Learning about innovation from the DIY solutions of hobbled citizens
How to Implement STEM Effectively
Surely you've heard dreary statistics about the state of STEM education in the United States. The acronym -- which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- is a buzzword not only in education reform circles but also among policymakers and even business leaders: held up in the State of the Union, and in the 100Kin10 challenge, whose partners include everyone from Google to NASA.
At The Atlantic's Innovation Summit earlier this month, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, whose company invests heavily in STEM education programs, called K-12 STEM education a critical component of ensuring America's future competitiveness, naming it Boeing's number two priority. That sentiment was echoed by many different voices throughout the day-long event.
But more and better engineers aren't enough to propel America -- or any society, for that matter -- forward into the 21st century and beyond. Smart technology and smart technologists are only one piece of the puzzle. We're all well aware of snazzy products and much-hyped gadgetry that fail to meet real consumer needs: products that after months of laboratory design, find themselves quickly discarded and languishing on department store shelves. Just as important for today's scientists and engineers are the skills of great business people and marketers, capable of stepping into users' shoes from the outset of product design.
Translating STEM breakthroughs into business and societal breakthroughs requires an entirely different 21st century skill-set. "When we look at the current state of human and machine interaction all too often we find a machine-centered approach to design," says popular robotics engineer Corinna Lathan, the founder and CEO of AnthroTronix.
The best technology, she says, is the kind that improves human-to-human connection, fundamentally changing the way people live. The secret? According to her, it's all about empathy.
Lathan isn't alone. Many leading thinkers and doers -- from Arianna Huffington to Oprah -- have touted empathy as a crucial skill for America's future success on the global playing field and for an individual's future success in America. One of Steve Jobs' six pillars of design, empathy has been hailed by Fast Company as a creative business's most powerful tool and recognized in the Harvard Business Review as the single most important thing the school can teaches.
And yet, America's schools by and large aren't teaching it. Today's schools focus on, as the French would say, "une tête bien pleine" rather than "une tête bien faite" -- a well-filled head rather than a well-made mind.
Fortunately, we now know it's possible to do both. Take, for instance, Big Picture Learning, a network made up of more than 100 schools around the world, in which students engage in real real-world learning, and teachers stay with the same students throughout their entire four years at school, becoming part-mentor, part-friend, and occasional personal chauffeur to and from practices and doctors' appointments. The result? A 92 percent graduation rate, and a 95 percent college entrance rate among those graduates.
Or Roots of Empathy, which brings babies into grade schools classrooms to act as "teacher," helping students learn to read emotions in others and to articulate their own. It's been shown to improve social and classroom behavior among young children as well as grade point averages and standardized test scores in participating students: results that follow persist into high school.
Big Picture Learning and Roots of Empathy are at the vanguard of this educational revolution -- but they aren't alone there. A recent competition sourced over 600 schools, lessons, and programs that are teaching empathy. Here's to the STEM-E revolution.
- A love of all things innovation is what first drew Laura to Ashoka, where she works to identify and connect leading social entrepreneurs--innovators applying new solutions to some of the oldest and most entrenched societal problems. She also serves as managing editor of Ashoka's StartEmpathy, the forthcoming online home of a movement focusing on educational innovation. Before coming to Ashoka, Laura worked as Communications Director of a mobile health technology start up building products to bring primary care into the 21st century.
History shows that the military can be a driver of innovation -- especially when the private sector is made a partner in the process