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Feb 26 2015   4:35PM GMT

How Maker Faires are boosting STEM skills

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This is a guest blog by Phil Dunmore, ‚Äéhead of consulting UK at Cognizant.

Over the last few years there has been a lot of interest in Maker Faires in the US and the Maker Movement. Many have heralded the Maker Movement as bringing about the third industrial revolution by creating a community of entrepreneurs who, in general, are highly skilled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). These communities act like multi-generational incubators of creativity and innovation. The direct result of this is that the next generation of budding Makers are focusing on boosting their STEM skills in order to be involved, and succeed in, this movement.

Phil Dunmore.jpg

The creator of Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty, describes it as a gathering of “artists, scientists, craftsmen and engineers who seem to belong together, connected by enthusiasm and common passion where we see innovation in the wild.” Four years later as the White House held its first Maker Faire, US President Obama remarked that, “If you can imagine it, then you can do it–whatever it is. And that’s a pretty good motto.”

Companies in all industries are looking for innovators – not just inventors. At the same time, much attention is focused on the innovation deficit in the U.K. and lack of proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and how to address the shortfall. How can we harness the Maker Movement to inspire the next generation of innovators here in the UK?

Cognizant’s view is that creativity and innovation coupled with STEM are essential to producing the products and services we will need in the future. For this reason we need to focus on both STEM and the arts – sometimes referred to as “STEAM.” And moving beyond competitiveness, we believe that education, and particularly STEM education, is the fundamental sustainability issue of our time, since the solutions to poverty, global health issues and climate change will require a highly educated and STEM-literate population.

The mission of Cognizant’s Making the Future education initiative is to make STEM fun through hands-on learning opportunities. We believe strong STEM literacy coupled with creativity and collaboration will help prepare the next generation to drive innovation and growth in our global economy.

Making the Future is important for many reasons. Hands-on project-and design-based learning approaches are more consistent with the cognitive processes and learning styles we attribute to the millennial generation and younger. These approaches spark creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. They “pull” kids into STEM disciplines by generating interest and confidence, rather than “pushing” them to do better in maths and science. The Maker Movement, with its emphasis on do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-with-others (DIWO) projects, provides a strong community and supporting philosophy that inspires this type of creative learning and can appeal to both girls and boys across a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds. 

Tomorrow’s STEM jobs will place increased demands on the development of new STEM competencies. We no longer live in an Industrial Economy – we are firmly implanted in the Knowledge Economy, or what some call the era of digital business, in which we compete on code. New technologies are revolutionising the future of work created by global and virtual environments made up of millennial workers and consumers. Technical skills are not relevant forever, but transforming an individual into a life-long learner is enduring. Making the Future emphasises the process or the “doing” of the project, encouraging collaboration, interdisciplinary problem-solving, risk-taking and the intrinsic motivation. These qualities will be at the core of the change-makers of tomorrow.

Traditional approaches alone are not meeting the demands of future jobs or preparing a trajectory of success for the next generation of workers. Innovation is about taking something we have done traditionally and adapting it so it allows us to run better and run differently.

Today’s inspiration is tomorrow’s innovation.

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