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How Can We Improve American Science Education?

HOME / THE HIVE: American Science Education / Lighting the Bunsen Burner

Lighting the Bunsen Burner


Principles and Explanations for Program
My proposal is to start a cheap, quick, and hard-hitting program in the form of a three week workshop that partners K-12 schools with local institutions of higher education, technology firms, engineering firms, industry professionals, or organizations with relevantly qualified individuals. The individuals will volunteer to run brief, but intense and high energy workshops in the schools using the educational toys developed by Ayah Bdeir called littleBits. These toys are perfectly suited to meld some of the most interesting or literally creative (in the sense of producing things) fields that the STEM economy can offer and push the fun parts of the hard disciplines to the foreground. Her 5 and a half minute talk is homework for this proposal:
The purpose of this program is to introduce students to the world of technology, engineering, and science in a hands-on and empowering way which we hope will open their eyes to these realms and take with them the fascination, creativity, and curiosity that are inherent to those aforementioned fields, and vital for the innovation that is necessary to drive society from the present to the future. We want to help create tinkerers and problem solvers for the future. The hope is that the program being outlined will inspire young people to see things differently once they can get their hands on the basic elements that make up the modern-postmodern world of concrete, steel, and moving electrons. The hope is to start motivating them early on in their education to savor their math and science courses, because they have spent time creatively playing with the building blocks to which their maths and sciences correspond.
The principle to keep in mind is the motivation factor. It’s the factor of play and amusement. It’s the difference between an office worker pulling his or her hair out from boredom after sitting in a chair staring at a screen for 2 fidgety hours of exasperation and that same worker sitting at the home computer nearly comatose, static, but fully engaged in some MMRPG…for 9 hours. The motivation goal of the program is to foster creative play, which unlocks the intellectual engine of the brain, gives a sense of purpose, and ultimately leads to driven, engaged, productive, and hopefully happy citizens.

Breakdown of the weeks
Each week is themed on a broad field that improves society and has its easiest access point somewhere between creative play and the seeking mind. Those fields are art, architecture, and engineering. The week will have three workshop days where a college students and/or practicing professionals come for a class period and to conduct workshops, that is, they will lecture and facilitate directed activities related to the themes of the day. Workshop days will be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Monday is a chance to be introduced to the theme and to play with the various tools, components, and materials, broadly keeping the week’s theme in mind, but without real direction, just open, otherwise aimless play. The unstructured openness is what gives rise to the endless possibilities of a seeking mind and it should not be limited.
By Wednesday, the churning minds will have spent two days flipping, turning, inverting, and manipulating the materials and tools with which they played on Monday. They’ll have come up with countless questions, new possibilities, combinations, and added wild features for their future creations. This is where trial and error, experimentation, refined answer-seeking, and self-directed passion emerge, as students desperately test and model the things that they’ve only seen in their heads. A day when they’ve had time to do hard thinking and create thoughtful question about how to attain an end or meet a goal for their hands to create something wonderful to them. And importantly, the workshops are designed in such a way that unusual, outlandish, bizarre, or completely absurd creations are supported, appreciated, or maybe even encouraged. Under no circumstances should the confidence in self or creativity of a burgeoning student be undermined.
Wednesdays and Mondays are days focused largely on the individual, whereas Fridays will be the day where students get to figure out collaboration and how to wade through the market of ideas. This day will require a number of volunteers, 1 per group of students, to act as mediator, facilitator, and advisory board to what has now become a production or development team. A challenge will be issued after a brief Q&A follow up for Wednesday. The challenge may be a way to solve a problem in the real world, a commissioned design, a creation for some imaginary purpose, a general sandbox creation, or any other agreed upon challenge of creativity.
Each day in particular, but also taken in composite, represents one of the major aspects that an individual needs to lead a fulfilling life. Monday is the day of creativity. There are no boundaries, no rules, no one holding the student back saying “you can’t.” It’s a day of empowerment.
Wednesday is the day of confidence. It is where the creativity of Monday has a chance to compound itself and result in building something meaningful to its creator. Another day of empowerment, confidence after having made something in the real world, with active encouragement from teachers and volunteers.
Friday is the day of craft. This is the day where students are able to direct their creativity and confidence into skill, ability, and give them the base from which to launch into a life of craft, if so inclined.

Sources related to forming this proposal: Ayah Bdeir (TED - littleBits), Dave Eggers (TED - Once Upon a School), Donald Sadoway (TED - Reinventing the Battery), Tony Wagner (from his book Creating Innovators), Michio Kaku (from his book Physics of the Future).

3 Weeks of Creativity, Confidence, and Craft
-Each week is sub-themed under one of the major fields of creativity: art, architecture, and engineering and each week will have three workshops, each workshop day to have its own sub-theme theme.
Week 1 – Art, focused on the creative power of the individual
Monday-Introduction to littleBits, how they work, and art as a form of creation. Play day.
Wednesday-Follow up questions, troubleshooting, more play.
Friday-Design challenge for the individual
Week 2 – Architecture, focused on building confidence, refining or channeling creativity, and group
Monday- Introduction to elementary architecture and electrical integration, play
Wednesday-Questions and troubleshooting, more play
Week 3 – Engineering, where the focus is on craft and mastery of design, production, collaboration
Monday- Introduction to elementary engineering and problem solving, play
Wednesday-Questions and troubleshooting, more play
Remainder of the year – Weekly or biweekly visits to littleBits corner for even mix of planned construction and open play. For planned construction, students will have to present teacher with plans for a creation, their reason for making it, and its purpose (beauty, function, problem-solving, etc).

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