I recently had the pleasure of visiting Saskatoon to attend the 2nd International STEMFest. There were several highlights in the program, including a Skype presentation by Professor Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence at Harvard University Innovation Lab. He talked about the need to teach kids to be innovative in the classroom. His entire talk was filled with Twitter-able quotes, which made it difficult to listen and tweet at the same time! I finally resorted to old-school pen and paper so I wouldn’t miss any of his wisdom.
Now as I review my notes, I am struck again by how science centres fit the bill when it comes to teaching innovation. Tony talked about the need for unstructured play at all ages. He said the purpose of school is no longer about knowledge and content as this information is readily available on the Internet. Rather, we need to provide opportunities for students to use their natural curiosity to find out what works. They need to try things and see what fails so that they can use what they learned to improve. Another piece of wisdom that resonated with me is that “Innovation is a team sport and isolation is the enemy of innovation.”
Later that morning, I watched groups of secondary school students at the Saskatchewan Science Centre booth in the exhibit hall do exactly that. They used straws, masking tape and cotton balls to build towers. With no other incentive than bragging rights, they formed their own groups and worked furiously to build a tower that would withstand “wind” generated by the science demonstrator and would be taller than any of the others.
The students carefully reviewed what other teams had already done and discussed potential improvements. They argued and tried things and pointed out what did and didn’t work. When another group was testing the wind-resistance of their structure, other teams watched and evaluated. In some case, they re-evaluated their own towers.
As science centre professionals, I don’t have to tell you what the energy was like in the room. Some may have called it bedlam, others a controlled chaos; it was definitely exciting! These kids were definitely innovating. Which is probably why the Saskatchewan Science Centre’s booth was the busiest in the room!