NASA Endeavor, STEM Education and the power of emergent fields
At just the mention of NASA, most people instinctively think of space. Despite this, many of the agency’s efforts, like the NASA Endeavor program, are not directly tied to this topic. NASA Endeavor seeks to aid STEM education in the U.S. by providing funding for schools to be used towards STEM curriculum, as well as classes to educate teachers on how to effectively teach it. This past July, Kari Love, our soft goods engineer, had the opportunity to speak at such a class, where she talked to a group of over 40 STEM teachers about soft robotics, bio-inspired engineering, space missions, and more.
The class Kari spoke at was called Coding, Robotics, and 1:1 Devices. Keledy Kenkel, a co-instructor of the Endeavor class described it as, “a graduate level program for elementary through high school teachers teaching in STEM”. The online class was one of multiple in a larger course meant to inspire teachers on how to skillfully teach STEM curriculum in a novel way. Keledy invited Kari to speak in order to show teachers the research and work being done in new, emergent or “cusp” fields. Kari was a great pick for this, as soft robotics is a young field unheard of to many people.
Her presentation explored soft robotics with a lot of depth, including its history and application. Kari also covered space missions and planning, and used spacesuits as a prime example of soft robotic systems, referencing the work of Final Frontier Design, a spacesuit research company to whom Super-Releaser has been a subcontractor.
In addition, the talk covered biologically-inspired engineering, using the problem-solving knowledge learned from nature in the context of robotics; in other words, mimicking nature through robots. “The program feels a real-life connection is what will matter to students,” said Kari. By showing the research and work of Super-Releaser and other leaders in the field to the teachers, the instructors of the class hoped to amaze and excite them with the opportunities of the near-future.
As Keledy put it, the goal is “inspiring teachers and having them turn around and inspire their students”.
As for the ideas that Kari shared during her presentation, the teachers were enthusiastic and understood how those ideas could apply to them and their students’ education.
“Kari Love's presentation was amazing, and I would love to share it with my students because it really is inspirational and it shows students how important it is to be problem solvers,” said one teacher. “Sharing the work that is being done with soft robotics shows students that it is always important to look for ways to make things more economical as well as more functional. … It demonstrates the importance of what we learn in class and gives it a real life application”
In terms of the class as a whole, the teachers came away interested in the ideas of bio-inspired robotics, while others were quite fascinated by the development of space suits, and still others were intrigued by the soft robotics in a classroom context. This breadth of what teachers can gain from just one guest lecturer gives vast value to the course. As a result, Keledy will be co-teaching it again in early 2017, and it will most likely have even more teachers partaking in it.
After the Endeavor class, it is up to the teachers to implement what they have learned into their curriculum. Keledy’s favorite choice for improving STEM curriculum is having a low-cost paper cutting machine in the classroom to teach students about prototyping, iterating, and digital fabrication. She hopes that inclusions such as this will help improve multigenerational thinking, and will support adults and children inventing together. This is a welcome thought, as education is too often seen as strictly the passing down of knowledge, when with thinking such as this, learning becomes about cooperation and ingenuity.
Also, as Keledy herself said, “Kids come up with some crazy wonderful ideas”. All in all, new research and emergent fields go far beyond the science that they concern, and can serve as a powerful point of learning, for both the student and the teacher.
Click here for more information regarding NASA Endeavor
By Aidan Leitch