RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS: Teaching STEM with Thomas Edison
[Published in the March 2014 edition of S.T.E.M. magazine, pp. 62-65, reprinted here with the permission of the publisher. More can be learned about this magazine at www.stemmagazine.com]
Harry T. Roman
Inventor, Author, Teacher, Retired Engineer
Edison in Your Classroom
Both STEM and technology education has roots firmly grounded in Edison’s legendary West Orange Labs. When students study under the discipline 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, eventually adding great value to society.
As Edison forged his invention factory concept at West Orange, he employed experts in teams, members of which possessed the multi-disciplinary skills needed to develop specific new products. These experts were chosen because of their ability to solve problems from a multi-dimensional perspective; able to see the various important aspects of the problem, and reach a mediated solution that was both practical and economic. They were designing within socio-economic constraints.
This same paradigm we see today in all our creative and innovative companies, testimony that Edison’s early application of STEM principles has guided us well for the last 125 years. The customers of technology education and STEM are not just parents, students and educators. It is our entire society.
For quite some time, Thomas Edison and his incredible legacy were absent from our classrooms-with students not benefiting from his timeless lessons about creativity and innovation. With the popularity and success of STEM, Mr. Edison is coming back strong as millions of students learn how he codified the basic steps of invention; an iterative process they repeat in project team based design challenges:
1) Identify a problem worth solving
2) Evaluate the economics/market needs
3) Identify constraints, impacts, challenges
4) Identify/test potential solutions-invent!
5) Validate invention against 1), 2) and 3)
[repeat 1) thru 5) as necessary-re-design/re-evaluate original problem]
6) Market the invention
7) Grow and improve the invention
Comments About STEM
Based on 40+ years of visiting classrooms and working with teachers from grade 2 through college, I have a few comments about STEM:
- Ideally, STEM is not something you add to the curriculum … it should be the backbone of the curriculum … eventually stimulating a complete reformation of the academic day. STEM is for all students, a discipline for solving problems of all kinds.
- The language arts and humanities are absolutely essential in solving problems in a STEM-based environment! Problems must be solved within the microscope of history; and with clear, concise language and expression.
- STEM mirrors the problem solving challenges of the workplace, and hence is a powerful school-to-work paradigm.
- A particularly difficult challenge is to integrate math into the STEM equation, as many students [and teachers] are math averse or have trouble using math in practical applications. “Math-o-phobia “ must be overcome by both teachers and students.
The Value of Edison’s STEM-style Thinking/Application
Because Edison pioneered this type of thinking so long ago, he is considered the “STEM-meister” or taproot of STEM. Here are some examples of the power of Edisonian thinking:
1) Edison died in 1931, yet the economic value of the technologies and industries he created are today worth one-tenth of the America economy, about $1.6 trillion per year.
2) In 2013, the total of all R&D conducted by industry, academia and government exceeded $440 billion, larger than the annual revenue of any U.S. company.
3) In 2013, Voice of America determined that Edison and his technological achievements are responsible for one-fourth of the jobs on the planet.
Any questions about the value of teaching STEM in our schools?
For the Reader – Check out these websites for lots of Edison information for your classroom: