities to exchange knowledge, innovate solutions, and improve their work. “

The staff here at Out Teach would like to commend Peggy for her ongoing commitment to Science and STEM education, and for sharing her expertise on our board to help guide our work every day.

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Out Teach, formerly REAL School Gardens, provides professional development for elementary school teachers. Out Teach prepares them to use school gardens, outdoor classrooms, and green schoolyards to improve instruction through three-dimensional project-based learning, and outdoor experiential inquiry-based education. Professional learning with Out Teach improves hands-on science and STEM education through instructional coaching and digital education resources and improves 21st Century skills.