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Solving Real-World Problems by Bringing Tech to Life

January 13, 2016

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama made it clear that he hopes to provide “hands-on computer science and math classes” for all American students. It’s the “hands-on” part that catches our attention. The President knows that STEM education isn’t just about teaching the concepts of tech and engineering – it’s about applying those concepts to solve authentic problems. Tech can open doors and spark imaginations, but amidst all that discovery, it can be easy to forget the creative ways we can use technology to impact the real world all around us. High school science teacher Jay Galbraith of Newark, New Jersey, knows exactly what the President is talking about. Jay doesn’t just teach his students the basics of coding: he also gives them the chance to put that knowledge to work with creative problem-solving.

Consider this simple question: how do you design a drain cover that keeps out trash, but lets water pass through? Jay found these kinds of practical problems to be really meaningful for his class – especially when the drains in question were right at their feet in the chemistry lab! After designing drain covers on computers, Jay’s students put their engineering skills to the test by printing them on the school’s 3D printer. By bringing the objects on the screen to life, they were able to try out their designs and see their own ideas come to life.

What’s next for Jay’s engineers? Now, they’re choosing their own problems to solve with 3D designs, which they’ll then present at the nearby Stevens Institute of Technology. As their teacher puts it, using their tech skills to create real objects gives his students “a huge opportunity to be successful and exercise their creativity.” Bringing hands-on creativity into STEM classes can help students explore the links between theory and application, and inspire them to become problem-solvers both in school and beyond.