I recently had the pleasure of delivering a youth Robotics program, and I was inspired by two young female participants in particular. A 14 year-old middle school student and a college student, whom is aspiring to become a math teacher, worked together as a team for five days to learn about Robotics. What I observed during their time together was a strong interest in learning and their ability to overcome obstacles to reach their goals. They came each day looking forward to one project in particular, which involved building a Robotic Arm using servos, brackets, an Arduino board, and lots of inputs/outputs and wires. The task at hand involved following a detailed instruction set and later testing their finished product by using Arduino IDE software with the Robotic Arm to engage the servos and maneuver the Arm.
What I observed brought me back to a time in my career when I worked on a manufacturing assembly line - building printed circuit boards and electronic components. I was 18 years old, and the assembly line crew of over 60 people was predominately female. I was the youngest and least experienced on the line, but I loved working with schematics and building the assembly kits that I was tasked with. That job is what created my interest in the technology industry and is what spiraled me into my career of over 30 years. As I watched these two young women, I saw and felt what I had experienced on the assembly line…the energy and excitement of building something with your own hands and then watching it come to life. The feeling of accomplishment expressed by both young women could be seen and felt by everyone in the room.
The science behind all of the energy created lies in the neurochemicals that were generated and how that impacts the brain over time. Those neurochemicals are what motivate a student to learn more and build the confidence in their own abilities to stretch outside of their comfort zone and build on that learning. This one program, and how it enabled a 14 year-old young woman to foresee what might be possible for her future and how much fun being challenged can be is powerful. Even after multiple failures, she persevered in order to experience the sense of accomplishment in shaping something with her own hands. With each of her failures, I watched the frustration on her face, the anxiety of realizing where she went wrong, and the emotion of what it felt like to repeat her mistakes. The realization of how those mistakes created a stronger understanding of what she was creating and how it all worked was her “ah ha” moment. Without each of those failures, the entire project would have had a very different end result.
Having this opportunity to be “in the moment” with this small group of students, it helped me validate what I already knew. When we create learning experiences, we need to engage all of our senses and allow for the ability to fail again and again. However, we need to be sure we explain the value of failure and that we also create the motivation to continue towards success.
When students engage in learning experiences where there is autonomy to explore and where the learning process is facilitated, what you see and feel not only energizes the students but the facilitator as well. Facilitating, as opposed to traditional teaching models, can run counter to what we are accustomed to and feel comfortable with in a classroom. That bias is extremely difficult to change; not until we experience the difference between teaching and facilitating and understand the science behind when it is more appropriate to facilitate versus teach can we develop new approaches that create greater value long term. This transformation in our own thinking is called neuroplasticity, and in todays' disruptive world where knowledge is expanding at such a rapid rate the teacher becomes a student and in many cases the student becomes the teacher. Embracing this new world requires everyone to learn together and to allow students to be a part of the learning process.
It is important for educators to have a basic understanding of how and why people learn, and knowledge of brain-based learning can help us more effectively facilitate student learning. By creating active learning experiences for our students, we create classroom environments with the right recipe for learning and long-term retention and growth.
With the right recipe for learning through the understanding of neuroscience, we can inspire many young women to engage in STEAM careers. Through that effort we need to ensure that our future teachers have the same opportunities to experience the possibilities, and to bring that energy into our classrooms.
You can be a part of shaping the next generation of women in STEAM, creating that "ah ha" moment for more students by supporting We Connect The Dots. Our programs place students at the center of the learning experience, driving their own outcomes and learning together. To learn more about the Robotics program and how you can help be a part of the change visit http://we-connect-the-dots.org
To learn how Laurie Carey Consulting, LLC supports We Connect The Dots, Inc. through Robotics training programs for schools and STEAM Learning Kits visit http://LaurieCarey.com/STEAM-Learning-Kits
Doyle, T. (2011b, November). The one who does the work does the learning. Symposium conducted at the Lilly Conference on College Teaching, Oxford, OH.
Flagel, S. B., Clark, J. J., Robinson, T. E., Mayo, L., Czuj, A., Willuhn, I.,… Akil, H. (2011). A selective role for dopamine in stimulus-reward learning. Nature, 6, 469 (7328), 53-7.