Friday, June 27, 2014

STEM's 500 year-old Foundation: Leonardo Da Vinci

Almost 500 years following his death, the name Leonardo Da Vinci still tops most lists of the greatest scientific minds in world history. The “Renaissance Man” with insatiable curiosity and determined innovation, Da Vinci became an accomplished inventor, scientist, mathematician, painter, sculptor, architect, cartographer, engineer, anatomist, botanist, geologist, and writer. Da Vinci's 7 Principles serve as guideposts for STEM/STREAM education today:

1. Curiosit√†: An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.  

2. Dimostrazione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.  

3. Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.  

4. Sfumato (literally means “Going up in Smoke”): A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.  

5. Arte/Scienza (art and science): The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination (“whole-brain” learning and thinking.)

6. Corporalita: The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.  

7. Connessione: A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena.

For 21st century STEM success, our students must learn to solve problems by creative/inventive Da Vincian thinking. “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties” as psychologist Eric Fromm stated, accentuating the fourth of Da Vinci’s Principles.

Our test-centric schools of today may be unwittingly constraining student imagination and creativity by insisting that all thinking must conform to a preordained “correct” answer, rather than allowing for multiple solutions, multiple avenues to arrive at each of them, and more than one suitable answer to the same question or problem. (It is important to note that no high-achieving nation spends as much time, money or organized efforts on standardized testing as we do).

Why STEM? Why STEM Now?

The latest career statistics and economic projections emphasize the new prerequisites for economic survival in today’s STEM-driven competitive world. Consider the following:

·       The 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reported that the average mathematics score for 15-year-old U.S. students was lower than the scores in 18 out of 24 comparison nations.   

·       The number of countries scoring higher than the United States on the PISA science assessment increased from 6 countries to 12 over the past six years.

·       A survey conducted by the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley concluded that 80% of K-5 teachers in the San Francisco Bay area spent 60 minutes or less per week teaching science. Over 16% of them reported spending no time at all delivering science instruction.

·       In the 2013 Horizon Research survey, researchers found that K-2 classes spend an average of 18 minutes per day on science, while grades 3–5 teachers were teaching science an average of 23 minutes per day.  

·       Statistics from the National Science Foundation website indicate that STEM achievement in secondary education is also decreasing overall in American schools.

The conventional practice of delving deeply in a study of the sciences in high school is coming under long-overdue scrutiny. According to a 2010 report from the International Journal of Science Education, over 65% of scientists and science graduate students reported that their personal interest in the sciences began before their middle school years. Building the necessary background knowledge that is essential for success in secondary STEM courses requires an early foundation for science beginning in the elementary grades.