Unlocking the Power of PBL+: Samsung’s Teacher Academy Empowers U.S. Educators to Boost STEM Education with Entrepreneurship & AI
In late July, a remarkable event unfolded in Denver, Colorado as 38 U.S. public middle and high school teachers gathered to participate in Samsung’s 5th annual Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy. This transformative week-long professional development program immersed educators in innovative teaching methodologies and professional skills, as well as community building with likeminded educators.
Teacher Academy’s primary focus has been on enhancing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education through problem-based learning (PBL) – a hands-on, collaborative learning method using complex real-world problems to promote learning. This year, the PBL-based program curriculum was further enriched with environmental stewardship, social impact entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence-based assessment, design-thinking, and empathy development, creating a comprehensive and impactful approach that we’ve coined PBL+. PBL+ is of paramount importance as it not only equips students with essential contemporary skills, but also prepares them for the workforce of the future, where adaptability, critical thinking, and innovative approaches will be crucial for success.
A Platform for Empowering Educators
Samsung’s commitment to education goes beyond providing cutting-edge technology and solutions to consumers and academic institutions. Teacher Academy builds on the success of Samsung Solve for Tomorrow – our national competition that challenges U.S. public school students in grades 6-12 to explore the role STEM can play in solving some of the biggest issues in their local communities. In 2019, we recognized that addressing a continuing shortfall in STEM teachers was critical to ensure the future of STEM education in the U.S.
Teacher Academy meets that need by offering a carefully curated professional development program to educators that have participated in Solve for Tomorrow — whom we know to be highly motivated and committed to advancing opportunities for STEM students. The annual program centers around inspiring and motivating STEM teachers – so they can inspire more students to pursue STEM education and careers. With this year’s Teacher Academy class of STEM teachers, we will have hosted more than 250 educators over the past five years.
A Week of Immersive Learning
To put PBL+ into action, educators visited Denver Water to design an innovative and viable solution to maximize water resources for Colorado and combat the critical drought conditions that the Centennial State and neighboring states face. After touring the water treatment and recycling facilities, teachers worked in groups on their prototype solutions.
Colorado State University’s CSU SPUR hosted educators, with tours of the research and education center, including laboratories, veterinary clinics, hydroponic gardens, and more. Group discussion included how to leverage community resources in learning opportunities, and how to engage with community partners to bring instruction outside of the classroom.
New this year, the program curriculum zeroed in on empowering educators to cultivate entrepreneurial mindsets among students – especially given that the Solve for Tomorrow competition is grounded in socially impactful innovation. Mini-sessions delved into practical aspects of entrepreneurship, protecting intellectual property, and empowering educational growth through real-world experiences and user-centric learning, leaving teachers inspired to infuse their classrooms with entrepreneurial spirit.
Moreover, Dr. Justin Aglio, Executive Director of the Readiness Institute at Pennsylvania State University, led a seminar-style discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) and its relevance in K-12 education. With a focus on the ethics of AI, teachers engaged in small group discussions, exploring ways to leverage AI for greater effectiveness in their teaching practices, encouraging student involvement, and envisioning AI’s applications in the Solve for Tomorrow competition. This session provided valuable insights into the potential of AI to enhance education and create positive social impact.
Teacher Academy partner, MindSpark Learning, which provides innovative and sustainable professional development nationwide for educators, designed a dynamic learning environment that encouraged exploration and experimentation. “At MindSpark Learning, we believe that teachers are the architects of a brighter future. Our Teacher Academy partnership with Samsung underscores our commitment to empowering educators with the tools they need to foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity in students,” emphasized Kiki Huckaby, Chief Impact Officer of MindSpark Learning. “By investing in our teachers, we invest in a better tomorrow.”
“I have learned so many valuable lessons and best practices from Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy. I have gained insights on how to improve problem-based learning in my classroom, how to form stronger partnerships with organizations and individuals within our local community, how to help educators in my district develop stronger entrepreneurial approaches to teaching, and how to form solid connections with other amazing educators across the nation,” said Phillip Hutcherson, a Teacher Academy attendee and K-12 Math and Science Instruction Specialist at Colorado Springs School District 11.
“We believe in the power of education to transform lives and communities. Teacher Academy is a testament to Samsung’s dedication to supporting educators who play a crucial role in shaping the future,” said Ann Woo, Samsung Electronics America’s Head of Corporate Citizenship. “By fostering creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship through this immersive PBL+ training, we aim to elevate STEM education to new heights and encourage a bright and inclusive STEM workforce.”
As the 5th annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy came to a close, a ripple effect of positive change was set in motion. Armed with new knowledge and perspectives, these educators are now better prepared to equip their students with the skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century. Their impact will spread out across the STEM discipline, as our Teacher Academy alumni return home to directly inspire 100 or more students each semester, thousands of STEM learners per year, across all 50 states, inspiring a new generation of innovators, leaders, and problem solvers.