Piontek said educators must adapt to students' cultures and desire to be connected through technology.

Piontek said educators must adapt to students' cultures and desire to be connected through technology.

Not only do global learners create global leaders, but the world’s future depends on education focusing on creative and innovative science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning, said ISTE closing keynote speaker Jeff Piontek.

“I think we need to focus on STEAM–science, technology, engineering, arts, and math,” Piontek said to loud applause from the conference attendees. “Arts and creativity are needed in the future.”

Piontek, a Hawaii-based educator, was selected as “the people’s choice keynote” after a five-month modified crowdsourcing project. Piontek was nominated for his attention to excellence and his approach to delivering digital age education to digital age education to digital age students.

“STEM is going to take us to the next phase of where we’re going in education because that’s where all the money is going. But it needs to be integrated with other fields…and creative STEM is going to lead us into the future,” he said.

Piontek noted that the world has changed drastically over the past 25 years and will continue to do so in the future.

“In the next five to 10 years, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know we need to prepare our children for it,” he said.

Students need to be creative and innovative while urged to pursue fields they are passionate about, Piontek said. They should be given the ability to explore things they are interested in.

“Children should have the chance to give it a go,” he said.

Students need to be connected and work collaboratively in school, he added, saying that in today’s world there’s no excuse for a child to not know something.

“If kids don’t know something, what to do they do? They get on Twitter or Facebook or eMail or Gchat. They use their social network to ask others and find out the answer,” he said.

Additionally, Piontek stressed the need for students to be culturally literate, sharing a story about chastising a student who wouldn’t look him in his eyes without knowing that in that student’s culture it was a sign of disrespect to look at an adult in the eyes.

“When you’re in the classroom, you need to remember that the culture is not your own,” he told the auditorium full of educators.

Piontek also called for ISTE attendees to strive to make changes in education.

“We don’t just need to rock the boat; it needs to be knocked over. And the changes we need to make…are to STEAM ahead and make sure students collect and collaborate,” he said. “Our children are spreading their dreams like seeds beneath our feet. It’s our job to nourish these seeds, but we have to tread lightly because those dreams are needed for our future.”

Piontek is now Head of School at the Hawaii Technology Academy (HTA). A state charter school, HTA has been a hybrid model of individualized learning that combines classroom and virtual learning across the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, the Big Island, Lanai, and Molokai.