Science, technology, engineering and math are enough to scare off any student when they’re in elementary school. To Chris Rogers, the director of Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, that shouldn’t be the case, though. To him, science is merely “trying to understand the world around you” and engineering is “trying to change the world around you.” With definitions like that, STEM should feel like an approachable topic rather than something that causes students anxiety.
“Kids love to create and invent things,” Rogers says, claiming it’s that desire he’s tried to harness at the Center. He’s helped students learn robotics with LEGO bricks and manufacturing by building musical instruments. Rogers actually worked with LEGO to develop ROBOLAB — a robotic approach to learning science and math — that’s made its way into over 50,000 schools worldwide and has been translated into 15 languages. He also speaks with over 1,000 teachers annually on ways to introduce engineering into the classroom at a younger age.
What Rogers likes to see is a gradual shift from teachers telling their students what to do in the classroom, to teachers asking their students questions in the classroom. To Rogers, success is not measured by one singular right answer, but how diverse the solutions are that students come up with. “[Learning] goes from cheating to collaboration,” Rogers says, later admitting “it’s neat to see how teachers are able to transform their classrooms.”
Through the Center, Tufts students are able to participate in STOMP, standing for Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program. Over 50 students are currently involved, providing engineering knowledge to local K-12 classrooms, all while assisting and mentoring K-12 teachers and students. STOMP also helps Tufts participants learn about K-12 teaching, as STOMP fellows are tasked with creating a collection of eight to 10 activities for students to work on throughout the semester.
Rogers has seen the Tufts STOMP fellows get a renewed sense of energy through the program, claiming its really helped motivate and excite the University’s students. “STOMP has grown,” Roger says. “And now it’s a question of, ‘Is it really for the teachers or for the students?’”
When asked, “Why STEM education,” Roger refers to a point his friend made from the Museum of Science: “Just take a second and look around you, and remove everything that is human-made, designed by an engineer. Where would you be? Think about how much time was spent learning about those things? Almost zero. Why have we not put enough emphasis on problem solving?”
Considering it’s something we rely on everyday, Rogers makes a valid point. Thanks to him and the Center, however, we’re now on the road to making that change.
Photo Courtesy of Research Guides at Tufts University