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Innovations in STEM education panel coming to Wellesley Free Library on March 19

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By Rama K. Ramaswamy (Special to The Swellesley Report)

Picasso once said, all children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. Welcome to generation innovation. Both Bill Gates, who famously promoted the belief that, education should be well correlated to areas that actually produce jobs and Steve Jobs who couldn’t stress enough the importance of the Humanities in education in general, often referred to themselves as tech-artists, of sorts. The dilemma surrounding the merger of science, liberal arts and innovating education rages on, as we, as a society debate the benefits. Recently Newsweek’s cover story, The Creativity Crisis, outlines growing signs of creativity-decline in our national culture and discusses new creativity predictive tests such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Two well known creativity scholars, James C. Kaufman, professor of psychology at California State University and Kyung Hee Kim, a professor at the College of William & Mary are often asked to judge and score Torrance Test drawings; they find that, parents who encourage openness and playfulness, raise children with increased creativity.

The concept of creativity is probably as easy to define as googlines; however Tony Wagner, internationally acclaimed author, and an Expert In Residence at Harvard University’s new Innovation Lab, takes a large bite out of it; his work includes numerous articles and five books to date. Tony’s latest, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World, was recently published by Simon & Schuster to rave reviews and has been translated into six languages. For optional background reading, please check out a copy of Creating Innovators, available for loan at the Wellesley Library; or show this news item when you purchase the book at Wellesley Books and 10% of the purchase price will be donated to the Wellesley Education Foundation- a tax-exempt, non-profit with a mission to provide grants to educators for innovative educational projects at all grade levels.

Wellesley’s Superintendent of Schools, David Lussier says the following about the national movement to innovate education: it’s an exciting time to be in education!  We are becoming more focused on not just developing student’s content knowledge, but also preparing them to apply that knowldege in the real world.  We want to develop students who can think out of box, challenge assumptions, and innovate. This March 19, the Wellesley Free Library (Wakelin Room- 7:30-9 pm) will host a panel discussion about Innovations in STEM education and Tony Wagner’s book, Creating Innovators. The panel will feature Dean Blase, who is Wellesley Public School’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Robert Martello who is an Associate Professor of the History of Science and Technology with Olin College. Dean taught secondary school in English and has written two books, Trust Me! I Can Read in 2012 which discusses new approaches for teachers looking to transform their high school English students into passionate readers and how she has built upon her own strengths in the classroom. Her second is a children’s book, There’s an Octopus Under My Bed, which is about the theory of evolution and the Galapagos Islands. Robert Martello began researching America’s transition from crafts to industry while a Ph.D. student in MIT’s Program in the History and Social Study of Science and Technology. Since working at Olin College, he has written, Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise in 2010, several papers, articles on industrialization and offered numerous presentations on his National Science Foundation–sponsored educational research, which explores connections between interdisciplinary education, student motivation, and self-directed project-based learning. Furthermore, he has recently offered workshops for universities in Chile, Guatemala, and Brazil, as well as for local K-12 teachers, with an emphasis upon techniques for fostering intrinsic motivation through interdisciplinary project-based learning experiences.

Through Creative Innovators, Tony Wagner paints a picture of how Google’s director of talent, Judy Gilbert, for instance, believes that the most important thing educators can do to prepare students for work in companies like hers is to teach them that problems can never be understood or solved in the context of a single academic discipline; or how at Stanford or MIT’s Media Lab, all their courses are interdisciplinary and based on the exploration of problems or new opportunities. Closer to home, Wagner points to Olin College, as another example of how half its students create interdisciplinary majors such as Design for Sustainable Development or Mathematical Biology while discussing, educating the next Steve Jobs in a Wall Street Journal article.

Without giving away too much of the book and its fascinating content, I will say that Wagner doesn’t just give us a detailed primer as to why innovation is absolutely critical for our cultural and economic success but, according to journalist C.J. Westerberg, what is most compelling is his meticulous dissection of how innovators are raised, challenged, supported, and developed, after an extensive process of identifying and conducting over 150 interviews.

The Wellesley Science and Technology Expo team (part of WEF), along with the Innovations in STEM panelists hope to discuss these relevant issues with parents, educators, mentors, and those who hope to understand how education and innovation are inextricably linked. In this case, as Wagner asks, how do we create the conditions at home, in our schools, and in our communities for students to create, learn, produce, and to innovate? Join in and contribute your voice.


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