According to researchers an important component in developing creativity is to allow time to play. However, in our current educational model, we are seeing more and more schools cutting back on recess time to maximize test scores. To avoid lawsuits, touching games such as tag are being banned on playgrounds. Forced back indoors for more seat time, it is no wonder deskbound students look so bored.
S.T.E.M. can be a part of the solution. Here the students are in class, but they are actively engaged in engineering a solution to a problem. What we see as instruction, they see as fun. And this is really how learning should occur. Brains like to learn and grow. They abhor boredom. Brains thrive on challenge. Who can keep their paper airplane in the air the longest? Who can build the strongest tower? How can we make the rocket fly straighter? To a brain, these are not obstacles; they are challenges and opportunities.
Stephan Turnipseed, president of Lego Education, North America, says it best: “Creativity is at the foundation of innovation and is vital for our country's growth and development. Creativity fuels all areas of our country's economy and prosperity.” He goes on to report that scores on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking have been declining among elementary students.
The solution is simple; S.T.E.M. activities move students away from rote learning into creative and innovative environments. I’m always amazed when we start a new S.T.E.M. lesson because I have a preconceived idea of how I would solve the problem. My perspective prevents me from seeing the solution in other ways. But invariably a student will solve the problem in a way that gives me an “Aha!” moment.
My students struggled with their vinegar and baking soda powered jet cars. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t delay the reaction in a reliable way that allowed them to get the bottle capped in time. If they did slow the reaction down enough to cap the bottle, the foam oozed out the nozzle without generating enough thrust. They needed a way to get all the baking soda into the vinegar and than have it react at once. One group of students finally decided to fill their bottle half full of vinegar and float test tubes half filled with baking soda inside. The tubes floated perfectly just above the surface and no vinegar reacted with them until the car was tipped sideways on the ground. Then the reaction was immediate. You can see the result at the end of the video in this link.
On another occasion, my students had to make vibrating robot bugs out of electric toothbrushes. The problem was getting them to go straight. I showed them how to make paperclip legs that allowed it to walk in a wiggly but unpredictable way. However, when they realized that the bugs didn’t necessarily walk straight, my students devised skis and even propellers to get better results. You can see a video of them at this link and download the Vibrobots activity here.
When we are working on a S.T.E.M. project, my students often come into my room during their lunch break. They are sacrificing what little play time we offer them to design, to build, and to innovate. I think that’s proof that their brains are enjoying the creative process of learning that S.T.E.M. instruction offers.