Getting creative in the classroom with STEM

Dr. René Tristan Lydiksen

Dr. René Tristan Lydiksen is the managing director of LEGO Education Europe. He holds a PhD from the University of Southern Denmark which was sponsored by the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation. He is dedicated to the idea of enabling students to succeed through playful learning experiences, and has made it his purpose to help equip future generations with the skills they need to become global citizens and solve the world’s biggest issues.

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Originally published on 24th February 2016 Originally published on 24th February 2016

Encouraging students to take an interest in Science, technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects can often be a challenge. This is especially true when teaching is based around workbooks and theory; when students are unable to find a link between what they are being taught, the learning environment they are in and their own interests, they are more likely to disengage. With the ever-increasing technological advancements, it’s not surprising that the next generation of students are likely to enter the working world, looking for jobs that don’t even exist now. Therefore, we must strive to inspire children from a young age, in order to unveil talent and boost engagement.

"We need to make sure we are sparking an interest from a young age."98% of children test as creative geniuses at age five, but that number decreases to only 2% of adults by age 25, [study by George Land and Beth Jarman]. Therefore, we need to make sure we are sparking an interest from a young age, and developing these skills throughout their educational journey. After all, creativity lies at the root of all innovation, so it is up to us as experts in educational resources to provide students with the appropriate tools to allow them the freedom to explore the wide and varied solutions to any problems or questions and ignite their imagination.

Practical makes perfect

Integrating practical work within the classroom is an effective way to capture children’s attention and fuel their excitement. There are many children who possess the capabilities to become engineers, but that talent will remain hidden if teachers aren’t able to successfully engage them. The key to combatting this is to introduce hands-on activities during lessons that are sure to induce innovation among children. After all, there is only so much one can learn purely from textbook work.
If this approach in the classroom sparks curiosity among students, then the response is more likely to be enthusiastic as they’ll actively want to take part. And it’s this enthusiasm that will motivate students to work together to establish solutions and, ultimately, the end goal. Encouraging team work also shows every student that they are able to contribute their own expertise as part of a collaborative unit, creating a stronger entity of innovative ideas and results.
It’s important to provide students with opportunities to learn independently, rather than just provide them with answers. A lack of practical and creative learning in the classroom can inevitably lead to children struggling to understand subjects, such as science and maths, as they haven’t developed their ability to think laterally. According to David Elkind Ph.D, author of The Power of Play, “Creativity and imagination are like muscles; if you don’t use them, you lose them.” If children are only set tasks that require minimal thinking or a lack of creative freedom, then they will surely disengage and will be unable to think for themselves and use their own imagination. "Expressing a positive ‘can-do’ attitude in the classroom will help inspire and encourage students."
Exposing children to hands-on play enables them to express themselves through physical means, which is especially pertinent for those children who, as previously stated, may struggle to articulate verbally or through written communication. Setting open-ended challenges and encouraging them to experiment, will create a playful atmosphere, helping to breakdown any inhibitions students may have, and prevent them from giving up at the first hurdle.
This approach to learning develops student resilience and confidence. Similar to real-life situations, things won’t always go to plan, and adaptations will need to be made to the program in order for it to function efficiently. Expressing a positive ‘can-do’ attitude in the classroom will help inspire and encourage students to keep trying, giving them the determination to find a solution. If teachers are to inspire their students to engage with the various STEM opportunities that await them, then bringing this attitude to the classroom is crucial.

Pique their interest

Learning provides students with the opportunity to gain various experiences, and the best education is one that is “sensory-rich, emotionally engaging and linked to the real world” [Tim Grant, Gail Littlejohn]. Therefore, linking to students’ interests will help them understand how these technological processes can be applied to real-life applications. One example of this would be getting students to program a robot to follow a particular route, making sure the coding is set correctly, so that it recognises when it is approaching an obstacle and can turn before colliding with it. It is this fluid sequencing that can be related to applications such as traffic light systems or car sensors. Demonstrating the purpose of the subject, and how it relates to the real world, will be far more motivating for students than asking them to read a textbook.
Understanding the context of Coding and its purpose will also allow students to develop skills such as problem-solving, how to search and analyse information, and how to work closely with others to bring ideas to fruition.
It’s important to engage children from a young age, so that we are able to nurture their creativity and encourage them to take an interest in STEM-related subjects. Providing them with physical resources will help bring their ideas to life, and will allow them to see how these situations can then be applied to processes in the real world. Only then will we be able to build a generation of problem-solvers and creative geniuses with the ability to shape and accelerate the world’s future technologies.

How do you promote STEM in your school? Share your tips below.


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