Innovative Thinking Leads to Innovative Actions, which result in creative solutions that otherwise might not have derived from a preplanned strategy in a binder on your shelf, or a folder in your computer.
By Reagan Flowers, PhD
CSTEM subscribes to the notion that students must learn how to think critically and creatively, just as much as they need to learn math and science. One solution to reducing the dropout rate, developing competitive STEM students, and increasing the number of students, particularly minority and female students engaged in the pursuit of knowledge in math and science is creating more classrooms that thrive on real-world learning experiences that support applied knowledge, skills, research, and discovery. Schools must subscribe to learning environments that teach students how to approach problems from multiple perspectives, combining various approaches to developing innovative solutions. Similar to how CSTEM is working to assist Pre K-12 schools with transforming STEM classrooms and learning environments, Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management is doing the same but with students in the business school.
Imagination is so vital to the work in STEM education in that it keeps learning magical and mystical. This approach has generated great success in the national CSTEM Challenge. Each year our curriculum team draws on imagination to develop (6) problems for students to solve encouraging them to consider multiple perspectives in the development of innovative solutions. The six challenges are in part created to provide students with real-world learning experiences that allow them to apply text book knowledge in coming up with creative solutions. In addition to the hands-on learning, we are developing “holistic thinkers” who think beyond the walls of their classrooms and are more willing to make important decisions.
School as we know it, has traditionally involved separate disciplines and deals less and less with interdisciplinary teaching and/or learning experiences, limiting a student’s ability to think broadly. The national CSTEM Challenge provides classrooms with the elements that assist teachers with helping learning relate to the “real world”. In the instance of visual arts, students apply geometry, architecture, and research to create a mural as an artistic expression. These types of experiences develop students into leaders. The interdisciplinary challenge, which focuses on students understanding and ability to think through problems analytically, allows students to develop artifact portfolios as a solution to real-world problems, leading the students to become better creative thinkers. Inquiry and out-of-the-box thinking through the national CSTEM Challenge is creating students that look into solving a problem without automatically referring to predetermined strategy or concepts. This leads to the multitude of innovative solutions submitted annually.
At Stanford, known as the d. school, the school of business has developed an innovative institute of design centered on teaching courses around “Design Thinking”, which aligns with the Pre K-12 work of CSTEM. Tim Brown, president of IDEO, puts it best in his statement, “critical thinking is an ability to understand a system or a statement and respond to it”. CSTEM provides problem statements to students annually, which allow students to take their understanding of the world and apply points of references, very similar to what is described by David Kelly, the creator of the Design School. “What’s different about design thinking is, it’s focused on taking that understanding you have about the world and using that as a set of insights from which to be creative.”: This concept is what CSTEM works to create in Pre K-12 classrooms. Furthermore, we are providing students with problems to solve to initiate creative thinking and inquiry outside of the context of what is provided in a traditional classroom.
CSTEM advocates a change in curriculum approach that links formal and informal learning practices and support collaborative teaching, and both vertical and horizontal learning along the Pre K-12 continuum. Part of the challenge is to learn from history and turn out better products in more of our students. As opposed to continuing down the path that leads to the continuous loss of thousands of students, which equates to over 600,000 drop-outs annually, a weaker economy, higher crime rates, an increased demand for social services, and the erosion of our country’s global competitiveness.
As business schools are some of our countries leading institutions of higher learning, it is time for Colleges of Education that produce our Pre K-12 teachers to rework their curriculum to be inclusive of course offerings that teach design thinking. This would allow student teachers to apply thinking more broadly through integrated collaborative approaches. As a result teachers would look at state approved curriculum through lenses that support more creative teaching that infuses experiential learning, reflection, and field experiences. This approach provides purpose for learning, connects with students and keeps them engaged in the learning process.
Students as a whole want to contribute positively to society. Their attempt to identify the answer to the question we ask them so often, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, has gotten overwhelmingly difficult. They are left with fewer “realistic” answers, a result of a learning environment and home life that do not support the creative possibilities of their imagination. However, if we provide opportunities in our classrooms that support creative thinking in various STEM content areas and art, more students will plug into the learning process, stay connected and completes the journey.