December 07, 2020
Full STEM Ahead
Entrepreneur, educator and author Chloe Taylor uses interactive experiments and meaningful experiences to help children engage their love of STEM learning
By Amanda S.F. Hartle
As an elementary school teacher in New York City, Chloe Taylor came to realize that her students couldn’t imagine a world where you couldn’t ask Google a question, stay in constant contact with family and friends via social media, or have a digital map in your pocket at all times.
Realizing that technology skills were important to encourage in students from a young age, she embraced her entrepreneurial streak and expanded her teaching reach beyond her classroom walls.
As founder of Chloe Taylor Technology, the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences alumna (who also has a certification from CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center) provides educational services focused on 21st century learning for schools, organizations and brands that result in measurable and meaningful STEM learning experiences.
Her new book “The Big Book of Invisible Technology” uses an interactive approach and step-by-step experiments to break down how things work from the invisible internet to driverless cars and drones in kid-friendly ways.
We sat down with Chloe to hear her thoughts on how teaching 3D printing, computer science, coding and other STEM concepts now will build a better world in the future.
Why do you feel that it is vital for children to start engaging with STEM concepts like robotics, computer science and 3D printing at a young age?
Children today are entering a new world, and they will face challenges that we cannot predict. Because of this, the best educational experiences will encourage 21st-century learning skills, like coding, and also critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. It is important that children learn foundational technology skills when they are young, so that they have many opportunities to learn, grow and experiment in their educational journeys. Equally as important are the social and emotional skills that will allow them to build and lead into the future.
How do you envision students harnessing “invisible technology” and the experiments in your book to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges?
Many children can’t imagine a world without technology. They are considered to be “digital natives” and can learn to use devices and adapt to new concepts very easily. But many are strictly consumers of the tech around them. They may play video games or spend a considerable amount of time on YouTube, without understanding how it works. My inspiration for writing “Invisible Technology” was to show kids how cool technology can be, and how it powers so many aspects of our lives without us even knowing that it is there. I’m hopeful that kids will be able to use computer science, robotics, design and many more digital skill sets to combat problems like climate change, social injustice and infectious disease management in the future.
Technology is in a constant forward motion. Where do you see STEM education and hands-on learning heading in the future?
The pandemic had an enormous impact on how we teach STEM topics. I personally feel that the experience of hands-on learning in a makerspace is ideal, but sharing materials in a closed setting won’t happen again for some time. Learning at home presents a great opportunity to encourage project-based learning. Children are innately curious and imaginative. Both of these traits lend themselves well to projects that are open-ended and allow children to come up with creative solutions to real-world problems.
Children will need to get creative with the materials they have in their homes as prototyping materials. One of the main goals I had when writing my book was to give young readers a deep dive into tech topics and a way to experiment with them without being cost prohibitive. In the book, there is a project about 3D printing that uses Play-Doh and a machine learning project that uses old magazines.
With the shift to online and hybrid learning environments due to COVID-19, what are some simple ways caregivers can help children to expand their STEM educations at home?
The advice I give to caregivers that are facilitating home-learning experiences this year is to take your lead from your child’s interests. Online learning can be tiring, so if you have a child who gets excited about something, follow that energy and build in opportunities to learn. A friend of mine has a son who is obsessed with snakes. He absolutely loves them and wants one as a pet! We talked through some ways that she can harness his interest in reptiles through exploration of broader themes like camouflage, animal habitats and even robots that have been inspired by the movement of snakes. “Let’s learn about your favorite animal” and “Let’s read a book” may be different approaches, but they share the same goal of learning at home.
You left your teaching job to start your own STEM education consulting company. Do you have any advice for those fellow Tartan entrepreneurs out there who have a game-changing idea but are hesitant to do the same?
I strongly encourage anyone who has an entrepreneurial dream to pursue it fully. The way that I was able to make my dream come to life was by working full time, saving money and building my business during the evening and during summer breaks. It definitely wasn’t easy, but I am glad that I did it this way. I talk to so many aspiring entrepreneurs that are considering leaving full-time work to start a new venture. If you can make that work financially, do it! But there is nothing wrong with building piece-by-piece and taking the leap when you feel ready and have a backup plan in place.
How has your CMU education helped you along your career journey?
Carnegie Mellon has played an incredibly influential role in my life and career. My first experience on campus was as a Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS) student. That was an invaluable experience for me. It was my first exposure to science and technology coursework, and I took my first robotics class through that program. I made lifelong friends and decided to attend CMU as an undergraduate student based on that summer.
As an undergraduate student, I studied and worked in Dietrich College’s Department of History under Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Science Joe Trotter Jr. and Associate Professor Edda Fields-Black. I worked as a research assistant for their books and learned so much under their mentorship. I looked up to them as a student and hold them both in high regard to this day. Looking back on my education, my love for technology and the humanities were nurtured by my CMU experience. And although it was a challenging academic journey at times, each challenge prepared me to achieve at a high level throughout my career.
I have been reading the reviews that have been posted online for my book as they come in, and I consistently see the words “historical perspective” pop up from parents who are reading the book alongside their children. I know that is the influence of my education shining through, and I am grateful for the lasting impact Carnegie Mellon has had on my life.