Sunday, October 21, 2012

STEM: Taking Matrix' Red Pill

From agriculture to industrialization to the Information Age, mankind has made a fascinating journey of innovation. What leads to such innovations? Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in his Pulitzer Prize winner book Guns, Germs and Steel makes the case that a civilization is not created out of superior intelligence but is a result of chains of developments. That is, innovations are evolutionary. The transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture led to abundance of food supply. With one of the basic necessities per Maslow’s need hierarchy addressed, people could turn towards division of labor and specialization.

Last 100 years can be summed up as follows: Earlier part of the 20th century was about mass-scale industrialization. Towards the end of the 20th century, emphasis shifted from factories to information. As Daniel Pink, the renowned author of A Whole New Mind, describes we moved from an economy built on people’s backs to an economy built on people’s brains.

We are now in a Connected Age. An age where information is so connected that it can enable us to do things previously unfathomable. Think of Mr. Anderson or Neo in the movie Matrix; when Neo wants to learn martial arts, a program is downloaded to his brain. Voila! Neo is proficient in that combat form. This scenario is not so far-fetched in the connected age of today. I am reminded of my own experience from a few weeks back … A continuous sound of draining water in my home was keeping me awake. My husband was traveling and unless I was ready to live with the guilt of wasting water, I had to troubleshoot this problem myself. Following the sound of water, I isolated the leakage to a toilet. That was the easy part. The harder part was where to even start to fix the problem. In a Matrix like epiphany, I turned to Google. There it was … 3 possible problems and their solutions. By process of elimination, I got it down to one. My brain empowered with the new knowledge enabled me to fix the problem.

There is no doubt, our world has changed significantly. However, something hasn’t … at least, it has not changed enough.

Before we proceed, let me offer you a choice: blue pill or a red pill. Blue is the blissful ignorance of illusion … stop reading this post right here and return back to your bliss. Red pill is for you if you are ready to embrace the sometimes painful truth of reality.

If you are still reading, I assume that you have selected the red pill …

Take a look at what Mr. Winkle discovers waking up after a slumber of 100 years.

While USA won the most medals in 2008 Beijing Olympics and then again in London Olympics this year, we are ranked behind 22 nations including countries like South Korea and New Zealand in another medal tally. OECD, Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, with 34 Member countries from around the world from North and South America to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, ranked USA 23rd in producing graduates in science fields. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel, indicates that while USA is producing 120,000 STEM jobs annually, there are only 40,000 STEM graduates to fill those jobs.  My meeting with Kevin Willer, President of the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center, led to a similar picture. His words were “we have a shortage of technical talent”.

What we need is an innovation in STEM education. There is one important ingredient for any great innovation in the world – people’s minds.   Praveen Gupta from the Center for Innovation Science and Applications at the Illinois Institute of Technology in his book Business Innovations describes that a networked individual is the basic building block of innovation.

Innovation in STEM education, thus, needs to impact the fundamental asset – the next generation of great minds.

How do we go about innovating in STEM education? I will address this question in my next blog.

By: Moni Singh, Founder and CEO, STEM for Kids, LLC. Mrs. Singh (aka Ms. STEM) offers a unique perspective on innovation in education through her three lenses: as a mother of elementary age children strongly focused on making STEM fun for kids; as an engineer and a technologist who has brought several technologies to the market, from wireless phones to smart meters; and as a business executive who understands through her work across global organizations that success in the 21st century requires skills in addition to pure technical competence. You can reach Moni at Twitter: @EngineerSTEM and Facebook: STEMForKids

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Go Fish Experiment ... two kids seek your feedback

A 2nd grader and a 3rd grader play a game of Go Fish. They end the game with inspiration for an experiment.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet your child's first teacher ... you.

In this special “back to school” edition, I want to start at home. Parents are children’s first teachers and even when school starts, that role continues. The colors of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) need the canvas of 3 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication) and a student who is well grounded with the habits of being proactive, putting first things first and starting with the end in mind.

A few things to consider for a STEMtastic year ahead:

1.    Make your local public library a bi-weekly stop. Let your children pick out books that they want to read. As they start to transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”, encourage them to pick a mix of fiction and non-fiction books.

2.    Practice math while doing regular chores.

a.    1 cup of water is needed to cook 1 cup of rice, how many cups of water for 3 cups of rice?

b.    4 clean socks make 2 pairs; 8 socks make how many pairs?

3.    Children are naturally curious. Nourish this curiosity. Show them how to research and find answers:

a.    Google it with them

b.    Check out

c.    Find a book at your local library

A 6 year old girl wanted to know how rainbows are formed. During the course of her research, she found the answer and even addressed some of her subsequent questions – why are rainbows shaped like an arc? Why is red on top of the arc?

4.    Make playtime on computers (libraries or in-home), opportunities to learn while having fun. Sites like offer brain training games for free.

By Moni Singh, Founder and CEO of STEM For Kids. Mrs. Singh (aka Ms. STEM) offers a unique perspective on innovation in education through her three lenses: as a mother of elementary age children who is strongly focused on making STEM fun for kids; as an engineer and a technologist who has brought several technologies to the market, from wireless phones to smart meters; and as a business executive who understands through her work across global organizations that success in the 21st century requires skills in addition to pure technical competence.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The chains of habits ...

I learned something pretty young even though it took me many years to fully understand it. Growing up, when I was in elementary school, students took turn to present news headlines and a thought of the day every morning during assembly. My first experience standing with a microphone on a podium in front of the whole school (more than 500 people) occurred when I was in-charge of the “thought of the day” one fine morning as a 2nd grader. I nervously rattled off a thought and was off the microphone in less than 10 seconds. What came out of my mouth, probably no one heard. Yet, the thought remains clearly ingrained in my mind to this day. Here it is:

“The chains of habits are too hard to be broken.”

Through my early years, I took this thought for its literal and reactive meaning that habits are like shackles; if someone had a bad habit, it would be hard to come out of it.

Quite later, thinking proactively, I realized that if someone took the effort to adopt a good habit, it will be equally hard to reverse it!

That was an “aha” moment for me. Then, another “aha”. What better time to create those good habits than when our children are young?

A tree can grow and produce strong stems (or STEM!), only when it has strong roots. Those roots are the personal habits needed to be effective.

As I had mentioned in my last post, Back to basics on STEM, for our children to be successful in STEM fields in the 21st century, they need:

1.    Personal habits that enable them  to be effective

2.    The 3Cs of Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communications

3.    Technical competence – the foundations of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Maintaining focus on personal habits, what are these habits to cultivate during elementary ages?

Stephen Covey, the renowned author of the bestselling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, put being proactive as the first critical habit. Being proactive means being in charge of our response in any situation.

Newton’s 3rd law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. However, when people are involved, after action but before reaction, our brain should be given the option to think and choose the best response.

How many times have you heard children say: “I didn’t do it, she made me do it.”? That’s a classic reactive response as if one child had a remote control to control the other child. When that statement occurs next time, act it out with your child (ren) … believe me, it’s fun and creates a real impact in their understanding of how silly it is to be reactive.

Encourage the thinking step between action and reaction by guiding them to consider other possible options. “I hit him because he hit me”; what were the other possible options – forgive him or report to an adult or …

Follow the discussion further and share your thoughts on Facebook,  Twitter and our blog site.

By: Moni Singh, Founder and CEO,  STEM for Kids

Friday, August 17, 2012

First things first ... back to basics

Some interesting discussions with academia took me back to an important foundational question ... what is STEM?

The letters in the acronym STEM tell us part of the story - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. However, the 21st century skills that our children need are something more than just this simplistic view of STEM.

Let's take an example scenario: my daughter is painting. Implicit in the word painting is that my daughter is using some paint. What's not implicit is that there is a paper or some object (say, canvas) that she is painting. Whether or not we explicitly mention it, the canvas is there.

Likewise, the basic components of STEM are the colors that work their magic on a canvas. I define that canvas as 3 Cs. Per Dr. Tony Wagner from Harvard University and a leader in inspiring educational change in the USA, 3Cs are required to bridge the achievement gap in our education system. These 3 Cs are Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration.

So, implicit in the word STEM is the canvas of the 3 Cs needed to make a real impact ...

While you think about STEM and its canvas, let's turn our attention to the painter ... the person who is working with STEM on the canvas of 3Cs. There are some character traits needed in this person for him/her to be effective.

 Turning to Stephen Covey, the renowned author of the bestselling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, for these character traits. Covey’s 3 habits for personal victory are the important habits for our painter -   Put first things first (prioritize), be proactive (make right choices) and begin with the end in mind (envision the goal and work towards it).

Alright… what does this all mean for our children in the 21st century? Our children need to:

1.    be effective,

2.    proficient in 3Cs and

3.    know the core skills.

Put differently …

STEM = core skills + 3Cs + 3 habits

More on this in my next musing. Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

By: Moni Singh, Founder and CEO,  STEM for Kids

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thinking about thinking ...

A 2nd grade camper in one of our camps asked: “Why plan, can’t we just build?”. This question triggered a thoughtful discussion among STEM educators, professionals and entrepreneurs around the globe.

If you have been through our program, you know that we work on ways to help children think like engineers. So, let me take a moment to describe what it means to think like an engineer.

In two words: critical thinking. Thinking about thinking (or metacognition) so as to actively manage yourself and your learning.

A school teacher recently described an experience where children were tasked with a STEM project to build a chair out of newspaper. However, per this teacher’s account, there was no learning accomplished even though the children built the chair. Why? Children got no understanding of the science concepts (gravity, balancing, forces, etc.) that enable thinking through such a project. Moreover, children missed on the opportunity to learn by trial and error!
With roughly 600 children who have gone through STEM for Kids’ programs so far, I have noticed many instances where children choose to not plan or make a paper bridge of their dreams (big and tall) only to realize afterwards that it cannot even stand. There comes the learning … thinking of ways to improve so as to balance the forces, thinking of trade-offs (keep the bridge tall or make it stable given the material constraints), experiencing the role of planning and learning to persevere through all this.

Let’s take two recent stories of greatness: Michael Phelps makes an Olympic medal record and; “blade runner” or the double amputee Oscar Pistorius goes for a shot at the Olympic medal.
What do these people have in common? Both have weaknesses (Phelps almost lost his passion for swimming after Beijing Olympics and the blade runner has no legs!) and strengths (swimming and running, respectively and many more!). But somehow, these individuals figured out a way to rein in their weaknesses and cultivate their strength. This skill is another by-product of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is so critical yet so scarce that Dr. Tony Wagner from Harvard University, a leader in inspiring educational change in the US, describes it as one of the three Cs required to bridge the achievement gap in our education system. [The other two Cs are Communication and Collaboration].
Thankfully, as evident from our global discussion, many educators, STEM professionals and business leaders are thinking of ways to encourage children into critical thinking. Plus, you can expect to see more on critical thinking as states implement the National Common Core Standards in schools.

Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Can Earth get sucked into a Blackhole?

In our last Aerospace camp, as we were exploring space and Blackhole, a child asked me that question.

A Black hole is created in our universe when a massive star dies; a star 5 – 30 times the mass of our Sun. Black hole has such an immense pull of gravity that nothing escapes it, not even light. So anything that comes too close to it, gets gobbled up! How close is too close? About the distance between Earth and the Sun, 93 million miles. Our Solar System seems to be in a quieter neighborhood of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Scientists and Astrophysicists have not discovered any black holes in that vicinity.

There is, however, a Super Massive Black hole (SMB) at the center of the Milky Way. The SMB is 4 million times the mass of the Sun. Its gravity can influence objects as far as a million miles away. Thankfully, our Solar System is far enough to be safe from this cosmic hot zone.

Metaphorically, if after multiple efforts we don’t see the results, it may seem like our efforts are going into a black hole. All of us have a special attribute to escape this black hole: perseverance.

Remember, the only angle from which to approach a problem is the try-angle

Saturday, April 28, 2012

STEM, James Cameron, Larry Page and trash ...

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the Apollo 12 Command Module at the NASA Langley Air and Space Museum. What a great engineering creation and an outstanding memorabilia of the Space race of the 1960s. The space race started as a competition between the USA and Soviet Union and eventually turned into a collaboration that led to the deployment of the International Space Station. Today US astronauts hitch a ride on Russia’s Soyuz for space travel.
Elementary children had their own taste of space competition and collaboration, see more here.
A new collaboration is shaping up between Avatar’s James Cameron and Google’s Larry Page … not for the next blockbuster movie … They have their eyes set on the asteroid belt for space mining! Have we depleted our natural resources on Earth to such an extent that mining of asteroids is now being explored?

An average American makes 7 pounds of trash a day or roughly 1.3 tons a year. That’s like each one of us throwing away a Honda Civic every year! Think about how much natural resource is being trashed on a regular basis this way ...

More at twitter and facebook.

STEM for kids ... but what is STEM?

For most of us, when we think of stem, we think of a plant stem ... a connecting or supporting part of a plant. Think closely about the support that a stem provides to a plant. Just like that stem, the acronym STEM (our focus area for this post), is an important support for our children' growing minds.
STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Experts believe that STEM is an economic imperative.

Why STEM for Kids? Because children are naturally curious; they want to explore, to tinker, to figure out why something happens the way it does and how things work. What if we could find a way to draw their curiosity into creative thinking? What if, there was a way for children to have fun with science, technology, engineering and math?

My last post showed that in our community children are having fun with STEM. Children are smart, they will discover their own natural skills and abilities. As their parents, I believe, that we should ensure that they get exposure to different options. Just like we have them try baseball, soccer, swimming, etc., let them try STEM for kids.

STEM Rocks !!!

US Competitiveness report released in January underscores the need for STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education for our children.

But the question is ... how soon should the children be given the opportunity to explore STEM? Could elementary age children benefit from STEM enrichment?

The answer is yes because as we have seen as parents, children are naturally curious. They want to look under the hood, tinker and have fun. Basically, they have a fertile mind ready for planting the seeds of STEM.

That leads to another question ... is there a way for elementary age children to have fun with STEM?

Yes ... absolutely. Take a look at the happy faces of elementary age children having fun with STEM.