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STEM Studies: Elementary Schools Need Engineering Labs

Elementary Schools Need Engineering Labs1

If your daughter's second grade did not have a reading curriculum or a math program, odds are you would be out the door tomorrow.  You would say, "Hey, reading and math are survival skills.  My daughter won't be very successful or happy unless she can read great books, write expressively and solve the kind of quantitative problems she'll encounter in daily life.  I would be crazy to send her on the journey to adulthood unskilled and unprepared."  You'd be right.
What if her school had all of the above, but didn’t teach coding, engineering and robotics in second grade. Would you still be satisfied? Let’s hope you answered “No” to that question, too. You should expect to see your second grader writing code, building machines and developing prototypes. If not, then it’s time to look for a new school.

Here are four reasons why.

1: IT is the new plumbing

The degree to which information technology has become embedded in our professional lives is at the level of saturation. When I ran a school, we would not hire receptionists unless they could update the web site and upload CSV files to Mail Chimp. In the world of trades, it’s impossible to gain better than unskilled labor unless you can work with data and diagnostics. Plumbers don’t show up at your door today without scanners and ROV’s sporting video cameras. If you want to be a part of the working world today, you need to know how to use complex machines. End of story.

2: STEM skills are empowering

Societies are funny things. They allocate status, power and privilege in fascinating ways. Once upon a time, poets and theologians made decisions that shaped the destiny of whole societies. Today that entrée is increasingly reserved for people who know how to analyze, build, design and create. Adults who lack these skills will increasingly be the un-empowered whose voices are not heard and who do not get to make their mark upon the world. While we have yet to see our first “startup President”, just wait. It’s coming.

Elementary Schools Need Engineering Labs23: Your child should be a developer, not a consumer

The economic world is about to break down between two different categories of actors. Consumers and developers. We are currently awash in a market full of devices that don’t require much expertise for consumers to use. That’s on purpose. The simpler it is to use an app, the easier it will be to sell, monetize, market and data-mine its users. But there is a clear power-differential to this equation. Simple consumers are giving up valuable information, content and hard cash. The developers are the ones who benefit. Which one do you want your child to be?

Elementary Schools Need Engineering Labs34: Teach your child to make things. Not buy them.

As part of my business, I teach nine year olds how to code. During our first class session, I point out the golden rule of things. It goes like this: “Whatever you own, if it came from a store, then someone designed it and manufactured it. If you don’t like the way it works, then get out there and reprogram it, hack it or just make your own.” The kids nod their heads and say, “sure, no problem.” That single lesson could be a life-changer if it succeeds in shifting basic attitudes about the economics of need and consumption. And that is the most important reason why your second grader should have an engineering lab in her school. What we learn at the age of eight or nine goes beyond skills. We learn attitudes, mindsets, habits of work and patterns of thinking. When we teach kids to make things themselves, not buy them, we empower them to assume responsibility for the shape of their world.

Now that is a kid whom I would like to see in the oval office one day. One who reads poetry AND has an engineering degree.