As we navigate further into 21st-century thinking and learning, we know education is not just about sharing content with students — more importantly, it’s about providing students with opportunities to explore, inquire, discover, problem solve and experience. We can no longer focus on “covering” as now it’s time to provide opportunities to “uncover” learning. So, what does STEM have to do with it?
STEM is the vehicle to drive instruction toward a more meaningful path for both educators and students. STEM is rooted in the belief that if we provide students with experiences to explore the in-depth concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we will build long-lasting influence for our future stakeholders. We must ensure that students’ educational pathways include practice, exposure, experience and participation in the “Four Cs”: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication. But what does that look like? Why are these practices important?
Classrooms that seek to strengthen exposure, engagement and thinking can advance application for learning in new and different situations. In such classrooms, teachers can build a toolbox with just the right tools for just the right situation. When students are faced with unfamiliar learning challenges, they will retrieve a tool with which they’ve had firsthand experience and apply it in this new situation. Now that’s true problem solving! The “next big thing” will come from building students’ capacity to be problem seekers, to see the world around them, and to anticipate challenges and turn them into opportunities. This is where empowerment begins.
To empower students, we must provide opportunities for them to seek out their passions and create learning experiences that encourage them to develop their strengths. For instance, to promote design thinking, we must immerse students in a process that will guide them to build upon a challenge, brainstorm possibilities and come up with new and different solutions. The Design Thinking Process is a great tool for teaching 21st-century skills, guiding participants to seek out problems, sort and collect information, collaborate with others and determine solutions based on real-world authenticity.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) seeks to provide the link between theory and practice. Through unique, dynamic education programs, students are exposed to authentic challenges and inspired to innovate new solutions. As we approach the season of innovation, many schools and districts across the country will be hosting our flagship educational STEM summer experience — the Camp Invention® program. Camp Invention is about doing. It’s about encountering real-world challenges and finding new and better solutions. As we watch the spirit of innovation unfold, it reminds us that true learning happens when students experience and uncover new findings.
As educators, we must continue to seek the experiences that will build students’ toolboxes and provide them with firsthand exposure to become problem seekers and solution finders. Our charge is to prepare students for an unknown future and equip them to be critical thinkers and decision makers. So, STEM has everything to do with it. When we expose students to true challenges where they must apply the practices of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we are empowering the next generation. Embrace the power to ignite passion in each of our students today, so they will possess the right stuff for tomorrow. It’s about doing — being an active participant in one’s own learning — which inherently leads toward lifelong learning possibilities for creativity and innovation.