Four years ago, CreatingSTEAM was a concept and an experiment. We knew education had to change. Could education evolve to a new form of meaningful student engagement and exploration? Our hypothesis was that through immersive hands- on project- based experiential learning, education could motivate, inspire, and transform students into independent life-long learners.

Every parent and every teacher's hope is that their child will be successful. Would their child be prepared to enter the world? Here’s what we saw: a generation that uses technology in their everyday lives, while having no understanding of how such technology works.  A generation unaware of the engineering, and computer science that is involved in everyday items they use, including their own cell phones, laptops, or computers. How could this situation be possible? What could we do to raise a generation of successful individuals? A key motivation for our organization was our belief that success is not given by parents or teachers but instead comes from within – that success is a mindset. We looked at classrooms and schools throughout the country and we felt it was time for education to leave behind traditional teaching pedagogies and shift to a new mindset where teachers facilitated learning, and students were empowered with the tools and resources to shape their own futures.

Students would work collaboratively with their peers, while being educated on leveraging 21st century technologies as resources for knowledge.  Our metrics would be simple: did the students enjoy the experience, did we leave them wanting more, and did our approach inspire and motivate them to seek new understandings? Or bluntly, did we empower? Did we inspire? Did we show that success is a path open to all?

With our mission and our hypothesis, we proceeded to redefine the classroom. First, we would redefine "curriculum" by weaving together the unique disciplines of neuroscience research led by Dweck, Lieberman, and Duckworth. Their research served as the foundation for all our activities and experiences. We would redefine "teaching." Our teachers would be coaches, supporting students using a new "pedagogy" of guiding students through how their brain processes information and how their brains were their ultimate tool for success. In this new curriculum, students would learn: 

  • how neurochemicals like dopamine, and norepinephrine support the hippocampus for long term memory.
  • how emotions play a part of our ability to learn and retain information. 
  • how to promote high performance in learning to obtain a greater success, and
  • how to build self-motivation, drive, and grit. 

The outcome would be a growth-mindset with perseverance, tenacity, and drive.

We got to work and four years later, our work continues. We provide students a living lab in which they can “open the hood of the car,” take a look inside, and to really understand and appreciate how the technology they take for granted actually works. Most of our students have seen a PC but few have built a computer from an empty metal case to a functioning gaming PC. This activity alone showed them how their efforts and learning could yield rewards both tangibly personal and occupationally promising.

We learn from our students, addressing their interests and aspirations as opportunities to engage them in learning. For instance, thirty years ago many students with a passion for the Arts (be it drawing, music, or theater) would have been discouraged by adults from pursuing their passion as a profession.  Even today, such students may be convinced by a parent, teacher or other influence in their life that the arts do not offer financial stability. We beg to differ – creativity and innovation drives the arts and these same skills shape our economic future. We expose our students to web-design and marketing, 3D animation, augmented reality, and mixed reality. We show our students how their mobile devices blend Art, Technology, Engineering, Science and Math into one beautiful piece of engineering at its best. CreatingSTEAM shows parents that art has a crucial place in the digital world and most importantly, educates students with artistic interests that they can thrive in the 21st century economy.

As a research organization we want to model for our students the value of constant learning and innovation. Through our research into emerging best practices, we continue to rethink, redesign, and reshape our educational programs. Two years ago we identified cyber-security as a crucial emerging skill and as a result, we introduced a novel two- hour activity to CreatingSTEAM which teaches digital citizenship while raising awareness to the fastest growing career opportunity in information technology. First introduced in our Discovery Day program this past spring, where over 500 students participated in our "Unlock The Box", this cyber-security experience took place in our online Yammer community where students engaged in a scavenger hunt to solve clues related to cyber-security. The students worked in teams to unlock four locks, each lock was tied to a scenario around teaching students about Attack Vectors, and the importance of good digital citizenship. With applications in law enforcement, defense, and business, our students gained an invaluable exposure to an exciting new field.

Designed as a journey through science and entrepreneurship, CreatingSTEAM challenges young adults to stretch outside their comfort zone, and motivates them to see the value of life-long learning. While our metrics reflect diversity in gender and ethnicity, and increases in interests in the sciences, there is nothing as valuable as the voice of our students. What is most illuminating and meaningful to us are the testimonialsof our students.

  • "Today was awesome, I had a very nice time meeting new people. I found out I had a lot in common with many people, which is rare. Brainstorming with my team was very fun. Together, we came up with many innovative ideas."
  • “Building a PC was interesting and fun and I will definitely think about using that in a future career."
  • "I enjoyed learning how to use WordPress and will definitely use it in the future."
  • "I really enjoyed the speakers we had today, they were charismatic and informative.  Speakers like that really help me get a better insight into what I want to do in my future."

Did the students enjoy the experience, did we leave them wanting more, and did our approach inspire and motivate them to seek a greater understanding of what we taught them? From our own eyes, and in their own words, the answer for this year’s CreatingSTEAM was a resounding yes. Our experiment has and will continue to deliver on its central motto: that individually we are strong, collectively we are powerful. Look at what we can accomplish when industry and education leverages its resources and efforts for the benefit of our children. As we enter our fifth year, our organization will continue to connect students, teachers, parents and industry experts to create amazing learning experiences.

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey

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

References:

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.

 

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey

We Connect The Dots Founder and Executive Director, Laurie Carey, recently joined journalist and innovative problem solver, Devin Thorpe, to discuss how we can be better communicators, thinkers, and professionals in a fast-paced, technology-dependent world. By disrupting the status quo and diversifying - not only in our professional workplace but also in our personal relationships - we can benefit from differing perspectives, fostering innovation, and positive change. 

In her endeavors in both the for-profit and nonprofit arenas, Laurie has taught students, teachers, administrators, and other working professionals strategies to work and communicate in brain-friendly ways that benefit their relationships, education, and businesses. 

Some of the methods for brain-friendly communications which Laurie shares in her interview are the foundations for her consulting practice and the pedagogical framework for We Connect The Dots' educational programs. 

Overcoming Brain Bias: Brain bias occurs without conscious thought and affects the decisions you make every day. It can be a blockage preventing you from making more positive relationships in your professional or personal life, or it can prevent you from learning something new. Laurie can often be heard using the words "getting uncomfortable to get comfortable" or encouraging people to stretch themselves. Though it can be difficult or uncomfortable at first, setting goals outside your comfort zone is a way to develop new skills and advance further than was previously thought possible. Though we create our biases over a long period of time, conscious thinking and actions can reshape the way we execute decisions and eliminate brain bias from our daily lives.

Diversity and Innovation: We live in a diverse world, where people of differing ethnicities, religions, and values shape our society. Companies and other professional workplaces spend huge sums of money in order to teach people how to work in a diverse environment because leaders have begun to realize that a blending of different perspectives, diverse mindsets, and ideas is a direct path to innovation. We can promote diversity by simply being open to the idea and creating a space in which to allow for the sharing of different values and ideas. 

Disruption is an Engine of Positive Change: Technology continues to disrupt our workplaces, schools, and communities in a myriad of ways, and the trend of late is that it happens more and more rapidly. Industries that cannot navigate or mitigate disruption to their systems are doomed, but the ones that can are the ones that create positive change. As Laurie likes to say, "You can either be disruptive, or be disrupted." What you choose can determine your future. 

We Connect The Dots is an organization that creates positive change for the next generation. You can be a part of that change by supporting WCTD and our students around the world. Click below to learn how you can support WCTD.