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.

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