Growing up, my math classes typically consisted of boring teachers, repetitive homework assignments and sneaking games onto my Ti-83 calculator. Similarly, science classes left me asleep at my desk, where teachers taught directly from the book and wilder chemistry experiments were banned due to toxic fumes. In other words, when it came to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), my classmates and I never saw the potential.
My experience is the opposite of what some young students are lucky enough to have, now that the foundations of programming and engineering being taught earlier and earlier in school. Just the sheer possibility that kids are being taught math in a practical, applied fashion means they’ll actually get what the whole process is for — inspiring kids to innovate and learn while building something amazing.
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According to director Chris Rogers, science is merely “trying to understand the world around you” and engineering is “trying to change the world around you.” As BostInno notes, “with definitions like that, STEM should feel like an approachable topic rather than something that causes students anxiety.
Rogers has found that kids are natural inventors, so he’s helping students to learn robotics with LEGO bricks thanks to ROBOLAB, a robotic approach to learning science and math. The center, which also teaches manufacturing with musical instruments, is taking these concepts to thousands of teachers through numerous programs. STOMP (Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program), for example, connects teachers with university students to bring engineering knowledge to K-12 classrooms.
When asked, “Why STEM education,” Roger refers to a point his friend made from the Museum of Science: “Just take a second and look around you, and remove everything that is human-made, designed by an engineer. Where would you be? Think about how much time was spent learning about those things? Almost zero. Why have we not put enough emphasis on problem solving?”
If you’ve spent time around high school students lately, you’ll notice that there’s still so much left to change. Math is still geeky and the act of making an app or building a robot isn’t something most students will ever have the opportunity to explore.
Initiatives like those at Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach are truly leading the way and are imperative for inspiring the next generation of innovators. So far we have ourselves an impressive start, but this is just the beginning. We’ll keep our eyes open for more initiatives like these, where the tech industry reaches out into schools and the community.