Embracing the E: Why Engineering Should be Part of Your Classroom


The Top 5 E-Reasons


Engineering is the process that brings the built world into existence. And that is very much the world that our students live in. Activities that challenge young people to do things differently and better are far more engaging than traditional verification labs and routine problem sets. In lieu of a traditional lab to study projectile motion, teachers can cover the same topics by challenging students to design a safe model of a water slide. Additional real-world considerations such as aesthetics, cost, safety factors, and capacity can also be incorporated. The grand finale of seeing objects crash into a basin of water is a lot more fun and engaging than collecting sets of data for the range of a marble rolled off a table or launched with a lab device.



If we ever hope to develop mastery, application is needed. “Doing” helps us adjust our mental models and brings forth misconceptions, fostering a much deeper understanding. Students working on mousetrap cars develop a much clearer understanding of the role of friction once they realize the car can’t move on the ground without it. They also begin to understand how it is a resistive, non-conservative force capable of slowing their car down if the moving parts experience too much friction at contact points. All of the words in a textbook or lecture will never make those simple ideas as real to them. Countless problem sets focused on finding the coefficient of friction will never be as effective in developing an understanding of real effects.



In a world that is constantly evolving, the principles of entrepreneurship can give students a strong foundation.  Gen Y and Gen Z-ers are constantly connected and want to be heard. They live in a 24/7 world that is becoming increasing entrepreneurial. The solo and siloed nature of most educational activities is contrary to providing the skills that they will need to succeed. They need to be collaborative and creative thinkers. A well-constructed Engineering challenge supports that model far better than any multiple choice test or repetitive lab. Engineering embraces failure as a learning activity and strives to always move forward to improve the solution. It reinforces resilience, systems thinking, and divergent thinking. Much of that is missing in our one size-fits-all education model that is so focused on the quest for that one right answer.



Good Engineering Design puts the needs of the end user in the forefront. Products and processes are engineered to solve human problems and to make our lives easier. Students are capable of amazing amounts of empathy, particularly when solving a problem for someone close to them or for other children. We have all read stories about classes and students who have used 3-D printers to make prosthetics and other assistive devices. They are driven by empathy and the idea that they can help someone. Many of the projects we work on ask students to take a global view and focus on the needs of children living in other, less affluent parts of the world. They truly move out of their classrooms as they take what they have learned about electrical circuits and design small pico-PV devices to help children have light to in order to read and play in the evenings. The idea that children their own age have been uprooted and live in refugee camps gives enormous importance to the challenge of using what they have learned about structures and energy to design simple toys. Applications with meaning, clear impact, and a focus on others help reinforce the empathy present in most young people.



The world is a challenging place and statistics are often discouraging. All of our work focuses on developing activities and curriculum meant to empower young people to believe in the promises and possibilities of technology and engineering. There is no doubt that much of the current world condition is due to the technologies and rapid changes we have created in the past. But we are learning and most experts agree that we have the creativity and knowledge to develop solutions to the challenges we face now and in the future. That future is in your classrooms today and change can only happen if we work to develop our students’ confidence that they can make a difference. Young people can engineer a better world for all and they deserve an education that makes that goal real and attainable.

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A STEAM Experience

Take a minute to read about an amazing teacher that we worked with this year. During the 2015-16 school year, Abby Paon piloted a biomimicry based STEAM enrichment course that we designed. Her reflection on the experience follows.

“This school year, I have had the opportunity to implement a STEAM enrichment course for our 8th grade students that emphasizes the Engineering Design Process while focusing on life science disciplinary core ideas as well as the practices and crosscutting concepts in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).   This course also has a strong emphasis on the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.  The 30 day course curriculum was developed by Ann Kaiser of ProjectEngin and was designed to encourage innovative thinking in developing solutions to problems, and highlight the connections, creativity, and collaboration young people need to move forward in the 21st century.

During the introductory unit, students engage in several engineering design challenges as they begin to think and work like engineers.  The first challenge that they are given is to design a newspaper tower that is free standing, at least 18 inches tall, able to support the weight of a tennis ball, and stand up to the force of wind (from a hair dryer).  The students must work together in groups to complete the challenge; however, they are given very limited materials (5 sheets of newspaper, 12 inches of scotch tape, scissors and a ruler) and have only 15 minutes to build their towers.  Most groups struggle to find success with this challenge and some students even ask if they are going to fail the assignment because their tower did not meet the requirements.  After testing their tower, students must complete a failure analysis and identify what went wrong with their design and then plan for possible modifications that they could make to create a more successful tower.  This is where the most important learning occurs for students – when they are asked to analyze their mistakes and design innovative solutions based on their new knowledge.  Throughout the course, students work through a variety of engineering design challenges and they quickly realize that failure is an essential part of the Engineering Design Process.  As students become more comfortable with failure, they begin to take risks within the classroom and approach design challenges with excitement and creativity.  This creates an energy in the classroom that is contagious and ignites learning.  I believe that Curt Richardson said it best, “Failure is a part of innovation – perhaps the most important part.”


The Engineering Design Process

After completing the unit on Engineering Design, we begin to look at nature as an engineer.  Through the lens of biomimicry, students investigate camouflage as nature’s way of engineering survivability.  As students learn about natural selection, adaptation as a design process and the various types of camouflage found in the natural world, they are working towards the completion of their final design challenge for the course – to develop a camouflage outfit for a wildlife photographer working in a specific environment.  Students work collaboratively as scientists and engineers to research their environment, identify the constraints and criteria that will frame their work, and generate multiple design solutions that could meet the needs of the photographer.  As they work together, students are required to document their findings and use this information to inform their final design.


Camo 4Camo 3 Camo 2 camo 1

                                Student Designs

This school year has been an incredible learning experience for me as an educator.  As I have observed my students embrace failure and work collaboratively to tackle each design challenge, I have been amazed at their level of engagement, creativity and ownership over their “engineered” solutions. It is clear that they have not only learned about the Engineering Design Process and biomimicry throughout this course; they have also learned to take risks, ask questions, work creatively together, investigate ideas, design innovative solutions to real world problems, and communicate results with one another.  If we hope to produce the future leaders and innovators of the world, then we must provide our students with opportunities to develop the 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity that will provide them with the foundation they need to be successful in college and the workplace.  As adults, they will be expected to think creatively, communicate clearly, work collaboratively with others, and make judgements and decisions to solve problems.  It is our responsibility, as educators, to provide these types of learning opportunities for all students in an effort to help them become successful members of a global community in the 21st century.  I truly believe that we, as educators, have the most important job – we help shape the future!”

Abby Paon, 2016 Coventry Teacher of the Year

STEAM Teacher & Science Curriculum Coordinator

Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School

14 years of experience in education





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A Journey in SpaceTime

Every science class should be about the amazing amount of imagination we need to un-ravel it all!


I have spent the past four days at a Physics Conference that consisted primarily of 3 days of workshops. I came home fully intending to go for a walk (or trek as they like to call it here) along the Southern Ridges, a series of inter-connected parks along the ridge behind my neighborhood. It seemed like a good idea after being inside for so many 9 hour days. But some ominous dark clouds are gathering and it looks a lot like yesterday afternoon when nighttime arrived at 3 pm and there was almost three solid hours of incredible thunder and torrential rain. I don’t think trekking along canopy walks is such a good idea at the moment. Plus my head is full of some really good thoughts, so I decided to write.

The workshops I just attended were conducted by the Perimeter Institute, a Canadian theoretical physics research and outreach…

View original post 1,029 more words

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Engineering the 5Es

With the introduction and adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the BCSC 5E Instructional model has returned to the forefront of science teaching and curricular design. Key foundational works such as How People Learn (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999) and A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC 2012) support the practices embodied in the 5Es – engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. But another new idea embodied in the NGSS is the need to include the designed or engineered world in the education of our young people. This makes it possible to engineer a whole new set of E s – engage, empathize, envision, empower, experience. The different models of the 5Es say it all – science is about inquiry and developing explanations; engineering is about application and developing solutions.

Engagement. Meaningful endeavors always begin with engagement. We engage in the questioning of science because out curiosity is piqued and we engage in problem-solving because we need a solution. Engagement in learning is always driven by a “need to know”. In a world of information powered by Google, engagement is what will lead to lifelong learning. We no longer seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake but because we need to answer a question or solve a problem. You can Google anything at any time, but you don’t. You Google what you need to know at any given moment. Engagement is not about entertainment value, it is about creating a real “need to know”.

Jobs quote

Empathy. Engineers design technologies to solve human problems. Good design always considers the end-user. So in Engineering, empathy is very much in play. This is not the case in science. Science is, and should be, a highly objective pursuit. Empathy has no real place in scientific discovery because it challenges one’s objectivity and brings human nature into the forefront.  The empathy that is not a player in pure science, powers well-designed engineering. We cannot prepare students for the highly connected, and crowded, world they will inherit if we do not teach them to be empathetic. From a purely “clinical” aspect, systems thinking, the ability to see all of the consequences of a solution, demands an understanding of the human factor. From a more humanistic view, understanding the world you live in demands the ability to immerse yourself in different cultures, viewpoints, and circumstances. Engineering, with its focus on the end-user, brings empathy into the science classroom in a meaningful and realistic way.

Envisioning. Theodore von Karman, a true rocket scientist, said “Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never was.” Discovery requires questioning and the imagination to connect the dots. Engineering takes vision and Theodore_von_Karman_-_GPN-2000-001500creativity. Science is, in a sense, about convergence as it seeks agreement on one model. Engineering is all about thinking divergently, seeing things differently. It doesn’t matter if it is a brand new invention or an innovation on an existing product, the end result didn’t exist before. The end result often exists in the engineer’s mind before it becomes a reality. The design process starts with understanding the problem and the end-user and moves through the steps of envisioning and creating a solution. The engineer weaves a solution from a complex web of constraints, criteria, scientific principles, mathematical models, and aesthetics. She needs to be able to envision what a solution might look like to orchestrate a suitable solution. That takes vison, creativity, and perseverance.

Empowerment. Engineering empowers young people to see the solutions not just the problems. It differs from scientific inquiry in terms of its ability to affect change. Engineering is not about discovering; it is about doing. It is highly disingenuous of us to cite all of the myriad problems in the world without focusing on our ability to apply science to engineer solutions. We need to convince young people that they can change the world. And it is true that with great power comes great responsibility. Science tells what we can do; engineers often have to decide what we should do.

Experience. We end with a word that both science and engineering have in common. Students need to “do” or experience science much as they need to experience the challenges of engineering solutions to problems. Telling someone about science or engineering without an opportunity to experience it is the same as showing students seated in desks a swimming stroke and then declaring they know how to swim before they even get wet. Why do we persist in doing this in classrooms?  Scientists do not discover how nature works without active pursuit of connections and conducting experiments. Solutions to problems aren’t engineered because we decide they should happen; we need to actively create them.

swimming without water

In the end, science and engineering begin and end at the same E. The first step should always be engagement – creating that self-motivating “need to know”. And no matter what E s come in between, in the end, it is all about the experience – doing science and engineering solutions.

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Solving Tinkering ENGINEERING Making

As I typed these words, I realized that they could be re-arranged to fit the ubiquitous new buzzword of education gurus – STEM. But I am resisting that temptation for now because that really isn’t the point I want to make.

Somehow when we talk about STEM and STEAM initiatives, activities and projects become part of the landscape. And they should since the real goal is for young people to see how we use science and math to engineer technologies to solve our problems and design solutions to improve our lives. “Use” obviously means to apply and application is inherently active. Unfortunately, in many of these endeavors, the first half of the previous sentence gets lost and there is little connection to science and math. The reality of most classrooms is that teachers already feel pressure to “cover” too much material and activities without good content connections create increasing pressure and cries of “but I don’t have time” and “I need to prepare them for the test”. Teachers who truly want to be part of the solution unwillingly become part of the problem in the face of layered-on activities without a clear curricular link. They often fall back on old habits of transmitting information with the token inclusion of “hands-on” activities, losing time and opportunities for learning.

All of the cognitive and pedagogical research of the past few decades clearly points out that we have ruined the experience of learning science for many young people. Anecdotally, I have lost track of how many times my description of some of the initiatives I am involved in have been met with “If my science classes had been like that, maybe I would have liked science” from adults ranging in age from 25-75 around the world! So many teachers are trying to embrace the doing and the discovery of science in place of the rote memorization that has been so prevalent. But the roadblocks can be overwhelming. In a testing-obsessed environment. How do you really test thousands of students for their ability to “do” science and objectively grade their willingness to be curious and embrace discovery? It sounds ridiculous, but that is a reality of most teachers’ lives. In the workshops and classroom visits I have conducted since the beginning of the new school year, the need to put grades on a report card is always there. So often, teachers are overjoyed by how engaged and curious their students are when they use more active strategies, yet the need to give and take tests often overshadows the fact that science is once again fun!

Not all teachers and students are beholden to massive amounts of standardized testing. Independent and private school teachers often have a bit more leeway. But, in most of those environments, teachers will cite pressures such as parental expectations of traditional grades and competition between schools for enrollment and college placements as the source of assessment pressures. Assessment is admittedly the “white elephant” in most classrooms and it is an issue that I grapple with constantly as an advocate for more active learning. But my real point today is to focus on empathy for what that teacher is really dealing with. Real change will only happen if the teacher is part of the solution and that won’t happen if teachers are constantly faced with time and testing pressures. In a massive education system focused on assessment, testing will be slow to change. The smaller environment of the classroom offers much less inertia, but only in the hands of a willing and well-supported teacher.

Making and tinkering are not part of the STEM acronym, but they are part of engineering and engineering relies on science and math. Often embraced as “hands-on learning”, they bring little value to the average time-stressed, test-focused teacher. Making obviously supports and develops creativity, but encouraging making for its own sake is not fair to the average classroom teacher. Making that is at the end of a design process grounded in the application of something learned in science or math class is  much more likely to “stick”, both as part of a teacher’s pedagogical toolbox and as part of a student’s model of how the world works. And although convincing both parties that deeper understanding will translate to a good performance on routine tests is an uphill battle, clear connections to content will go a long way in terms of building that confidence. Making for the sake of making is fun and has value, but we need to enhance and incorporate it more carefully to make a real asset in support of learning.

Tinkering has a role in the classroom as well but also needs to be part of a meaningful process if we hope to highlight learning. Webster’s Dictionary defines tinkering as “to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner”. In the hands of young people, that translates to “try it and see if it works” which generally means that there is no process involved and little understanding of how it actually worked and why. And, if we think of science as the realm of “Why?” and engineering as the world of “How?”, we have obviously lost a valuable opportunity for meaningful connections. It is far better to incorporate tinkering into the engineering process as either “reverse engineering” to see how something works or as part of the modification and optimization phase, where documented changes lead to improved performance. It’s a win-win; children learn by doing and teachers have an opportunity to make the connections that support the curriculum by requiring predictions, explanations, and justifications. It sounds a lot like “Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning”, our new model for the scientific method.

It is unfair to ask teachers to embrace “hands-on” activities like making and tinkering without weaving in clear connections to concepts they are expected to teach and ideas that will appear on tests that are often out of their control. But, all research supports the fact that “doing” can create amazing support for the development of lasting mental models and understanding. Making and tinkering have valuable roles in the classroom if they are woven into a process and not simply layered-on.

In conclusion, I can’t resist the temptation to “tinker” with the acronym. Maybe there is a new way to look at STEM, or at least one version or subset of it. Let’s pull out the E and stEm word artstress making and tinkering as important tools in solving problems. Solving Tinkering ENGINEERING Making or maybe stEm.  All are action words actively supporting learning. It would go a long way towards demystifying and supporting Engineering with “hands-on” activities leading to “minds-on” learning.

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Where Do You Teach?

We are all beginning to understand that we live in a world that is incredibly connected, a world where local actions affect global situations and vice versa. Educators are acutely aware that the future is a moving target, made increasingly unpredictable by rapidly changing technologies and unexpected impacts. So why are our classrooms so often an oasis of disconnected, walled-off facts?

Walls Graphic

The often-voiced, conscious effort to “bring the real world in” highlights the fact that little of what goes on in our schools is connected to the environment beyond our walls. How can we assume that we can prepare students for the future when we choose to disregard the present in education?

In a world that faces problems that will require engineered solution, it is unfortunate that the real world is often most absent in our science and math classrooms.  The question “when am I ever going to use this?” is voiced frequently in math classes where rote and routine use of algorithms still takes priority. And the bulk of science instruction in this country still focuses on lecture and the teaching of terminology, technique, and the time-honored answers to the many questions posed by scientists of the past. Math and science have assumed center stage roles in the world beyond the classroom. Sheer numbers have dictated that. A population of 7 billion and growing, climate change made evident by increasing global temperatures and measurably decreasing ice packs and glaciers, and many other statistics make evident the impact our technologies have had on our home. The students who sit in our classrooms will have to face the resulting challenges both locally and globally. It seems that being able to grapple with Big Data might be more important than memorizing the quadratic formula and grappling with geometric proofs, but few young people are exposed to much statistics or even real data in our math classes. There is little mention of nature’s amazing ability to engineer sustainable solutions in most biology courses. Chemistry classes leave out the world of solid materials and our increasing understanding of nanotechnology. And quantum thinking and an understanding of the wave behavior that so much of our communication systems depend on are rarely featured in physics syllabi. Many of these topics are areas where current technological development is happening and they may hold some of the solutions to the complex problems we will face.

Admittedly, many of these topics are advanced, but that has never stopped us before. Calculus, robotics, great literature, unravelling history, mastering music and language are all challenging endeavors. But we include them in our model of pre-university education. We even push students to show evidence of college-level understanding in these areas as early as their sophomore year in high school by virtue of our increasing push to have everyone take AP classes. Why don’t we turn some of those same expectations toward applying what young people learn in school to the world beyond our walls? An AP student will still go to college to become more knowledgeable; they just have a bit of a head start before they arrive. We don’t expect middle and high school students to fully understand or solve the complex problems that the future will hold; but a bit of a head start can’t hurt. The real world should be in your classroom, not beyond the walls. It should be blended into what you teach, fostering application and creating a “need to know”. A better understanding of the future can start with connections to the present. Walls just get in the way of that understanding.

No Walls Graphic

The world beyond the classroom is complicated and ever-evolving, both locally and globally. What we teach will only have meaning if we can begin to equip our students with an awareness of what is beyond those walls. They need to see meaning and relevance in what they learn. And they need to feel empowered to tackle the challenges of the world beyond those walls.

We can’t predict the future but we can help to shape it. It is inside your classroom walls, every day, in every student. We just need to give them a head start.


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The Future: Hidden in Plain Sight

Good design needs to focus on the end user; as educators our end users are the students in front of us every day. So, who is in your classroom? They are members of the most connected generation in history. They generate and have access to information at an exponential rate. They are not limited by any boundaries and they are culturally more diverse than any preceding generation. They are concerned about global issues, particularly sustainability. They are, as Goldman Sachs points in a demographic study, “citizens of the 3rd generation of the Internet” – the Internet of Things – a highly connected, often borderless environment. And, most importantly, they face a future that we are hopelessly unable to predict. Many of the innovators the future will depend are hidden in plain sight in the classrooms they occupy every day.

Let’s look at a true story of four 21st century innovators. These four college students were sharing an apartment in Boston and they were soon to graduate from 4 different universities. One night they were listening to “old school” vinyl and their turntable gave out. So they went on a search of a new one and discovered that they had two choices – a very cheap, “retro” looking decorative item (around $100) and a very expensive, electronically connected model ($1000+). Being audiophiles was secondary to being poor college students, so they had a problem. Eventually they found a used model similar to the broken one and kept spinning their tunes.

They all graduated from their very prestigious schools and set out to conquer the “real” world. One was a finance major, one was a mechanical engineer, one was a painting major, with a very useful minor in sculpting and one majored in music theory, guitar, (and baseball). Off they went to their jobs, only to find out that life wasn’t exactly the way they thought it would be. None of them was very happy. The finance guy worked for a company that “cleaned up” staffs after takeovers and so he spent a lot of time firing people. The mechanical engineer did not want to work for a big company and liked working with his hands; internships and job offers from Silicon Valley held no appeal for him and he ended up settling for work at a small drafting firm. The music major delivered pizza and worked for a moving company to pay the bills and got a dream job as an assistant baseball coach. And the artist went to work as furniture designer’s assistant, but she mainly ended up babysitting the designer’s daughter.

4 Innovators

One night when they got together again, they had an idea!! More people were discovering vinyl – so their dream of a high-quality, affordable turntable seemed to have some potential. They did some research and started proto-typing and attempted to get some grant funding and backing. No luck!  But most of the feedback they received was positive so they kept refining their ideas. They all kept working at their jobs, but they were still unhappy. They kept focusing and reassessing their design ideas. They went back to the proverbial drawing board and carefully defined their problem – high-quality sound at a low cost. They researched, designed, and prototyped some more. They developed a simple turntable based on a unique coupling system between the platter and the motor and started to think about crowd-funding the idea with a Kickstarter campaign. They had nothing to lose.  So they worked on a prototype to show function, developed a company and product name, and designed a logo. They set about producing a cool video for KickStarter, all while doing their other jobs.

They were a committed bunch and despite working for a living, they got their KickStarter video made and edited it multiple times. It showcased a partially functioning turntable that looked good. When their KickSarter campaign debuted in January of 2013, their goal was to raise $60,000 in 6 weeks. They quickly raised $250,000!! Why? Because their product and, more importantly, their design process, was well-engineered. They had paid careful attention to the primary constraint of cost, and the driving criteria of high quality sound and good, clean design. And they knew their market; they were the end user. But now they confronted a whole new set of problems. They had no idea how to proceed and make timely delivery on so many promised turntables. So now they had to engineer a production process.

Their funding success was very much tied to another feature of engineering design- the advantage of working as a team, tapping into a wide range of talents, and expertise. They succeeded due to the synergy of teamwork. Our mechanical engineering friend could design and refine the motor and drive system, the money guy could figure out how to map out and secure needed financial support, the musician could rate the quality of the product, and the artist made sure it all looked good. Try an engineering project in your Teamworkclassroom and watch some of the same synergistic effects develop. Students who often feel they have no aptitude for science may have a good eye for design; the quiet student may be an excellent systems-thinker, watching and weighing all of the options and impacts; the student who is always talking may be a gifted marketing person. Everyone has a chance to shine and students quickly come to see and appreciate the value of collaboration. It is a much more realistic way to work than the isolated model we often expect for student work. We know we are not one-size-fits-all but many characteristics of modern education still embrace that non-customized assembly line mentality.

Back to our young entrepreneurs – they had to face the challenges of finding a space for manufacturing, a way to source all of the component parts, and the daunting prospect of assembling several hundred turntables by the fall of 2013. They also faced the unexpected need to of plan how to grow since orders continued to come in after the KickStarter campaign. They were able to rise to the challenge because they were persistent, resilient, and agile; traits that are often discouraged by our focus on test results and the goal of finding the “one right answer”. They had to construct their own understanding and they engineered their own future.  In those few months, they learned an amazing number of lessons and they learned them all by doing it. They shipped their first turntable in early September of 2013 and they haven’t looked back.

Our young business major handles all of the finances and a complex system of inputs and outputs. The engineer is truly the brains behind the operation and tinkers and designs accessory parts and improvements to the current design, all while keeping the mantra of simple mechanics and high quality sound in focus. Our musician friend has shown a remarkable skill for organizing inventory, supply, and the manufacturing process, along with an ability to articulate the technical reasons why vinyl is better. Plus he gets to keep and play all of his musical instruments in the office as part of the ambience. And our artist, a highly empathetic observer of human behavior, handles all of the manufacturing personnel issues, paying particular attention to the ergonomics of their workstations and the appearance of the workspace. She is responsible for the collaborative workplace atmosphere and has even color-coded processes and parts, resulting in a gain in overall throughput. There are healthy snacks available all day, workers get free T Shirts and sweatshirts, and every day is “bring your dog to work” day. They have had highly positive reviews in Rolling Stone, Wired, Inc. and a number of other magazines, including some audio industry publications. They have shipped over 10,000 turntables in less than 2 years and they have even had the chance to “party with rock stars”.  They have moved to a bigger space, have over 15 employees, and are exploring new opportunities for growth. They utilize employee feedback and continuous improvement models to insure that everyone has a meaningful role in the company.  And although they may not change the world, they have changed lives. They have created a workplace that is happy and are very proud to have given other people jobs. They have created their own futures.

There are lessons for educators to learn from these young innovators.  Their product was engineered by students who were willing to make mistakes and who were confident that they could solve problems. They all had vision, curiosity, and creativity; and they refused to abandon those traits.  They relied on research, empathy, and connections; they kept simplicity in mind, had clear goals, and never gave up. They followed a process of identifying the problem, researching and observing to develop solutions, and iterative prototyping and testing to optimize results.  No one taught them how to design a turntable, but they each brought their own skill set to the problem and collaborated to find a solution.  They are the engineers of their own future.

3 plus 3

How it should really work!

Would you have noticed these innovators and entrepreneurs in your science classroom? Probably not. The engineer excelled at physics in high school but was very quiet and probably would not have been noticed. The business major did pretty well in physics because he was good at plugging in numbers and getting a correct answer. But he did not really enjoy it. The music major liked some physics, sound was especially cool, but really liked baseball better. And as for our art major … well she viewed numbers as interesting symbols and she barely passed physics. But her teacher could see from her drawings (really artistic renderings) that she understood something and gave her the benefit of the doubt.  No, I don’t think most of us would have noticed any of these innovators in our science classes.  But, most likely, there are young entrepreneurs like them in each of your classes. Hidden in plain sight.

As educators, we need to give their abilities value in terms of the world they will inherit, not in terms of the textbooks and models we grew up with. All young people have natural vision, curiosity, and creativity; we need to encourage it, not limit it. They can succeed by a combination of research, empathy, connected learning, and teamwork. We cannot anticipate or hope to teach them all that they will need to know, but we can help them to develop the skills they will need for lifelong learning. Application leads to mastery and real meaning. It is clear that what they DO in the classroom is far more important than what you teach.

Abraham Lincoln once said that “the best way to predict the future is to create it”. We don’t know what talent is hidden in our classrooms and we clearly have no idea of what lies ahead in this exponentially changing world. But as teachers, we have the power to create the future every day, in every class. We must engineer a path to understanding for all of our students. They need to leave our classrooms ready to collaborate, ready to solve challenging problems, and ready to live in the future that they will create.

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