Innovations in the formal education of future stem innovators
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Innovations in the Formal Education of Future STEM Innovators. Bob Root-Bernstein Department of Physiology Michigan State University East Lansing, MI 48824 USA [email protected] 517-336-8444. Questioning Assumptions.

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Innovations in the formal education of future stem innovators

Innovations in the Formal Education of Future STEM Innovators

Bob Root-Bernstein

Department of Physiology

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI 48824 USA

[email protected]


Questioning assumptions

Questioning Assumptions

  • It is being assumed that main problem is to identify, track, train, and retain STEM talent

  • It is being assumed that talent not going into STEM is being “lost”

  • Ignores fact that STEM talents can be used in many ways:

    • We need excellent mathematical thinkers in social sciences, humanities, law, politics, the arts….

    • Conversely, we need artistic, humanistic, legal, political, etc. thinking in even the hardest sciences

  • In short, concept of STEM talent is suspect

My perspective

My Perspective

  • Ability to solve previously solved STEM problems does not predict innovation ability.

  • Every outstanding scientific problem is different, requiring different sets of talents, methods, knowledge

    • Otherwise the current scientists would solve these problems themselves!

  • Therefore talents that currently exist not sufficient to solve future problems

  • Each problem determines who will solve it and how

  • This is why Einstein wasn’t a great biologist…

  • This is why many innovators considered poor students

  • This is why China, Korea, etc. don’t produce innovators

Foster diversity

Foster Diversity

  • US scores very poorly in standardized math tests worldwide

  • But US generates majority of Fields Medal winners, Nobel laureates

  • Reason is that we do NOT have test-based, standardized curricula that stultify innovators

  • Reason is that we DO have diverse talent pool, idiosyncratic training, no standardized curricula that permits idiosyncratic development


4 innovations needed in stem education

4 Innovations Needed in STEM Education

  • Attractdiverse pool of potential innovators by:

    1) Teaching ignorance (what we don’t know) Students want to know they can make a difference!

    2) Replacing early STEM specialization with arts, crafts and communications training – math is insufficient! There’s hand knowledge, etc….

    3) Looking beyond STEM talent for innovators

    4) Rewriting textbooks to reflect human-oriented, problem-centered, process-focused approach

1 teach ignorance

1. Teach Ignorance!

  • There are no experts in what we don’t know

  • If the experts had the answers, we wouldn’t have the problems

  • Ask the wrong question, and you will never get a useful answer (my critique of what’s going on here….)

  • Asking the right question gets you more than halfway to the answer

  • Questioning is a skill that can be learned!


Model curriculum on medical ignorance

Model: Curriculum on Medical Ignorance

  • University of Arizona Medical School

  • Marlys and Charles Witte, MDs

  • Ann Kerwin, Ph. D.

Questioning strategies

Questioning Strategies

  • Teach questioning strategies (final Chapter of my book Discovering, Harvard Univ. Press, 1989):

    • Challenge assumptions

    • Turn principles on their heads

    • Push concepts and techniques till they fail

  • End every topic with a few minutes about what we DON’T know about subject

  • Teach ANOMOLIES –T. S. Kuhn in Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1959): that which doesn’t fit is the stuff of scientific progress

  • Publish the 100 most important unsolved problems in each field via very public outlets (“Great Challenges”)

  • Excite young people to come to science by challenges

2 replace early stem specialization with arts crafts literary and communications training

2) Replace Early STEM Specialization with Arts, Crafts, Literary and Communications Training

Arts improve sat scores more than science or computer classes

Arts Improve SAT Scores More Than Science or Computer Classes!

Arts crafts and literary avocations correlate with scientific success

Arts, Crafts, and Literary Avocations Correlate with Scientific Success

Compared with typical scientist, Nobel laureates are at least:

2X photographers

4X musicians

17X artists

15X craftsmen

25X writers

22X performers

1942 report on physicists authored by sir lawrence bragg

1942 Report on Physicists Authored by Sir Lawrence Bragg

“The training of our physicists is literally too academic.” (Bragg WL. 1942. Physicists after the war. Nature 150, 75-79)

Innovations in the formal education of future stem innovators

  • Alexis Carrel, the 1912 Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Physiology, "learned [as a child] the intricate stitching required for his [later surgical experiments] from the renowned lace makers of Lyon, one of whom was his mother."

    Michael Bishop, How to Win a Nobel Prize, 2003, p.140).

Mechanical coding jacquard s loom ibm computer

Mechanical Coding:Jacquard’s Loom & IBM Computer

Innovations in the formal education of future stem innovators

The First Digital Image!(ca. 1810): Jacquard’s self-portrait in black and white thread coded by 10,000 punch cards

Alexander fleming s hobby was painting with bacteria this experience prepared him for penicillin

Alexander Fleming’s Hobby Was Painting – with Bacteria! This experience prepared him for penicillin

Astrophysicist gregory benford

Astrophysicist Gregory Benford

  • Asserts there is a constant back-and-forth between his research and sci-fi novels as each suggests new possibilities for the other (NASA’s Robert Forward has said the same)

Mit metallurgist cyril smith

MIT Metallurgist CYRIL SMITH

“ I have slowly come to realize that the analytic, quantitative approach I had been taught to regard as the only respectable one for a scientist is insufficient… the richest aspects of any large and complicated system arise from factors that cannot be measured easily if at all. For these, the artist’s approach, uncertain thought it inevitably is, seems to find and convey more meaning.”

Smith,C. S. A Search for Structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981, p. 9

Innovations in the formal education of future stem innovators


Mae Jamison, astronaut,

physician, chemical engineering major, dancer, choreographer, and art collector

She says in her recent TED Lecture: “Science and the arts… are [not] different sides of the same coin, or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather they are different manifestations of the same thing.”

3 look beyond stem talent for innovators

3. Look Beyond STEM Talent for Innovators

  • Six Basic Patterns of Creative Development

    1) early specialization, later specialization

    2) early breadth, later specialization

    3) early breadth, later breadth

    4) early specialization, later breadth

    5) early specialization, later serial foci

    6) early breadth, later serial foci

    (Root-Bernstein and Root-Bernstein, Life Stages of Creativity, Encyclopedia of Creativity, forthcoming)

Composer george antheil actress hedy lamarr invented frequency hopping

Composer George Antheil & Actress HedyLamarr Invented Frequency Hopping

Some nobel laureates got degrees in arts first

Some Nobel Laureates Got Degrees in Arts First

  • Nobel Laureate and Former NIH Chief Harold Varmus was an English Lit major

  • Nobel Laureate Hans von Euler-Chelpin was a visual arts major

Innovations in the formal education of future stem innovators

  • Chemical physicist (Harvard Ph. D.) Catherine Asaro was first a professional ballerina

  • Ashley Banjo (r), the lead dancer of “Diversity”, the 2009 winner of Britain’s Got Talent, plans to be a biophysicist.

Some eminent scientists had no science degrees

Some Eminent Scientists Had NO Science Degrees

  • Guglielmo Marconi

  • Mary Leakey

  • Jane Goodall

  • Dian Fossey

  • Jonathan Kingdon

What these non scientifically trained scientific innovators tell us

What These Non-Scientifically Trained Scientific Innovators Tell Us

  • Mastery of some creative discipline

  • Courage to attack problems outside their field of mastery

  • Ability to transfer skills from one discipline to another

    SO: Mastery, courage, and skill transfer need to built into the curriculum

    Every outstanding problem will require new uses of old skills and knowledge

4 what we need is revolution that humanizes teaching of science

4) What We Need Is Revolution That Humanizes Teaching of Science

  • Students currently learn what insulin is but not who discovered it or how – CAN’T REPRODUCE DISCOVERY

  • Every discovery is a lesson in scientific innovation

  • Make lessons about the processes of innovation focus of textbooks, not facts:

    • You can learn facts without innovation process; you can’t learn innovation process without facts!

  • Focus on EXEMPLARS of WHO innovators are, HOW they think, DIVERSITY of training, range of SKILLS, etc.


Need textbook revolution what helps talented should appeal to and help everyone

Need Textbook Revolution:What Helps Talented Should Appeal To and Help Everyone!

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