We are all wild about STEM education, that is, education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The federal government has offered grants and holds STEM in high regard. Others offer a STEAM version adding the Arts, or a STREAM version, adding both Arts and Reading. All of these initiatives are amazing and essentially aim to capture great teaching practices that allow students to think creatively and independently, work on relevant and authentic projects, and think in ways that transcend the four walls of the school. Students in STEM, STEAM or STREAM schools or classes are encouraged to fail forward and try new things and ideas, to invent, to learn and to challenge themselves. The flipped classroom, STEM labs, and maker spaces are just some of the practices that have come out of these initiatives across the country and world.
My question to you is this: What is the point? All this is great, but what good does it do? Who does it help? Why should I care? Why should I teach this way?
Okay, that is more than one question. You get the point. It is wonderful to provide some of these STEM skills and opportunities to students, but we need an end-game if we want our students and the world to capitalize on these efforts. Therefore, I present to you, for your review, a new acronym. Get ready, drumroll please…
E-STEM! Yes, another letter. The new ‘E’ stands for Entrepreneurship and is IS the end-game. Why not Entrepreneurship as the vehicle for STEM education? Is it not the overarching goal? Once you determine you are a creative, insightful, problem-solving leader, how do you let the world know about it? Entrepreneurship. BOOM!
The Entrepreneurship mindset incorporates many of the things STEM education aims to teach. But without a global understanding, without perseverance, without knowledge of markets and audiences, much creativity and genius could be lost. Entrepreneurship is the underpinning of all STEM education and can be seamlessly incorporated to produce a well-rounded student ready to tackle the challenges of the real world.
I will give you an example. In STEM lab, a student has a great idea to build a robot with sensors that will take voice commands. The school provides the parts and instruction (teacher as a guide). In the real world, however, the student would need to source those parts (this could be simulated), find an audience who will care about this robot, then market the robot so the audience will know about it. If all that goes as planned, the student is now facing the need to start talking about employees, budgets, price points, ROIs, etc. Teachers may not cram all of this into one project or lesson, but let’s start incorporating a few ideas each year, each year increasing the pixel count until we have a full picture.
An Inc. article comments on how the President feels the nation needs more entrepreneurs linking entrepreneurship with STEM education and STEM fields.
Furthermore, and, perhaps most importantly, Entrepreneurship education levels the playing field. Meaning, even if a student is not interested in a direct STEM field, he or she can be an entrepreneur and possess entrepreneurial mindsets and skills that will benefit him/her in ANY field and occupation. The Entrepreneurial mindset also levels the playing field in ways No Child Left Behind (NCLB) would appreciate in that there are many students who may not be as successful in a traditional academic environment (i.e. desks, rows, homework) that have incredible and insatiable aptitudes for entrepreneurship. Incidentally, the same can be said for STEM if taught to all students. However, we oftentimes see STEM offered only to those already considered “academically elite.”
Even universities such as WVU offer programs like this to students in STEM fields to give those students some training in Entrepreneurship because we are beginning to understand that once our brilliant youth get an idea, and make it happen, they need to be able to bring it to the world.
Entrepreneurship education benefits students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, teaching them to think outside of the box and supporting unconventional thought, talent and skills – what is largely lacking in our schools today. Furthermore, it creates opportunities, ensures social justice and stimulates our economy.
Schools wishing to teach these skills and mindsets do not have to go it alone. America’s Entrepreneurial Schools can be a place to start and find resources for teachers, students and parents to help cultivate a love of entrepreneurship and of school, in general. I know, when I teach engaging entrepreneurial-focused lessons to students, I see more students eager to take on challenges, I see otherwise unengaged students “come to life,” and, most importantly, I see a more smiles. Can you imagine a world where kids actually like the idea of coming to school, where students feel empowered instead of stuck? Oh baby, do I like that idea!