If you are a parent or educator, you have probably heard the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) acronym thrown around a lot lately. This is due, in a large part, to studies that have shown a decline in interest in these subjects by American students. As a whole, our society will suffer from this trend as this generation enters adulthood without the tools to think critically and find ways to meet new challenges.
In response, federal and local governments, as well as independent philanthropic organizations, have implemented several measures and funding opportunities over the last few years. This takes the form of recruiting teachers trained in STEM fields, training existing teachers in best practices for integrating STEM into their classrooms, and funding for special projects that promote student interest in these intersecting fields.
At United States Academic Triathlon, we have always worked to provide our students with questions and challenges that span a variety of disciplines, including those represented by STEM. Over the next several weeks, this blog will feature posts that pertain to each of the four subjects, the ways the USAT addresses them, and creative ways to inspire students to embrace them.
No subject exists in a vacuum, and creativity is something that can enhance any endeavor. After all, computers can do complex calculations but they will never be “inspired” to do them. It is curiosity that drives us to ask questions and seek to understand our world and creativity that provides us with a means of applying tools such as mathematics and engineering. As a species, we have done a great job of answering many of the questions that confront us in our daily lives, but there is so much more to learn. The “way it has always been done” is not necessarily the “best” way, and what makes something better than something else is completely objective.
The pursuit of new and creative solutions can result in failure, but this does not negate the journey. Oftentimes, these “failures” turn out to be successes – they are simply the answer to a different question. For instance, when the glue commonly used in sticky notes was created, the people working on it were trying to create an extremely strong adhesive. When they “failed” to make something super sticky they opened the door to possibilities of impermanent adhesives, and just one application now sits in desk drawers all over the world.
As parents and educators, the best thing we can do for the next generation is to help them stay curious and creative. This can take many forms. We can help them to research the answer to a question they ask, encourage them to read for pleasure, make them turn off their electronic devices in favor of going out into the world, or play games that require imagination. At the beginning of a task, ask your children or students how they would solve a problem. Even if you feel like you know the “best” or “right” answer, ask them for their opinions even if they might be totally outside of the realm of possibilities (fix the broken pipe with peanut butter? Probably not).
This type of interaction encourages them to think constructively and creatively, and reinforces a sense that their ideas matter. Only after they feel confident in their ability to ask and answer questions can they use tools like the STEM disciplines to answer them.