Meet the Team: Cindy Starks
Before joining the ASSISTments team, Cindy worked both as a user interface design programmer, a project manager and for 10 years as a 6th grade math teacher. Cindy is excited to come aboard because it will allow her to "have a positive impact on math teaching and learning while also learning about best teaching practices and working with ASSISTments."
Tell me about your background teaching math.
I started teaching the 2008-2009 school year and taught for over 9 years before coming to ASSISTments. In those years, I taught 6th grade math in the Lexington Public Schools. Initially when I investigated becoming a teacher, I wanted to teach physics. But when I found out that physics was taught in high school, not middle school, I changed my mind and instead chose to teach math.
What convinced you to join the ASSISTments team?
It was a variety of different factors. Having been teaching for over nine years, I felt I needed a break, although I am still thinking that I might want to return to teaching in a couple of years if I miss being around the students. I think if I went back now, though this time I would consider returning to teaching as a technology or computer science teacher.
But before I was a teacher, I worked in software and I loved the challenge of working with computers and high tech. Seeing this position at ASSISTments, I was super excited by the prospect to work with data and computers again. Additionally, I thought it was a great opportunity to merge my experience with tech with my experience as a teacher. It has been great being able to stay in education and work on something I know is helping students and teachers.
What do you like most about the ASSISTments platform?
The thing that I like most about ASSISTments is that it is so empowering for teachers and students. I have talked to so many teachers who can’t imagine themselves teaching without this tool. Teachers love the ability to see what students know in real time. As much as ASSISTments helps teachers, I also love that it is a game changer for students. Students appreciate that they get instant feedback on their answers, chances to revise answers, and help when they need it.
How do you hope to see STEM education evolve going forward?
There are two things I would like to see change about the way STEM is taught. First, I think it would be great for teachers to focus on cross-discipline STEM projects. In middle school, every subject is compartmentalized and separated from other subjects. Math is kept in math class, science is kept in science class, and neither of those STEM subjects ever merge with social studies or English. But there are lots of interesting projects that can come from the combination of STEM and other subjects. One example could be using technology to map out a battle from the civil war. These projects can help engage kids interest STEM and how it can be used to delve into the topics students care about.
I also want to see changes in bringing technology into the classroom in smarter ways. As we move forward with one-to-one devices and tech in the classroom, it is important to use tools as strategically as we can. We can’t just have tech for tech sake but tech that helps teachers and students. There are lots of ways to use tech in a way that does not make teaching or learning any better; such as letting kids use computers completely unsupervised in the classroom. With ASSISTments and tools like it, we can have what I like to think of as ‘educated technology use’. This is technology use that benefits teachers and students; these tools need to keep teachers in control, but also give students the help when they need it.
Crossing STEM into different disciplines and thoughtfully bringing tech into the classroom would be two big steps toward the future of education I envision.