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The Path to Innovation: Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Science (TEAMS) Integration (5 of 5)

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Editor's Note: Today's guest blogger is Jim Brazell, a technology forecaster, author, public speaker, and consultant. It is the fifth in a five-part series on the convergence of STEM education and the Arts (TEAMS).

The mandate of the 21st century and what everyone in the STEM game is pursuing is the capacity for "knowledge innovation." According to Debra Amidon, the mother of the knowledge economy, "Knowledge innovation is the creative process that delivers new knowledge, intellectual property and ultimately adaptation and survival." (Debra Amidon, July 28, 2010, Email Interview)

In the context of our schools and communities knowledge innovation questions include: What is innovation? Can we teach innovation? Can one learn to innovate? How do we do innovation? Can we create innovative schools, organizations and businesses?

The STEM Push

In 2010, national organizations that traditionally serve America's schools with educational technology, professional development and instructional programs are asserting their leadership on STEM. In October 2010: (1) The National School Board Association's Technology and Learning Conference in Arizona will focus on STEM. (2) In Florida, the League for Innovation in the Community College will launch STEMtech, and (3) The National Career Pathway Network (NCPN) will hold its 19th annual meeting dedicated to the vocations of STEM and the arts.

Other recent examples of this focus include the July 2010 HITEC conference for K-12 and community college STEM programs in Orlando hosted by the Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Also in July, STEM Florida hosted its first annual conference. Texas, California, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts and Minnesota among virtually all states are underway with similar efforts. In all, the arts are budding but not significantly part of the STEM innovation agenda in the US—while some Nordic countries, parts of Asia and some Latin American countries are developing "innovation economy" strategies linking STEM, arts, design and culture.

TEAMS - How do we do innovation?

The source of innovation in all of us is storytelling. It is what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our ability to tell stories—fiction and nonfiction—are at the root of our survival, adaptation and our existence. When stories are about what is next or more specifically what is being done next, they are most powerful. They are transformative.

Below is a series of Haiku from a workshop the author conducted with the Society for Design and Process Science (SDPS) in Dallas, Texas, June 2010. The poems are the result of Bob Allen's "STEM Blossom" story exercise. SDPS "next generation" members were challenged to compose a series of Haiku to express how the group can partner with other groups to harness science and the arts for the betterment of humanity:

The Civilizing Effect of Science

Education and
knowledge have a power when

Love is
commitment to
each other. Beauty
is adaptation to
the world.

Social thought generates
ideas and connectivity
to change the world now.

These Haiku are an answer to the question: how do we innovate? The answer is simple but not simplistic. Knowledge innovation can only happen when we engage the world in creating a new story.

In the case of SDPS, their story is about engaging the world beyond disciplines to create the future—transdisciplinarity. It is in this playful space between imagination, the physical world and each other that we find what it is that makes us human—the human element. "Stories..." as Bob Allen from IDEAS explains, "...are how we organize our reality and project our future."

Stories of Innovation

In San Antonio, Texas the Pre-K-to-Mars initiative called spaceTEAMS is an exciting example. Since 2006, Andrew Schuetze from Alamo Community College has been telling children that they can be the first person to walk on Mars. Spurred by Ramiro Cavazos in Economic Development, the city created a partnership with local school districts, businesses, and universities to deliver a P-20 pipeline to feed the city's growing demand for knowledge innovation.

The vision for this TEAMS program came from the father of the Global Positioning System, Dr. (Col.) Francis X. Kane, who now believes that we must think beyond Mars: "There are black holes expanding and collapsing, stars birthing and dying—there is energy everywhere..... There is energy in the food we eat, the piano my wife is playing and the muscles we use to chew our food. Energy is everywhere."

This is TEAMS thinking—it is what is next in thinking and working and learning and playing in the 21st century. We are moving into a new world, a new worldview and a new epoch of humanity. This worldview is marked by a deep personal, social, and global feeling that the world and humanity are on a great precipice of change and we must go forward over the horizon into the unknown in order to create what is next in the human story.

What is next in the human story?

Why we should think about the arts in the context of STEM and all of our global challenges and opportunities today is simple: The EARTH is our modern day Sputnik.

Recently, the physicist Stephen Hawking announced to Big Think that we must abandon Earth or face extinction: "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load."

During the summer of 2006, Dr. Kane and the author created a poem for spaceTEAMS participants to help teachers and children from 3rd grade to high school understand why they should learn about computers and design and space. The poem is called "The Universe" and it closes:

"Dr. Kane answers, our mission is to pursue "The Last Question" on Earth, throughout the Heavens and beyond. To be the questions, that is what it is, Being in the Universe of ROBOTS that tick and tock."

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Marshall Barnes's picture
Marshall Barnes
Founder, Director of SuperScience for High School Physics

I could turn this comment into an article, but I'll be succinct. This article is fluff. I can be so blunt because the subject - the source of innovation, because it's something that I have worked with, studied and executed probably longer that Jim has been alive (check my bio on my profile page). If you want to teach innovation, or write about how it can be cultivated, you don't begin by making statements like "The source of innovation in all of us is storytelling". Sorry. Wrong answer. It's obviously wrong because it was followed by "It is what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom" which has nothing to do with how innovation works and is also wrong as all kinds of animals are innovative. Look at the ways that bears have found to adapt and get food out of closed compartments, cars, etc. Animals have even been found to use tools, once thought to only be relegated to humans.

The source of innovation is creativity. If you don;t understand where creativity comes from, how to use and get more of it, then you are behind the bell curve. One sure way to detect when one doesn't know about such things is when they begin using fluff and feel good passages that get off the mark. Amy Tan did the same when in her TED talk she had a slide that read "imagination is the closest thing to feeling compassion", a completely ludicrous and ridiculous statement. Look at all the imagination that goes into making weapons of war. Compassion's got not one dad blame thing to do with it.

The number one rule, when someone wants to talk about where creativity comes from, is ask them in how many areas have they been able to significantly apply it themselves without formal training. If it's less than five, they probably don't know much...

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