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When your phone rings or an email pops up on your laptop, do you ever stop to wonder about the amazing technologies that have made these gadgets possible? Stanford Professor Paulo Blikstein would venture to guess that you haven’t, that you have gone through your life accepting the fact that technology surrounds you without ever seriously wondering or learning about how any of it works. This state of mind, Professor Blikstein posits, is a systemic problem, rooted in the failures of an American education system that has cleaved to traditional modes of teaching and has yet to adapt to a 21st century reality. In other words: Students spend too much time learning fractions and simple arithmetic when they should be learning about the technology of the iPhone that can answer any math question for them almost instantaneously.
To remedy this problem, Stanford University’s Transformative Learning and Technologies Labratory (TLTL) works to devise new and innovative ways to increase the presence of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in American schools. TLTL, headed by Professor Blikstein, brings together thinkers, teachers and learners of all ages to design new ways of using and teaching technology in educational settings. In their own words: “We view technology not only as a way to optimize existing aspects of the educational system, but as a transformational force that can generate radically new forms of learning and understanding.”
And while there will always be some value in traditional science projects and fun scientific classroom games, TLTL envisions a path towards training the next generation of technological innovators and critical thinkers through hands-on, technology-based learning.
The FabLab@School initiative embodies this vision and hopes to bring technological learning and thinking to the fore. TLTL thinks about it like this: If you want to teach a student how to play basketball, you bring them to a gym. If you want to teach a kid science — and specifically technological science — you bring them to a fabrication lab. Not surprisingly, most American schools are equipped with gymnasiums but lack the learning space necessary to teach STEM topics in a way that would prepare them to understand and invent new technologies. By bringing fabrication labs into the schools, TLTL hopes students will be able to learn about the technologies that surround them and will begin to think critically about how to create new technologies of their own.
Alongside the FabLab@School program, TLTL promotes the inclusion of STEM topics in the classroom by developing educational activities that can be used in any classroom, training teachers in delivering lessons on new technology and creating low-cost fabrication technologies for school that cannot afford fabrication labs.
While TLTL stresses the value of the “learning space,” they also conduct important research about the ways in which the human mind interprets and learns about technology. Through understanding the ways in which we think, TLTL works to create new ways for our students to learn.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved with TLTL or if you want to bring a fabrication lab to your school, check them out here.