STEM in schools: Helping students learn to solve real-world problems


Read how our STEM Conservatory allows CCA students to get hands-on experience solving real-world problems.

In our society, we have access to multiple forms of everything, but not everyone can afford to gain exposure to the more expensive technical tools required to remain on the cutting edge. Technological items might not be high on the priority list for struggling families. STEM education in schools can be an integral part of bringing equality back to our nation. It’s where the majority of new jobs are developing and it’s the fabric of innovation.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are not anything new. We’ve been teaching those subjects since the beginning of public education. With an overabundant society filled with “stuff,” we need to improve upon that “stuff” to move forward. The only way to do this is to put students in creative situations to solve real-world problems. If our students practice solving issues through troubleshooting, and hands-on trial and error, they lock a process in their head toward innovative success. This means they may fail a few times.

As STEM educators, we need to put them in environments where they are exposed to those real-world problems with career professionals. We need to give them the “stuff” that’s currently available and challenge them to use it to solve those problems. If we have career professionals there to guide students toward experiential pathways after these hands-on workshops, these professionals are generating their own innovative workforce. That's what CCA's conservatories are all about – giving kids experience solving real-world problems with career professionals.

Schools spend money on high-tech items all the time, but our educators need to take the time to learn about those items so they can effectively facilitate student development of their innovative process. I personally take any new item we have, learn as much about it as feasibly possible and then teach the basics to my students. Then, I let them run with it.

If you want to get the most out of this STEM movement, you have to tie it to invention and careers. If teachers can stay on top of the new technology in the world, they are not only up to par with what’s happening around them, but they are leading by example through the lifelong process of learning. Students respect and are motivated by having that opportunity.

When I learned how to use Google Sketch-Up last year, I literally showed students the basics of how to use the program. Then, I gave them a challenge to develop a homeless shelter for their region with a real-world budget and list of parameters. They took it by storm and accomplished more than I could have imagined. Crabtree Rohrbaugh and Associates in Mechanicsburg provided them with the career knowledge students needed to design. They also provided prizes. Students have abilities that we struggle to test. Let’s unlock those abilities through STEM real-world problem solving and innovation.

Don’t forget art and design. I can invent the most functional sink in the world, but if it’s not designed to look good in a kitchen, no one will buy it. You also can't forget social studies and language arts. Students need to be able to express their ideas vocally, in writing, and they need to be able to empathize with everyone around them.

Thankfully, at CCA, we also have an Arts and Humanities conservatory to help meet the creative needs of those students. Our conservatories offer students real, hands-on experience to give them a taste of the career options that await them after they graduate from CCA. We want to make sure we are preparing our students for life after graduation and giving them the tools they will need to succeed in life and the guidance of career professionals.


Kurt Amen


October 5, 2016


Learning Lab

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