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April 22, 2021

Pablo Picasso was 12 years old when he sketched Plaster Male Torso with the technical skill few artists master in a lifetime. Yet he became best known for his cubist and surrealist works that challenged the boundaries of the art world and even set new ones. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators can take a lesson from Picasso’s journey in recognizing that innovation is born of understanding the basics, then envisioning new horizons with an open mind to boundless creativity. When STEM education is combined with the creativity of the arts, you get the design thinking approach that underpins Y4Y’s newly updated STEAM course. In this overview of last month’s LIVE With Y4Y event, Learning Approaches to Science-Based Education, you’ll come to appreciate how art and STEM actually do make a fine pair.

This LIVE event was designed to

  • Define and demonstrate experiential learning approaches: the scientific method, design thinking and the engineering design process.
  • Connect experiential education to academic skill building, particularly in science and mathematics.
  • Provide examples of experiential learning in out-of-school time.

Dr. David Coffey, Director of the Design Thinking Academy at Grand Valley State University, offered key takeaways, including these:

  • Making meaning of mathematics through experiential learning can offer reluctant students a new opportunity to understand material.
  • Reflection at the end of a problem-solving experience can counteract the “learned helplessness” many students have around math.
  • Educators need to shift traditional “I do” practices to “we do” and “I do” by guiding student learning rather than always directly instructing on concepts.
  • Facilitators don’t have to have perfect content knowledge as long as they’re willing to be a fellow explorer with their students and open to their own learning. This can also be referred to as radical collaboration.
  • The act of teaching, itself, reflects the scientific method, as teachers make revisions based on experimentation.
  • Think of “failure” as an acronym: “First Attempt In Learning Unless Reflection Exists.” In other words, reflecting on failure propels learning forward.
  • Design thinking is also called “human-centered design.” Staff facilitating these kinds of projects need to be curious about people, and convey that curiosity to students. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to. Remember: Curiosity is contagious.

Teaching the scientific method has been central to scientific education and practices. This process involves these steps:

  • Determine a question.
  • Research the question.
  • Develop a hypothesis.
  • Test a hypothesis through experimentation.
  • Collect data.
  • Draw conclusions based on the data collected.

Design thinking, an educational tool to solve real-world problems, is gaining traction in STEM education today. To employ design thinking, the student will chunk problem-solving into these steps:

  • Empathize with the community you’re seeking to serve.
  • Define and understand the problem or challenge.
  • Ideate potential solutions.
  • Create a prototype.
  • Test the effectiveness of the prototype.

Mr. Ariel Raz, head of Learning Collaborations at the Stanford d.school, shared his organization’s views and practices around design thinking:

  • Simply put: Design thinking is a creative pedagogy that means “make something that matters.”
  • The liberal arts and the sciences intersect through design thinking because empathy and understanding of user needs drive the scientifically based making.
  • Giving students a creative challenge is difficult to reconcile in a system that’s too heavily standardized. As educators and learners themselves, facilitators need to grow comfortable with failure.
  • A fundamental departure of design thinking teaching from problem-based teaching is having no preconceived problem or project in mind. This is the empathy step.
  • A backward-mapping skill is important to use in the design thinking process, like the “project zero thinking routine.” The thinker might examine and analyze a known tool and identify its parts, purposes and complexities. Commercial fabricating demands this kind of inquiry.
  • A Stanford study of average-achieving middle school students demonstrated that teaching them design thinking techniques allowed them to apply creative problem-solving strategies in new contexts.
  • A growth mindset is baked into design thinking; failure is necessary to success. Perseverance and grit go hand in hand with the philosophy of failing early and failing often to achieve the best outcomes using design thinking.

Ms. Deborah Parizek, Executive Director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), shared insights on STEM education:

  • HFLI is dedicated to reimagining and redesigning learning, teaching and leading to better impact the experiences that students, their families and educators have to the greater good of underserved communities.
  • Having a teacher who’s a partner in learning enriches a student’s experience.
  • Design thinking builds academic skills like collaboration, critical thinking, data collection and analysis, and communication. All of these skills will add to a student’s academic and professional success.
  • HFLI strives to help students become confident and independent learners, and describes learning to navigate obstacles as an orientation of innovation. This skill building fosters inner motivation for students to commit and contribute to the world around them.
  • Ms. Parizek shared project examples ranging from kindergartners proposing improved pet environment prototypes to college-bound students tasked with redesigning equity access to higher education opportunities for Hispanic youth. Each went through similar design thinking processes.
  • In out-of-school time intervention, 21st CCLC programs have the opportunity to help students identify their unique strengths to build confidence in their part of team collaboration, then use that confidence to challenge them in areas of need.

A final STEM approach discussed was the engineering design process. Partnerships between 21st CCLCs and national agencies use this vehicle to help students explore a myriad of STEM professions.

Ms. Jamie Lacktman, Robert K. Shafer 21st CCLC Program, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, described the engineering design process her program exposes students to in partnership with NASA:

  • Students should understand from the beginning that they are driving research and design decisions.
  • This initiative has led students to appreciate the layers of research that go into a design challenge; often understanding one concept demands researching numerous others.
  • Effective designing means ensuring that everything adds up — both budgetarily and physically.
  • Asking “why” is central to innovation.
  • The NASA design challenge has improved student perceptions around gender and ethnic diversity in STEM professions.
  • This year’s hybrid format lent itself to a friendly competition between two prototype teams that has amplified enthusiasm.
  • Although a rubric is available to measure the project success, there are many other measures — like students adapting, committing, rising to challenges and recognizing the long-term benefits — that are every bit as meaningful.

A common thread in all of these STEM education approaches is the role of students in their own learning. These principles can be applied in 21st CCLC programs to large-scale challenges as well as day-to-day problem-solving. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s newly updated course on STEAM to help you implement design thinking in your program today!

 


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