Op-Ed: Bringing Innovation to Classrooms

Op-Ed: Bringing Innovation to Classrooms

Our kids are amazing consumers of technology. With a few taps and swipes on their mobile devices, they have nearly instant access to much of the world’s information via downloadable apps and websites. But with a projected 8.65 million U.S. workers needed by 2018 in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (collectively referred to as STEM), they need to be more than just consumers – they need to be makers.

On Wednesday, the White House hosted its first-ever Maker Faire, bringing together tinkerers and entrepreneurs of all ages to share their creations and find areas of collaboration. The “big idea” of the Maker Movement is simple: to encourage people to seek solutions to everyday problems, identify new areas of opportunity and offer contributions that advance society – in ways both silly and significant.

Among these “makers” were a significant number of teachers and students, reminding us that the classroom is often the nucleus for innovation.

This is an important memorandum. Too often in the tech sphere, we forget that discovery happens in schools as much as it happens in laboratories, engineering workshops or through expert collaborations.

In New Mexico, high schooler Raquel Redshirt saw that her Navajo Nation community historically lacked access to cooking fuels due to their remote location. To try and solve this problem, Raquel studied solar ovens and created her own from local materials – a project which earned her special recognition at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

In Kansas City, Missouri, a team of students frustrated with their runny ketchup designed, tested and 3D-printed a part that separates the water from the ketchup before it gets pushed out of the bottle.

In Iowa, a team of middle school students developed a wheelchair that converts easily to a walker for the elderly and disabled, and in Maryland, five young girls created an app they named “Study Buddy” to help them prioritize homework, track assignments and study for upcoming tests.

To help connect more teachers and students with the opportunities and resources to create, Teach For AmericaDigital Harbor FoundationProject Lead The Way and STEMConnector are encouraging educators to pledge to be Maker Teachers.

This campaign will help create a broader community of Maker Teachers to share ideas, resources, and opportunities. Tools such as the Innovation Portal, a free online platform, allow students to create and share design portfolios to help invent new solutions to problems ranging from annoying to life-threatening.

Our teachers and students are, quite literally, inventing us into the future – and it’s critical that we provide them with every opportunity to expand their definitions of what is possible. Through the process of making, students gain a broad yet critical skillset for operating in the jobs of tomorrow – competencies founded in math and science, with the ability to navigate ambiguity, think analytically and act strategically.

Teachers are the backbone of our country’s innovation, guiding students to create new methods and ideas, and forge solutions for burgeoning challenges. Pledge to become a Maker Teacher to be connected with other trailblazing educators and Maker opportunities for your classrooms and schools.

Together, we can develop today’s consumers into tomorrow’s makers.

Dr. Wilson is the managing director of Teach For America’s math and science initiative. Dr. Jones is the senior vice president and chief programs officer of  Project Lead The Way

By: By  and  for US News & World Report