Project based learning (#PBL) is great. It’s engaging and makes learning math, technology, science, and engineering, a.k.a. STEM(+) tangible. But when projects address REAL problems that students, communities, and governments around the world care about, then #PBL becomes authentic, relevant, and an important force for good.
I call this “STEM(+) for Good”. Examples are included at the end of this article...
This is not a new idea, really. I’ve even provided many great examples of projects and programs at the end of this article. I am simply trying to change the conversation we are having about #STEM education and bring “STEM(+) for Good” into the #edreform dialog.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that robotics projects aren’t great. I just think that #STEM education needs an “and” strategy that captures the imagination and raises the STEM(+) competency of ALL our students. Likewise, accountability needs an “and” strategy that does more than simply focus on preparing students for the next high-stakes exam. We need to be sure to measure what matters, including whether students can face big and important challenges in real life.
If we’re serious about so called “21st Century Skills”, then focusing on “STEM(+) for Good” may be a key ingredient for our students’ success, in and beyond school. After all, high tech companies are not looking to hire students who only know how to solve the “problems at the end of the chapter”. Corporations and communities need graduates who can think, create, and innovate. #STEM(+) sStudents who are ready to solve REAL problems – those that have yet to be solved, or even questions that have yet to be asked – are the students who are most prepared and will be most sought after.
As Gavin Dykes (@gavindk) reminds me time and again, our students are our great untapped resource. The challenges facing communities and countries around the world are too enormous, important, and urgent to NOT engage our students in addressing those needs.
Let’s open the floodgates of passion and talent in our students, and invite them to use “STEM(+) for Good”…
PROJECTS AND PROGRAMS THAT EXEMPLIFY STEM(+) FOR GOOD:
(This is a very incomplete list – please comment with your additions!)
- GeoTECH Center & Del Mar College – a geospatial STEM(+) project that arms high school students with GIS technologies to tackle challenges such as identifying immunization issues in low income communities and helping an environmental non-profit deal with invasive species remediation
- The Challenge of Water Quality project at Stamford Public Schools – a field based middle school science experience in collaboration with a sister school in China.
- Mind Collisions: Learning Across Grade Levels – a collaboration between High Tech High, High Tech Middle School, and WiLDCOAST (San Diego) that empowered students to be environmental advocates in their own community
- Learning Links Foundation - Working to empower young students from rural India who are studying scientific and technical subjects that can help improve community living conditions. Their project aims to equip youth with the entrepreneurial skills needed to design innovative business plans to tackle socio-economic challenges. [JV: I call this “turning students into STEM-preneurs”]
- Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) – Originating at Purdue, EPICS chapters engage university and secondary age students in service learning projects for their community
- TakingITglobal – Using “… the power of online community to facilitate global education, social entrepreneurship, and civic engagement for millions of youth worldwide.”
- Grand Challenges for Engineering – The US National Academy of Engineering identified 14 “grand challenges” facing society today, and has programs to engage university level and K12 level students in solving them. These challenges are core to the USA Science and Engineering Festival being held in April in Washington, DC
- Center for Digital Inclusion – Teaches students to use ICT to “…transform lives and strengthen low-income communities by empowering people with information and communication technology… as a medium to fight poverty, stimulate entrepreneurship and create a new generation of changemakers. Projects like “Apps for Good” for secondary students (UK) and a new project in Brazil.
Know of other projects or programs that are helpings students learn how to use “STEM(+) for Good”? If so, please leave a comment and tell us all about it!
Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Program Manager
Sustainability & Social Innovation