picture showing musical robot instruments

Look for the STEM in the curriculum not the curriculum for STEM

A few weeks ago, I was watching the CBS Sunday Morning show when their  5 minute story on “How the Steadicam changed movies” really caught my attention.  Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam said “I was a better inventor then I was cameraman and director”.  BINGO!  Here was the perfect example that STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math occur fluidly and naturally within all disciplines, not separately.

The National Science Foundation came up with the acronym STEM in the 1990’s.  The intent was indeed to refer to four specific disciplines, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The term STEM gained momentum when in April of 2013, President Barack Obama stated at the Third Annual White House Science Fair that we needed to  “create an all-hands-on-deck approach to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”.   However  what remained missing was a clear definition of what  this approach would look like. Addressing these subjects seems to have taken on a traditional educational approach,  laser focused on increased funding and curriculum offerings in very specific disciplines. Understandably, educators in other disciplines felt overlooked resulting in additional acronyms including STEAM (Arts), STREAM, (Arts and Reading), and STEMM, (Music).

I don’t think we need to add A for the Arts, or an R for reading, or the M for Music because STEM can be found in every discipline. Find the STEM in your curriculum, not the curriculum for STEM.  Exposing students at a young age to the STEM principles that are everywhere within the curriculum show students what is possible. Providing that window that ignite something in them that otherwise would go dormant. Mitch Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, reminds us that we live in a creative society and we need to “help students develop as creative thinkers”. Rather than isolate it, integrate it.

Teach the importance of  syntax, structure, proofreading by incorporating a coding experience.   Use software and engineering to design a new treehouse for Swiss Family Robinson.  Design a new way to draw using software and robotics. Create a new style of music or create a composition. How about a song that reacts to different light sensors?

Seymour Papert famously said “The Role of the Teachers is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready made knowledge”.  As you find the STEM within your curriculum, not the curriculum in the STEM, look for resources or kits that are

  • -open ended, with no ceiling or basement. These will provide the most flexibility in a curriculum
  • -the kit should be a blank slate, so if students want to come up with a better motorcycle for “Ralph the Mouse” (Beverly Cleary), an automated way to paint a fence for Tom Sawyer, or any other number of ideas they have, they can!
  • -allow the learner to be the inventor, creator, and solve  problems themselves.
  • -having an open ended invention kit allows for the integration across all subject matters in creative ways.

Brown now holds 50 patents for a variety of technology inventions that enhance the arts and filmmaking. Listening to him during the CBS piece he confidently explains the science and technology behind the Steadicam.  “I am an Inventor” he states. Yes he is! He is not a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math major. He is someone who followed his passion and used the resources and tools available to support his creativity and ideas.

1.https://tinyurl.com/ybh5tvlh
2.https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/51616/STEMmania.pdf?sequence
3. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/02/11/stem-all
4. https://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/Learning-Leading.pdf

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