Digging a little, I find that engineering is the systematic process of solving problems (using science and math skills). Invention, on the other hand, is the creative act of making something new - the critical step that actually solves problems. The "necessity," that is often cited as the "mother of invention" sparks the engineering process. Likewise, the engineering process feeds creative invention. After mulling it over, I believe that the two are different, but inherently linked.
Leonardo da Vinci said "Learning never exhausts the mind." It is from this notion that we strive to create intentional, ongoing learning opportunities for youth and adults in the Minnesota 4-H Program. I work closely with the Minnesota 4-H Science/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to create these sustained learning experiences. In this capacity, I focus time and energy on our investment in facilitating inquiry learning through hands-on activities.
I think in informal education it is critical that we keep inventiveness in our aim. The National Academies of Engineering in K-12 Education stipulate as one of three core principles that education "should promote engineering habits of mind," including systems thinking, creativity, and optimism. It calls on the value of engineering education and technology to improve student motivation and achievement.
As my colleague, Hui-Hui Wang, pointed out in an earlier post, we clearly need to teach STEM content knowledge through our learning opportunities to help youth apply the engineering design process.
However, I am more inclined to emphasize an aim toward inventiveness to motivate youth toward habits of mind that build 21st century learning skills (e.g. critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity). I think that invention provides the real world context to make engineering education relevant, fun for our youth participants in informal programs.
I know that others are thinking about this question. What do you think? Is it more important to facilitate learning for content knowledge or creativity?
-- Rebecca Meyer, Extension educator, educational design & development
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