The complexities of today’s world require all people to be equipped with a new set of core knowledge and skills to solve difficult problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information they receive from varied print and, increasingly, digital media. The learning and doing of STEM helps develop these skills and prepare students for a workforce where success results not just from what one knows, but what one is able to do with that knowledge. Thus, a strong STEM education is becoming increasingly recognized as a key driver of opportunity and innovation, and data show the need for STEM knowledge and skills will grow and continue into the future.
When “Innovation” becomes the keyword in our today’s world, we identify two components that need to bring out and that help make Innovation wide-spread in our community today.
Accessible learning activities that invite intentional play and risk. Activities that are designed to incorporate intentional play are applicable at all levels of the education. These activities offer low barriers to entry and encourage creative expression of ideas, while still engaging diverse students in complex and difficult content. In STEM-themed play, young people’s desire to design and create motivates curiosity in STEM and fosters a sense of belonging as students learn from and with others, and are encouraged to think in divergent ways. Through the process of exploration and discovery, they see that STEM is everywhere, that they have something to contribute to the field, and they learn to take a team-based approach to tackling real-world problems and challenges. These are the Engineering Design Process (EDP) we are applying in our Engineering For Kids courses.
Educational experiences that include interdisciplinary approaches to solving “grand challenges”. STEM education engages students of all ages in tackling grand challenges. Grand challenges are those that are not yet solved at the local community, national, or global levels. Grand challenges may include, for example, water conservation or improving water quality; better understanding the human brain to uncover new ways to prevent, treat, and cure brain disorders and injury; developing new technology-enabled systems for improving access to health care; addressing aging infrastructure; or making solar energy cost competitive and electric cars that are affordable. Tasking children and youth with a grand challenge helps them understand the relevance of Innovation and Improvement STEM to their lives and to see the value of STEM in addressing issues that better their own lives and the lives of others. The “Water Turbine” class above is helping children understand how to use water to convert water potential energy to kinetic energy which is part of the grand challenges for using clean energy.
These two components are the core of our STEM courses. We welcome any comments and suggestions to further make our courses innovate and bring innovation to our next generation.