Shaifer energizes FETC 2020 and STEM educators with his closing keynote

'Mr. Fascinate' channeled his 'inner nerd' to encourage embracing tools and approaches that connect with Gen Z students
By: | January 17, 2020
Justin Shaifer at FETC 2020

“Show me what a scientist looks like!” Justin Shaifer chanted repeatedly with ever-growing energy.

“This is what a scientist looks like!” chanted back the FETC® 2020 audience, pointing at Shaifer and reflecting his energy.

And that seemingly boundless enthusiasm and passion fueled the core of Shaifer’s keynote, “Bring STEM to Class: A Practical Guide for Education.”

Shaifer, aka “Mr. Fascinate” and the director of Fascinate Inc., steamed through a tech-savvy presentation that exhorted teachers, administrators, coaches and technology staff to seek out and embrace the latest tools to create unique lesson plans that engage Gen Z in STEM. 

Throughout the keynote, Shaifer shared apps, software, platforms and sites that he’s discovered engage and excite students through his work generating STEM curriculum for New York City schools and also from his efforts such as The Magic Cool Bus and his EscapeLab Twitch channel.

“My goal is to make STEM dope,” Shaifer said, sharing his own experiences as a hybrid millennial-Gen Zer as a way for educators to connect with students.

For example, he told about one time during an after-school STEM program he was running, he started playing the interactive online game Kahoot! with the students. After a bit, he realized that the game had been hacked by one of the students, who was trying to show off for a fellow student. Shaifer discovered the student had learned to hack via a YouTube tutorial. “A lot of Gen Z now use YouTube to teach themselves things, so I call it ‘YouTube University,’” said Shaifer. 

This example, he said, begged the question, “What role do educators play in teaching STEM?” And he realized that it’s up to educators to serve as guides on the digital landscape—to vet the many platforms and tools to make sure that students, who are naturally digital natives, find what they need to properly create and succeed.

“Information is everywhere,” he said. “Inspiration is not.”

To that end, some of the digital STEM-friendly tools he shared included Scratch; Bulb; Minecraft; and even Freestyle with Science, which provides music tracks for kids to create their own freestyle raps about science.

He showed a video from his Magic Cool Bus Instagram page of a male seahorse giving birth, suggesting that it can be used to spark conversations about biology and reproduction. He also showed—and reshowed—a YouTube clip of a robot solving a Rubik’s Cube in less than a second. “I find that clip oddly satisfying,” he laughed.

Shaifer also suggested showing kids science-based magic tricks via YouTube. “If you can’t engage kids by showing them videos of these cool tricks on YouTube, then I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.

He also recommended that educators check sites such as Citizen Science, which allows students to participate in actual ongoing science and STEM projects, such as air quality monitoring.

Shaifer also stressed the importance of considering equity in regard to STEM, and avoiding terms such as “underserved” or “underprivileged” and using more positive terms such as “underestimated.” 

“I always thought I was underperforming, and felt marginalized,” Shaifer said. “But I prefer the term ‘underestimated,’ which is a very powerful way that shows them there’s room to grow.”

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