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Diversity in STEM

Prioritizing Empathy Through Invention Education

As both educators and students alike can attest, these past two years have not been easy. To overcome challenges from unexpected building closures to extended remote learning, now more than ever, it’s essential that children receive the best social-emotional learning (SEL) experiences possible.

No longer can SEL be considered a luxury, or an opportunity that’s “nice to have.” In an address delivered earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona reiterated this point.

“Our schools must offer increased access to mental health supports for students, wrap-around programs, meaningful and authentic parent and family engagement, and interventions for those students who felt the impact of the pandemic more bluntly than others,” said Cardona. “Missed instruction has affected millions of students—we must ensure that these students receive the most resources and supports. Let's come together to ensure that all children, in all schools, feel connected and supported.”


Educating with Empathy

While SEL involves a variety of components and competencies, a key aspect to all of them is empathy. Defined as the ability to understand or be sensitive to the experiences or feelings of someone else, or essentially to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathy not only has the power to build stronger classroom communities, but it can also help students feel like they have agency and control.

In the context of our curricula at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we believe that one of the best ways to explore empathy in an academic setting is to embrace authentic invention education and ask children to solve real-world problems by inventing their own solutions.

Informed by over 30 years of experience in developing hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming, we’ve learned from our NIHF Inductees that one of the very first steps in creating an impactful invention is to first think about how it will help others.


Putting Empathy into Action

Using accessible upcycled materials that are easily found around the home, these free STEM activities invite children to practice empathy through the act of invention prototyping. Your students can enjoy these hands-on activities in either a classroom or at-home setting. As their ideas come to life, we encourage you to share your students’ creations with us on Facebook!

For more ideas and support in encouraging healthy perspectives, promoting greater inclusivity in learning environments, and guiding our next generation of creators, innovators and leaders, please visit our blog.

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