Perhaps the most renowned inventor in history, Thomas Edison, once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Fast forward hundreds of years, and we find ourselves in the age of technology.
65% of jobs today will not exist in 10 years. They will, in fact, be in STEM fields. The question, now, is: How do we prepare students to work and live in the 21st century and to understand technology in a way that enables them to grow? Woz ED, an organization at the forefront of educating K-12-aged students in STEM, focuses on equipping kids for a successful future in coding, artificial intelligence, animation, robotics, and more.
You may be asking, “Why?” By allowing children to appreciate the potential of technology and encouraging them to learn more about it, educational organizations like Woz ED seek to teach kids how to problem solve, how to be creative in their approaches, how to think critically, and how to accept failure.
Karen Young, the CEO of Woz ED talks about what she believes is the greatest milestone of achievement. She says, “…the moments in our implementations that just about bring me to tears is when I see a kid do a hard landing, which is what we call a crash with a drone, and they start laughing and can’t wait to take off again…That laughter is what allows us to see that we are doing the right thing, instead of ‘oh I messed up’ or ‘ I did it wrong’…When you see children delight in their failures, it means they have developed the confidence to keep trying and experimenting.”
So, What is STEM Education and Why is it Important?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, but it goes far beyond teaching kids science and mathematics concepts. Many traditional math and science curriculums are so rigid that they discourage students from pursuing computer science or technology-related fields.
We find many creative thinkers who would be well cut out for a career in technology who lose interest because they aren’t encouraged to be creative in these areas.These curriculums don’t encourage exploration and play, but instead, promote a “pass” or “fail” mentality.
“The experience of play is grounded in the concept of possibility.” Exploration and play are fundamental to children’s cognitive development. When technology, computer science, and robotics are incorporated, children can discover what kind of careers they might be interested in.
Receiving a holistic STEM Education allows kids to discover possibilities, not only in finding new ways to code or power a robot, but also in terms of seeing what careers they are capable of pursuing. STEM opens a whole new world of opportunities for success.
How to Create Successful STEM Education Programs
Woz ED has created a system of implementation called pathways. Each pathway highlights a different area of science and technology such as “Animation,” “Coding, “AI,” and, “Robotics.” Within each pathway, there is the organization of lessons into levels, starting with the basics and increasing in complexity. This way, students are able to fully grasp a subject before moving forward with another.
One challenge that many districts that are new to focusing on STEM education face is how to train and educate teachers in computer science, robotics, and AI, particularly when many of them lack these skills themselves. STEM2Hub, one of Woz ED’s partner companies in NorthEast Florida, is focused on creating robust STEM programs for K-12-aged students. STEM2Hub has formed partnerships with other organizations to achieve this goal. For example, the University of North Florida now has a special program for teachers to take technology and computer-based classes preparing them to effectively teach STEM.
The success of these programs is widely dependent on collaboration and community partnerships. It is important to establish a system that focuses on providing more opportunities for students, preparing them for the changing workforce, and leveling the playing field for success in STEM fields.
Closing the Digital Divide
A study done by Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group found that, “Approximately 15 million to 16 million K-12 public school students, or 30% of all public K-12 students, live in households either without an internet connection or device adequate for distance learning at home…” While all fifty states experience the negative effects of the digital divide in some capacity, it is more prevalent within communities that house majority black, Latino, and Native American students.
At the heart of Woz ED’s mission is the drive to lessen what is called “the digital divide,” by working with underfunded schools to give their students the technology they need to succeed. Through partnerships, collaboration, and non-profit funding, many children have received computers. They have been empowered by the ability to use their voices, to apply to that job they were told they could never get, and to access a whole new world of possibility.
Finding the 10,000 Ways that Won’t Work
Layla Bulman, the director of Lego Education, discusses the way STEM programs enable discovery. She says, “If you are prepared and skilled, every aspect of your life is going to be discovery, and this starts when you’re young.” Thomas Edison would absolutely agree.
Teaching STEM-based programs starting at a young age not only allows children to achieve academic success in areas such as critical thinking and collaboration but also enables them to be daring in their approaches knowing that failure is only part of the final product. The smooth drone landing, the well-functioning 3D printer, or the highly mobile robot all require careful attention, patience, and an understanding that these creations cannot exist without finding the 10,000 ways that won’t work first.