After a couple talks on the merits of intensely STEM-focused educational programs, I took a breather to recenter my thinking on how STEM can really make a difference in our children’s lives and the nation. At Empowered Schools, we take a more nuanced approach to STEM than is popular. Although there is value in intensive STEM programming, these options shouldn’t be seen as sufficient conditions to make a difference in the economy, much less the ability to develop innovativeness in children. A close look at the most successful visionaries in industry, true innovators, shows that they were successful because they had more than just a STEM aptitude. Truly remarkable developments have come from those who were able to bring technology to the needs and wants of consumers with a well designed aesthetic. In other words, there is a triad of STEM, Art, and Relationships that are necessary for true innovation to make a difference in the marketplace and peoples’ lives. Development of this triad is what Empowered Schools calls the STREAM Model.
Harold Salzman’s report for the Urban Institute echos the very sentiment that helped us develop the STREAM model:
The skills STEM job applicants and workers lack are communication skills that enable employees to work across boundaries, coordinate and integrate technical activities, and navigate the multidisciplinary nature of today’s technical work. While solid math, science, and technology education is necessary to form the foundation for skills required by STEM workers, globally competitive education must go far beyond training technically competent graduates. A broad education that incorporates a range of technical and social science and humanities knowledge is important for developing a globally competitive workforce. In this, the United States currently has an advantage over the emerging economies.
Salzman says it perfectly. It’s not a surprise. The purpose of incubators is to bring teams of innovators together and let them co-create. Tales of coffee shop eurekas abound from Silicon Valley as top talent shared and developed ideas together. The difference between a great tech student and a successful innovation is in how the innovator can work with others and inspire them.
We need to make sure that we are not pushing too far into technological training without ensuring that students work with each other in a collaborative manner. We need to explicitly teach students how to co-create meaning together. Excessive focus on gadgets will not be enough unless we ensure that those gadget enable shared knowledge creation between our students.