Implementing 4C’s Series: Communication

The world has changed greatly since Sputnik jump started the idea of STEM education back in the late 1950’s. Technology has given humans the power to instantly connect with information and each other from almost any spot in the world (and in space). Communication has become more than just conversations, but the axis of information exchange. If you wanted to get more information about Sputnick back in the 1960’s, your only setting beyond a school for technical information would be the library. You would have to hope that your library had the information you wanted or accessing the information could take quite some time. Libraries, of all places, exemplify how communication has changed information access. Michelângelo Mazzardo Marques from Viana Systems created this graphic to help grasp the exponential change that has occurred in information access:


Access to information became predicated on how quickly and how often we could connect to each other. Communication shifted from slow-temporary mass systems (newspapers) and fast-temporary individual systems (wired phones) to fast-eternal mass systems (social networks and websites) and fast-differentiated individual systems (cellphones and video chats). As the world changed what communication looked like at an exponential rate, the education system mostly ignored the changes until most recently.


The days of formal and informal penned letter writing are dwindling. There is still a time and a place for these forms of communication, however, how we teach communication in schools has, for the most part, not really changed. Social media is not a fad, it is a way of life and how many people communicate. Are you teaching your students the positives and negatives of utilizing social media? Are you teaching students how to interact and communicate with others? Are you teaching students how to use social media to make change? to contact experts? to share ideas and information?

Social Media

Five ways to build communication into instruction:

  1. Have them communicate.
    • Ok, I know this sounds ridiculous, but all too often we have students create, explore, and ideate; but never actually share what they learned to others. Build time into lessons for communication. Call it out explicitly and give them opportunities to communicate in different ways:
      • Build infographics
      • Give sales pitches
      • Share presentations (ppt, keynote, etc…)
    • The best resource a teacher has is his/her own community. When we have students present, often the audience is just to each other. There is time for those type of presentations, but at some point you have to “send them up to the big leagues!” Utilize authentic audiences by reaching out to the community or even your parents to listen and give authentic feedback from local experts.
  2. Model and utilize social media effectively. 
    • Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool. Creating an account on any platform can be a great way to share information with students and parents. Remember that time you were out and about outside of school and thought, “I wish I could share this with my students,” now you actually can!
    • Twitter is great to teach summarizing, a critical communication skill in many businesses. Check out this STEM Strategy that Works from the Discovery Educator Network community called “Tweeting Home” by Holly Gerlach. This strategy can be used by kindergarteners or high school seniors. The idea is to have someone in the class summarize the day or weeks learning in 140 or 280 (up to you) characters. This builds a repository to review later for students and gives parents something specific to ask their kids at home about the day!
  3. Have student create 1- Take Videos. 
    • Dr. Lodge McCammon developed a high-tech/low-tech way for students to practice their communication skills he calls 1-Take Videos. This strategy requires students to “hit record, present their material, then hit stop – and the product is done.” This simplistic style of video creation is something that any student can start using tomorrow in order to create, share and reflect on content. Show students how cell phones can do more than consume content, and have them create content-rich videos in the classroom and then watch them back to instantly evaluate their own work.
  4. Take part in The Flame Challenge.
    • Professional communication isn’t just about knowing and talking about content, but about knowing how to talk about content to the person in front of you! What has made Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye so successful is their ability to talk about high level content and bring it down to the level of their audience. In 2012, Alan Alda started The Flame Challenge for scientists to speak at the publics level. He posed this question as the first challenge:
      • Would you be willing to have a go at writing your own explanation of what a flame is — one that an 11-year-old would find intelligible, maybe even fun?
    • The twist to this challenge is that entries that are deemed scientifically accurate are judged by thousands of 5th and 6th grade schoolchildren from around the world. Register your class next year to be judges OR hold your own Middle/High School Flame Challenge, having older school students explain a concept where they are judged by elementary students in their explanations!
  5. Utilize Student STEMbassadors to tell the story of your classroom. 
    • Think about the “story” of your classroom and how you want it told. Visitors are often thought of as a nuisance, however you can turn them into opportunities for communication building. When visitors come to your room, they only see a small portion of your day and are not privy to many of the STEMtastic things you and your students do. Student STEMbassadors help visitors see the “big picture” of your class and give student a chance to develop authentic communication skills! Student STEMbassadors learn how to become story tellers, question probers, and your own mini-media relation directors.

Just because we are always talking and sharing in our classrooms doesn’t necessarily mean it is being done so effectively. As educators we need to take an active role in developing our students communications skills for their future endeavors. In the Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum communication was integral to four of the top ten skills our workforce need to be successful moving forward. What does this truly look like and why is it so critical in the world outside of school?


Author: Jonathan Gerlach

Global Consultant for STEM Education @STEMigo

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