When should we start educating our children to be innovators? At Lino Lakes Elementary STEM School, students begin their journey as designers, inventors, and engineers on their first day of kindergarten. A science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-focused school, Lino Lakes Elementary uses projects to build empathy and a love of learning in its students.
According to principal Ronald Burris, empathy and engagement are critical to students’ success in the 21st century. A former high school educator, Burris recalls a conversation with one student that spurred him to action:
“A student who was struggling came to my office and asked me what he needs to do to be successful. I explained to him that this is the wrong question to ask – I can’t give him a series of steps to being successful. If I can show him how to do good work in four steps, he is doing a job that can be sent overseas.”
Burris uses this inspiration to lead a school that teaches students to be critical, engaged, and empathic thinkers – the types of workers and citizens that we need in a world that’s transforming at an increasingly rapid pace.
This commitment to developing young innovators is apparent in every aspect of Lino Lakes Elementary’s educational philosophy. By adopting what Burris calls a “Designer Model” of identifying a problem – looking at possible solutions, designing a solution, testing the solution, and then redesigning based on feedback – students learn to embrace making mistakes, a necessary attitude for innovators. As a result, Burris says that Lino Lakes students “do not consider themselves smart or dumb based on their grades” but instead see themselves as part of an iterative learning process.
A strong example of this philosophy in action is the school-wide catapult-building activity. For Halloween last year, all students were challenged to build catapults to shoot candy pumpkins. They were given some models, the option to create teams, and a cafeteria full of supplies before they were set loose to design their machines. Catapults were tested for accuracy and distance, but rather than designating certain students as first place, second place, et cetera, the school created a constantly updated leaderboard. Students could redesign their catapults after each test, improving their accuracy and pumpkin-shooting distance. Just like in business, the students on the leaderboard could not rest comfortably in their current positions, and unlike traditional school projects, students were not graded on a one-time design without the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Most of all, the whole school was able to reflect on what each person brought to a team and how empathy with teammates can create better results.
Whether it’s making cars for a box car derby or competing in a coloring contest, next time your students or your children are participating in a competition, turn it into an iterative competition where there are no ultimate winners. Instead of giving children first, second, or third place, create a leaderboard and give children the opportunity to redesign.
Photos courtesy of opensource.com and Flickr.