STEM Meets Service

LIttle Girl in Wearing HardhatSTEM and STEAM have hit schools like a tsunami. 3-D printers, “maker spaces” and all things inventive are increasingly part of the curriculum. In part, the STEM movement grew out of alarming data about United States students’ skill gaps in math, science and engineering. Others championed it as a way to prepare students for the jobs of the future. Perhaps the most compelling rationale, however, is educational: developing creativity, innovative and integrated thinking, and real-world problem-solving.

What’s particularly promising, I think, is the opportunity to marry STEM and STEAM with service on behalf of a greater good. That’s why I was impressed by a terrific project at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas,Texas, called Maker Play.

As described on the Maker Play website:

Long-term hospital patients are often confined to their room and lack the ability to interact and engage in a variety of purposeful activities during their treatment. Specifically for children, this translates to the patient often falling behind their peers academically. This program will teach patients-who are in the hospitals for an extended period of time- science, technology, engineering, and math through hands-on activities. Activities are curated in a form of project kits that take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

Maker Play was not dreamed up by students tinkering in an isolated lab imagining what others need without consulting them or knowing much about the issue at hand. On the contrary. It was developed collaboratively with other savvy organizations, in this case The Deason Innovation Gym and Southern Methodist University. It’s meeting a need identified by the hospitals and patients themselves, rather than being imposed by well-meaning outsiders. It brings young people together around a shared good and gives both sets of young people – those making the kits and those using them – a sense of personal agency. And, of course, it’s just so simple.

Earlier this month, the first set of activity kits were delivered to Children’s Hospital in Dallas for pilot testing with patients and hospital educational staff.

It’s exciting that Episcopal schools are responsibly and effectively marrying STEM, STEAM and design thinking with public purpose. It’s not only something Episcopal schools should be good at, but committed to doing and doing well. And that’s a very good thing, indeed.

What’s your school doing? We’d love to know. Email