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Sunday, December 31, 2017

STEM Isn't Just for Kids:

"We don't know anything about how electronics work," my two students told me when we started. In less than an hour they had made a working flashlight, their faces lighting up as bright as the LED light they were now turning on and off. This wasn't a school project, but a workshop put on by Juneau Makerspace, and my students were far closer to retirement age than school age. What's more, they could see immediate use for their newly learned skill. "Now we can make our craft projects light up," they said. If anybody in town gets a handknit Christmas sweater from this year with working lights, my apologies. You have probably often heard about the importance of teaching STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) to kids. There's even a monthly column in the newspaper about it (this one right here), but what is often overlooked is the importance of STEM for adults. If we want to get our students excited to learn more STEM skills, then it would help if they saw us adults taking a similar interest. There's good reason to learn STEM skills for yourself, and not just to make your clothes light up (though that is a good reason, so maybe I'm not sorry about your Christmas sweater). If you have a hobby that involves making something, whether it's woodworking or ceramics, or yes, knitting Christmas sweaters, you're using STEM skills without even realizing it. Do you need to consider the properties of different materials in a craft project like different fabrics or paints? That's science. Do you operate a tool to help you in your hobby like a sewing machine or a ham radio? That's technology. Do you find the most efficient way to put something together, whether it's furniture or a photo slideshow? That's engineering. Is there measuring involved? That's math. Learning more about your hobby or interests is, in effect, pursuing STEM education.

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