STEM Education: Developing 21st century problem solvers

STEM Education: Developing 21st century problem solvers

for those of you that aren't familiar with stem the acronym stands for science technology engineering and math and in my 20 years in education I have seen kids become the most perseverant problem solvers just using STEM education in the classroom but first before I jump in I think it's time to reflect for just a minute I want you to think about some of our greatest visionaries and I want you to think about the contributions that they have made and consider what our world would be like if they hadn't made those contributions it's interesting but it would probably be a lot darker than it is right now well thank you thank you very much and I can also say thank you to Thomas Edison among others Thomas Edison was once asked by a reporter mr. Edison how could you have continued to work on trying to develop the electric light bulb after you had failed a thousand times and Edison's response was rather poignant he said sir I did not fail once I found a thousand ways that did not work really sort of reframes you're thinking about failure doesn't it Edison didn't believe in failure he believed in perseverance now what would happen if Thomas Edison were in school today Tommy's got his science homework and he brings it back into school now would he be given an F because that assignment was so late or would he be given an A for his perseverance it really comes back to what we value great thinkers in science technology engineering and math they value certain qualities that have continually been curious and the ability to persist when challenges get tough Albert Einstein has a wonderful quote he said it's not that I'm smart it's just that I stay with problems longer when I think about kids in school today they have that same potential but do we give them the opportunity to stay with problems longer the way schools are often structured we focus a great deal on product rather than on process we teach a certain number of minutes in dedicated content we teach them procedures we teach them to strive for that right answer and if they're successful they get good grades I mean raise your hand if you can identify with that model of teaching I know I can thank you that is until I got into college in my education program and I met an amazing man who sort of transformed my thinking in learning and teaching I have a canning jar here if you're not familiar with a canning jar the old canning jars that your grandmother's used to use the canned vegetables and whatnot there's a two-part metal lid that goes into a canning jar and what I did is I took out the metal insert and I replaced it with a window screen so that screen is porous and so of course I can pour this green water right through there and you turn it over and of course water comes out the interesting thing when you have a teacher like dr. David Keller he shows you how you can do something absolutely astounding and make people really wonder now you've seen this water come out repeatedly it pours out it's porous now that's pretty fascinating clearly I could walk into a classroom and do that and tell the students what we're going to talk about on that given day but that's not what he modeled for us he modeled for us setting up a problem that was pretty dynamic and engaging and then empowering us to figure out how did that work through exploration and problem-solving we figured that out well you can imagine with that sort of a model as my science methods instructor in college I was pretty pumped about teaching science when I got my first classroom and I quickly engaged the kids with hands-on experiences just like this and taught the kids how to problem-solve and they really understood high-level content in 2007 I was awarded with the Presidential Award in excellence in science teaching and I was invited to Washington DC and for the first time in my career I heard about STEM education I'd never heard before and before I left I was so inspired I remember driving back from Washington DC and telling my wife oh my gosh I have to do this in my classroom thinking about focusing on process and giving projects to the kids where they really could grapple with problems even longer so as we're driving back I'm brainstorming and we start contacting different organizations when I returned to Michigan and I started collecting projects to do and my wife and I started collecting every recyclable object you can think of not knowing what students would want to use in their prototypes so years ago my first endeavor in STEM education in my classroom I decided I was going to do an extension of the current electricity unit that I had just finished with my third graders and my plan is my students were going to be electrical engineers I'm going to give them these blank blueprints they're going to draft these wiring diagrams they're going to wire these little miniature houses with lights and motorized ceiling fans and switches and then I would come in as the electrical inspector and I'm going to inspect their work and if they did a nice job if the wiring diagram is accurate if the house is safe they earn their electrical permit it's a great idea so I pass out these blueprints and I'm walking around and the kids are very excited and they're filling in their blueprints and suddenly I got the sick feeling in my stomach realizing that none of these plans not one of them not one of them was going to work and I didn't know what to do I thought oh my gosh I should just stop this obviously I need to reteach but they were so excited I just let it keep going but what happens sort of changed my thinking about education yet again the students didn't get frustrated like I thought they would their circuits didn't work but what do they do they look back at their wiring diagrams and they start problem solving and troubleshooting and suddenly these eight-year-old kids are teaching me about the engineering design process right in front of my eyes they had planned they had designed they had executed it didn't work they're going back they're replanting they're redesigning they're changing as these projects continued I started having a lot more faith in the wisdom of children and realizing that their perseverance was incredible if given an opportunity to showcase it so as I continued with these projects I learned some other things along the way I learned you have to keep them as open-ended as possible because the same challenge can have very very different results I also learned don't give very many rules and finally show them no models at all nothing to copy I'm going to show you two very short video clips with my students doing the same task and you'll see how they approached it differently the challenge with this they had to develop a ball launching system that is going to launch a ping-pong ball and land in a bucket okay we even ended up with this coordinate grid on the floor so we could measure how far these balls were traveling and firing from different coordinates which was pretty interesting the first clip I want to show you though I want you to look to the right of the screen you're going to see a big white arrow and this little boy is going to fire off his ping pong ball makes me laugh every time I see that it's amazing what you can do with spoons and rubber bands honestly it had a retractable rapid fire arm I still have no clue how he built it no clue the next one I'm going to show you though this is the same task look at the top of the screen with the little girl under the white arrow she's up on the chair here and this little girl she developed a counterbalance system and when this thing was all done she had a locking pin that would lock on the chair she could pull the locking pin and this counterweight would flip and the ball would land in that bucket every single time and I said to her how did you come up with that idea and she goes I don't know I just thought of it that's a sign of true ingenuity and she's eight now what does it look like though when the kids fail what does it look like I did a challenge where I had the kids develop these paddle wheel boats I had three rules your boat has to float it has to make it from one end of my water track to the next and it has to run under rubberband power whatever that means so you'll notice in this little clip here I've got a couple of really good prototypes little boy and little girl both having really impressive results this little guy with the stripe shirt he puts his boat in and it instantly sinks he grabs it he shoves it to the end of the water track he celebrates look at his face is that a face of failure no way this is a child who realizes okay I have to go redesign he's not daunted by that at all because the students knew how to persevere sometimes these collaborative opportunities that I would give to the kids would really enhance their thinking – this is a challenge where I ask the kids to develop a marble roller coaster my rules were simple the balls had to roll down a track that you make in a controlled manner and the whole thing has to fit on a piece of poster board so I can fit him to my classroom now this group of girls they elected to make theirs entirely out of paper this is all out of paper with the exception of one plastic cup that means the structure the track everything so you can imagine not only a lot of paper but a lot of tape now once the kids had this finish you think they're going to be satisfied sense of accomplishment no way they don't want to be done mr. Stevenson can we add another track we have this idea we can do this loop and it can jump out the ball can jump from one track to the next they're starting to think about trajectory and momentum and they're asking can we stand at recess can we stay after school can we come in early and I'm saying go home go outside my favorites agree but the fact is they were so committed to this problem that even after school they're still going home and grappling with it that's amazing now not only did I see some amazing perseverance develop in my students I also realized that the kids really had a good sense of what opportunities they choose to pursue as adults in stem if they chose to the little girl on the left one day said to me mr. Stevenson I want to be a chemical engineer when I grow up and I said oh that's wonderful what would you like to do and her answer really indicates me she knew exactly what Chemical Engineering is all about because she said I want to design makeup she was sincere she was accurate now I like to believe that children naturally think outside the box and it's really up to adults to help cultivate that we do it at home we do it at school we do it in the community and when we think about the future we're going to need some really good problem solvers really good problem solvers in fact there's even a global race to try to increase the number of people who aspire to STEM fields because of the innovation and needs that await us so it really it's all of our responsibilities to help kids learn to persevere and and solve problems but what can we do as parents and I am a parent of two wonderful children we want to provide open-ended challenges for the kids I like to provide lots of recyclable materials look what this kid did with a box it's amazing if you give them opportunities like this to build and create their being ingenious and innovative and creative take kids to hands-on Science Museum's and let them explore or you can do like what my dad did for me and give them an old radio that doesn't work snip off the plug and take it apart together just to see what's inside educators have a unique opportunity to as we think about trying to integrate our content when we teach we not only increase the depth of understanding we also free up instructional time so we can embed amazing projects and stem challenges right into our daily instruction it's daunting but if you start slow researching online finding some projects looking at the next generation science standards that were released last year that have some really good suggestions in they're partnering with field scientists to come into the classroom to make it come to life and make it relevant and above all believe that your children are going to be a gene now the business community has a stake in this as well by developing partnerships with schools we can do employee mentorship and volunteer programs having professionals come in and talk to the kids about career options is wonderful and of course no one is ever going to deny financial contributions or consumable contributions I mean tape alone we go through a lot of that we also have to think about decision makers and policy makers at the state level State Boards of Education they have a unique opportunity to adopt standards like the next generation science standards that came out last year so far eight states have adopted them but it really places a level of importance on STEM education in the classroom which i think is profoundly significant together if we work together we can actually preserve protect foster children's natural desire to discover and invent and for that next little Albert out there he will also learn how to persevere and innovate my final thought that I'm going to leave with you it's a challenge really I'm going to challenge you each to try something today like you to try to make a table that is 16 inches tall it has to be made of nothing else but newspaper and tape has to be sturdy enough to hold at least 10 pounds of books difficult challenge perhaps but don't worry if you have trouble just ask a child to help you and keep experimenting thank you very much

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14 thoughts on “STEM Education: Developing 21st century problem solvers

  1. I have seen a low IQ guy develop a process of making masks with a heat gun and vacuum pump.
    I have interviewed a lot of engineers. Works well with others and does not give up are some things to look for.

  2. Bring US on top, America got talent and resources, we should move from 17th, progressively towards first position.

  3. I like this talk very much! thank you. I think the point is very clear and the approach is worth trying.

  4. OMG, another American talking about pedagogical practices approaches and the focus of education. The USA is still so low on the PISA score. Also Thomas Edison is a bad example, you may like to mentionTesla instead. Pick role models of good moral character.

  5. This is good information and motivational. I do think that when talking about Edison's success one should mention Nikola Tesla. Thank you for being committed to the valuable career of teaching.

  6. The value of a STEM education is now gone. The truth is there are no jobs for the STEM educated, because they cost too much to employ, in America. There is no point in learning Calculus if in the end you cost too much to employ. This is the environment students are facing, today, in America when they leave school. I am STEM educated and have industry experience. I know what's true. The truth is the value of a STEM education in America is now gone. It was here, but now it is gone. America, you are buying technology that will not employ you nor your kids.

  7. now train 9-10 july 2016 "STEM education" at university Chiangmai province Thailand
    sometime i ever knew a long time ago but don't practice the curriculum shown activity that.

    sorry ! bad write English language !

  8. Want to keep up-to-date on the latest STEM/STEAM topics and get some great ideas for your classroom…visit and "Like" our Facebook page at:

  9. Watch: "The Global Water Crisis: POU Water Filters — The Balanced Equation HQ" on YouTube.  This video introduces an interdisciplinary unit entitled: "STEM-ming The Global Drinking Water Crisis" which is loaded with great hands-on STEM activities.  Read the description below the video.

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