Posts belonging to Category STEM



Thomas Edison Would Applaud Women in Engineering [FemGineers]!

As middle and high schools implement the integrated subject teaching paradigm known as STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], it is natural that increasing amounts of female students would become more interested in what engineers do, and how they solve problems. This head and hands approach to solving problem has shown young women to be quite adept at designing and building activities. Young ladies with a keen interest in taking these courses in school and also participating in after-school classes and design competitions are informally known as “FemGineers”. Here is a New Jersey story about these amazing young ladies.

The first educational program in the nation to offer a formal woman’s oriented engineering and design curriculum was launched 10 years ago at High Point Regional High School in Sussex, NJ. As part of their technology education program, this activity remains vibrant, with many of its former students continuing their technical studies in college and/or having found employment in science and technology related careers.

In 2008, the Heritage Middle School in Livingston, NJ also started a FemGineers program. Starting with just 10 students, this effort has grown to 35 students this year. The original students have now gone on to Livingston High School and established another FemGineers program at that school, with some of the students even coming back to mentor the middle school students! The plan is to grow the Livingston School District FemGineers program to 100 students by 2014. You can see the FemGineers in action below as they participated in a statewide competition to design new cities. Later, the young ladies also competed in the Edison Innovation Foundation’s Thomas Edison Invention Challenge for unique applications for alternate energy. They won awards in both competitions.

 

FemGineers First Design Their New City Model to Scale

FemGineers First Design Their New City Model to Scale

Building the Scale Model

Building the Scale Model

Presenting to an Engineer-Judge at Statewide Competition

Presenting to an Engineer-Judge at Statewide Competition

Proud of their Work!

Proud of their Work!

 

The main goal of the program is to empower young women to pursue interests in fields that are traditionally dominated by men.  The FemGineer concept, when introduced at the middle school level, provides the young ladies with a “social fit.”  They are accepted by their peers in the group and are not afraid of being judged.  This transfers to the high school as these girls enroll in courses that have been traditionally dominated by their male peers.  The program provides structure and the confidence needed for young women to eventually pursue careers in STEM related fields.

All this is music to the ears of engineering colleges, who for years have been trying to interest young women in becoming full- fledged engineers. Women have already made some significant inroads into engineering, but the profession can use many more; and introductory engineering programs in the middle and high schools can be a terrific way to spread the interest and fun of engineering.

By the way, tiny New Jersey was one of the first states to adopt a technology education curriculum back in 1986, leading to an international revolution in teaching students about the engineered world. This little state is ranked 4th among all states in the total number of inventions awarded to its many scientists, engineers, technologists, and inventors. And of course it is home to the greatest inventor in the world, Thomas Edison. Were he here today, no doubt he would be a supporter of this kind of head and hands, practical method of education. In his time, he made many comments about the state of education and the need for more focused methods of showing how school relates to work. How pleased he would be to see the FemGineers in action!

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine

To have a great idea, have a lot of them.

 Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs

Keep the Spirit Alive-Teach Them in our Schools!

They are both gone now… …but their vision, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship endures, making them so very relevant to our modern society. Let us bring the spirit of these two American icons into the classroom, integrating it into the highly successful STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] teaching philosophy now sweeping our schools. Challenge our children to create and dream like them!

Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

  Steve Jobs 1955-2011                         Thomas Edison 1847-1931

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Edison and the Roots of STEM

In today’s schools, the educational philosophy known as STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] has become popular and indispensable in integrating subject matter; and teaching young minds about the value of critical thinking and problem solving.

The roots for the modern day STEM philosophy actually date back to the late 1800s, when Thomas Edison was forging his invention factory / industrial R&D concept. It is plainly evident in the small cluster of buildings [which still stand today for public visitation] that formed the central focus of his legendary West Orange Labs. Here in his epicenter of creativity and invention, a one-acre nucleus of buildings formed the heart of Edison’s revolutionary enterprise….. an enterprise that would come to define today’s modern industrial model.

An early photo of the Edison invention factory (ca.1888). These buildings remain to this day. Eventually an additional 20 acres of manufacturing buildings would surround this nucleus of buildings on three sides, employing 10,000 people in the making of a variety of Edison products.

An early photo of the Edison invention factory (ca.1888). These buildings remain to this day. Eventually an additional 20 acres of manufacturing buildings would surround this nucleus of buildings on three sides, employing 10,000 people in the making of a variety of Edison products.

The small buildings arranged to the side of the main prototyping factory contained certain important specialties and expertise, and equipment that would be needed to support the multi-disciplined, multi-dimensional aspects of invention. There was a physics/electrical lab, a chemistry lab, a metallurgical shop, a model making shop; and supporting all this were engineers, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, technologists, machinists, draftsmen, and electricians. Edison knew back then that bringing ideas from concept to market required physical resources, and a multitude of talents and skills…..all conveniently available. He also had marketing, legal, accounting, economic, and sales expertise on-hand as well.

Today’s modern business structure emerges from this integrated approach Edison formed for the solving of problems, and the launching of new products. The world’s greatest companies today have R&D labs like Edison did, fully understanding how R&D project management crucially drives the process of new product commercialization. Edison becomes the first industrial project manager, forming interdisciplinary project teams, often overseeing as many as 30-40 teams at once. He is the premier integrated thinker of his time, matching people, talents, resources, and disciplines to solve multi-dimensional problems creatively.

Teamwork was an essential part of the invention factory “magic”. Pulling “all-night”creativity sessions was not unusual at all. Here in a famous photo, Edison takes a meal with his famous “insomnia squad”.

Teamwork was an essential part of the invention factory “magic”. Pulling “all-night”creativity sessions was not unusual at all. Here in a famous photo, Edison takes a meal with his famous “insomnia squad”.

It is interesting to note how that initial two-acre parcel of buildings at West Orange produced enough new product ideas to keep the surrounding twenty acres of massive buildings around it busy turning out new products. Those factory buildings are gone now, but at one time, the great inventor had 30 companies and 10,000 employees working under the imprimatur of Thomas A. Edison Industries. This is the iron core of strength that STEM thinking can produce in the real world. It has been shown to work for 125 years, forming the foundation for an on-going industrial revolution, and ultimately, today’s digital-electronic explosion. STEM is precisely what is needed in our schools to show the head and hands relevance of the school-to-work progression; and the application of knowledge to addressing world needs. 

Throughout his life, Edison documented his work, staying true to his scientific process of invention. He so loved the process of research and development, he established his office in his library.

Throughout his life, Edison documented his work, staying true to his scientific process of invention. He so loved the process of research and development, he established his office in his library.

The STEM of yesteryear has certainly evolved, and will continue to do so as mankind advances. Back in Edison’s time, most folks were satisfied that new products were time-saving, understandable, and affordable. As our civilization progressed, we developed new concerns [design constraints] like environmental stewardship, product safety, and regulatory impacts that began to re-shape the way we saw the “Edisonian” model of progress; and this made new product development ever more complex, multi-dimensional, and inter-disciplinary….and all of this is good for a society’s growth….but make no mistake, STEM’s taproot lies at the heart of the legendary West Orange Labs, and the seminal idea of perpetuating the industrial revolution as a codified process….a process that revolutionized the cottage industry of invention into a commercial powerhouse. It is Edison’s greatest invention, and the heart of America’s ingenuity. West Orange is the “Mother Ship” of innovation.

The famed Edison library-home to 10,000 technical books, journals and paraphernalia.

The famed Edison library-home to 10,000 technical books, journals and paraphernalia.

Today, the total money spent on all national R&D in all sectors is about $370 billion (2010). That is bigger than the largest US oil companies, and also the entire electric utility industry, probably getting close to giants in revenue like Wal-Mart and the automakers. Obviously this style of STEM thinking has produced and continues to produce great success and wealth. When students study under the guidelines of STEM and technology education they are automatically invoking Edison-style thinking and problem solving, they are being readied for a world of global competitiveness, and adding great value to our society. 

Edison at his roll-top desk, ready for work in his library-office.

Edison at his roll-top desk, ready for work in his library-office.

Technology education does in miniature, what must be done to the entire school curricula……integrate it…change the way we teach school [and teach teachers] to focus on subject integration and creative solutions to problems. Statistical relevance of IQ test scores is not the only metric we need to concentrate on anymore. It is how students solve problems, the thinking processes applied, that we need to address. It is the driver for the future. It will win the competitive wars, and get us back to that Edison spirit, of which President Obama spoke in 2011 in an important address to the nation.

Technology education is the paradigm shift, whose roots are firmly grounded in a small cluster of buildings known as Thomas Edison’s invention factory/R&D lab. Every Fortune 500 company has an R&D lab. What does that say about how valuable STEM thinking is? The customers of technology education and STEM are not just the parents and educators. It is our entire society.

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do in the first place doesn’t mean it’s useless….” 
Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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