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“There is a constant inflow of advances coming from the STEM world” with Tiffany Sorya

There is a constant inflow of advances coming from the STEM world, yet there aren’t enough people, not only in the US but also around the world, who are interested in pursuing such a career. I believe many schools and teachers have recognized this need, and are beginning to access the surplus of online resources […]

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There is a constant inflow of advances coming from the STEM world, yet there aren’t enough people, not only in the US but also around the world, who are interested in pursuing such a career. I believe many schools and teachers have recognized this need, and are beginning to access the surplus of online resources and form industry connections in order to build activities and programs that encourage STEM learning. However, there are still many schools that are unable to provide the suitable activities, or alter their curriculum to incorporate STEM projects.

As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Tiffany Sorya, the founder of Novel Education Group.

Tiffany Sorya is the Founder and Director of Novel Education Group, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. The 34-year old is a renowned thought leader in the education industry and is widely recognized for spearheading a fundamental change in the way young people engage with education in the digital age. Tiffany graduated from Portland State University and, started tutoring students in math and science. In 2014, after seeing the positive impact of her individualized approach to learning, Tiffany founded Novel Education Group. Since then she has pursued her love for academics by creating her own successful teaching philosophy that has transformed homeschooling and tutoring programs throughout Southern California. Novel Education Group continues to grow its list of high-end clientele globally, particularly in our current fast-paced digital age, successfully advancing Tiffany’s uniquely innovative education philosophies.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

Iwas actually a really terrible student my first year of college. It was when I started developing effective study habits and time management skills that I began to excel and, at that point. I started earning really high marks on exams and essays. I saw other students struggle and started tutoring and implementing the same strategies I used to help them succeed. I understood that being a good student was not a talent, but a set of skills that could be taught to everyone; students only need to find their own effective methods. Upon moving to Los Angeles, I began privately tutoring and homeschooling immediately and not only catering to the struggling student but also high-profile and celebrity clientele. I developed a knack for making education relevant to a demographic that didn’t necessarily need to rely on education and noticed a large discrepancy between personal passion and academic excellence. I felt like students should be able to have more control over what they are learning and be able to incorporate their passions/career goals into school. I started Novel Education Group based off this philosophy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the most difficult challenges of any teacher is getting students to read. Read lessons, books, anything… I had one high-profile client who was not only extremely busy with her career as a teenager, but also not keen on reading. That year, we read aloud 6 novels and the student was so engaged! I learned that ALL students have the capacity to not only learn but be interested in books/subjects that they normally would give a lot of pushback on; we only need to find a way to reach them.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are currently working on developing fun and engaging book clubs for students of all ages! It’s our way of trying to get students to read more and be interactive with their peers as we battle this pandemic.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

I have been privately teaching and tutoring for over 10 years and have seen first-hand success from hundreds of students. What we do works because our approach makes sense. We are an advocate for students and believe that when you hold them accountable, tailor learning towards their interests, and allow them to work at their own pace and around their own schedule, they will develop a natural love for learning that all educators, parents and students alike, hope to gain from an education.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

That’s a difficult question to answer as there is such a HUGE discrepancy between public and private schools, as well as where they are located geographically. And now, because of school closings spurred by the virus, those discrepancies have been exacerbated. Right now isn’t the time to be focusing on rating or comparing schools anyways. Students and parents fear falling behind enough as is. What’s important is that students continue to make improvements and maintain their curiosity for learning.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

I’ve seen a lot of schools incorporating character education into their approaches which has been really great to see! There are also some students whose primary meals are received from school so the fact that they can offer that is incredibly special. The variety in our selection of alternative education is something that I find is often overlooked. There are a lot of options for alternative education that students can choose from, each with pedagogies for teaching and learning different from mainstream education.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

Student-centered learning, community/parent involvement, updated content of study, teacher training, and school safety.

There has always been an issue involving government funding in schools — specifically regarding a deficit of funding. In several lower income locations, funding does not increase with need, or meet the school and student’s needs. There are many states that issue funding that is too low, which results in fewer teachers, lousy training, less programs and poor resources. Address this and we might see better teacher training, which means improvements in student learning because it allows schools to make more autonomous decisions about what and how they teach. This in return encourages student-centered learning as well as improved/more engaging areas of study that are relevant to student’s interests and the current times. This can’t be done by teachers alone, it takes a community of parents, staff members, and students to make impactful, cohesive change.

School safety means something a little different now than it did before the pandemic. It, as well as teacher training, is just as important as ever while we continue learning through this uncertain time. We are seeing students return to school because it’s their only option, and teachers leaving in fear of their own health. It’s critical that as schools return, they highlight a plan to operate in a safe manner.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

There is a constant inflow of advances coming from the STEM world, yet there aren’t enough people, not only in the US but also around the world, who are interested in pursuing such a career. I believe many schools and teachers have recognized this need, and are beginning to access the surplus of online resources and form industry connections in order to build activities and programs that encourage STEM learning. However, there are still many schools that are unable to provide the suitable activities, or alter their curriculum to incorporate STEM projects.

There is also a large STEM opportunity gap between high and low-income schools, as well as between male and female students. Students who attend low budgeted schools, are members of minority groups, have disabilities, or are female are historically given less opportunities to participate in STEM learning activities then others. This gap widens as students continue their education through elementary school to college.

One way we can increase engagement in STEM is to make STEM learning fun! A common misconception about STEM is that it is boring, dull and extremely difficult, however this is not the case! STEM is exciting, exhilarating and enjoyable, and STEM activities will allow students to learn through exploration, creativity, collaborative, and beneficial failure. There is an endless amount of online resources for teachers and even parents to access to bring fun STEM activities into the classroom and home.

Another way is to include on-site field trips for students at STEM workplaces. Allowing students to explore STEM in a work environment provides them with a unique learning experience where they can observe, perceive, and understand more about STEM. Sparking student’s curiosity and interest in STEM is key!

Lastly, incorporating or integrating STEM programs into after-school activities can be a great way to increase engagement. Imagine if students were encouraged to integrate STEM into their after-school service learning — they could solve real solutions to problems they see in their communities. We developed an Enrichment Program for one of our students that combined her love for animals with her desire to improve in math with a unit that had her build her own zoo.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

As a Biology major, I can’t stress enough how critical it is for women to be involved in STEM subjects, and to feel encouraged and welcomed to participate in the field regardless of wanting to pursue a STEM career. Historically, women have not been encouraged to pursue careers in STEM due to social norms, biases, expectations and prejudices. But as we bettered our social systems and understanding of gender equalities, it’s time for young girls to recognize their capabilities and feel empowered to pursue their passions. STEM professionals really do cutting edge work and solve real world problems daily. And as STEM professionals continue to advance our technological world, it’s crucial that women are included in the conversation. STEM careers are some of the most impactful and meaningful around, and young girls should feel encouraged and inspired to join this purpose! Despite my own entrepreneurial endeavors, I’ve always felt that the real game changers in this world will not be the big business owners. It will be scientists, doctors, engineers and tech gurus that will make it possible for our entire existence as a species to advance into the future. I will always encourage my students, particularly female, to pursue education in the STEM field.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

While there have certainly been improvements, there still remains a large gender gap and under representation within the STEM fields between men and women. I believe that one of the greatest reasons young girls are not exploring or even considering STEM is because of how they perceive it. Many girls are prone to think that STEM subjects are simply manly, boring, or too difficult. There are also stereotypes and cultural norms that are unmotivating women to pursue such an interest. But as technology and social movements continue to rapidly transform our lives, we are seeing now more than ever educators are working to eliminate such disparities by encouraging girls to be involved in STEM.

One way we can increase female engagement in STEM is to provide more hands-on opportunities and programs outside of the classroom that are dedicated to inspiring and teaching future generations of female STEM leaders. Allowing women to participate in programs that provide a female empowered and highly encouraging environment is critical for women- especially to the susceptible minds of young girls.

Another way to increase female engagement is to provide opportunities for young girls to meet or see women who are STEM professionals. From in-person classroom visits to online videos, it could be visually life-altering for young girls to actually meet or see women participating and succeeding within the STEM fields.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

With STEAM, students can explore a wide range of interests through inquiry and problem-based learning methods. It is a more realistic and natural way of learning because it is a cross-disciplinary practice that more accurately depicts real life. Plus, there is already a large investment of artisanship that comes with STEM activities, STEAM allows students to explore their creative interests to their own degree. Think of a kindergarten classroom where art and visuals are essential for cognitive growth. Instead of having students only learn about different habitats, they can build, paint, or make videos of them themselves! STEAM allows students to explore their creative interests to their own degree so there are unlimited possibilities.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

This is a loaded question so I’ll keep it simple: basically, I’d implement the core components of our philosophy: Autonomy and agency, cross-disciple subjects, self-paced learning, emphasis on process, and personal investment.

We give our teachers a lot of autonomy when teaching so they can change curriculum and teach based on what they observe and notice from the student. We had a student who wanted to study phycology and, relevant to this topic, our teacher noticed she was really passionate about the education system. Instead of sticking to our original curriculum, we collaborated to change the direction of the course so she could create her own school, complete with rules and approaches weeded in character education. We do this with all of our students to help them pursue their interest and create a personal investment in their learning. It helps them understand how learning can be integrated in their everyday activities and be beneficial in pursuing their interests. Cross-disciplinary learning also encourages this. We created where young students have the opportunity to create their own restaurant for dinosaurs. Throughout the program, students are learning math, English, science, and even economics.

We teach our students HOW to learn by emphasizing process. Our teachers ask students questions to help them think about how they arrived at various conclusions.

And safe-paced learning is a key factor in our approach. Often, our students finish courses early because of their genuine interest and shorter working hours- which is often opposite of school environments. We often provide suggested hours of work for our students, and then make them shorter or longer based on learning observations. There’s a perfect balance between letting them work at their own pace, and ensuring they get work completed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“May what’s best for me enter my life naturally without stress or worry. May what needs to leave my life leave naturally without force or fear.”

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Definitely brunch… It sounds cliché, but Rihanna. There’s so much I want to ask her!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram — @Noveleducationgroup

Facebook page Novel Education Group

Website at Noveleducationgroup.com

Email [email protected]

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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