Listen closely to criticisms of public education, and a recurring theme emerges: that schools are not doing enough to stimulate creativity in their students. As the argument goes, many school systems are failing to produce students who are curious about their world, who question how and why things work the way they do, who are excited about learning new things and who are motivated to solve problems or generate one day innovative ideas and products that sustain strong economies.
The response has been a much-needed emphasis at both local and national levels on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education. In the Akron Public Schools, a pioneer class graduated this year from a STEM middle school to a new STEM high school. In his State of the Schools address last week, Superintendent David James highlighted the Partnership for Invention and Creativity, another element of the district’s strategy to nurture in all aspects of education a mentality that district officials describe as a culture of questioning and innovation.
The partnership, which involves the school district, the city of Akron, the University of Akron and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, was formed in 2008 to launch and grow the middle school into a resource in STEM education in the area. The plan, in effect, is that through the partnership, the district would develop an effective and unique model of STEM education that would be marketable, generating funds to support and build the district’s STEM operations into a regional and national resource.
Among Akron’s advantages, the partnership enables the district to leverage the association with the National Inventors Hall of Fame, giving it access to acclaimed inventors who can work on extended problem-based projects with students. Similarly, the Akron schools benefit, as a professional training site for UA’s College of Education, from the applications of educational research.
With nearly five years of STEM experience and a supportive partnership behind it, the district this year has begun signing training contracts with other districts, selling its expertise in project-based teaching and learning to create a funding stream for creative learning. As inspiring as this venture is, for greater credibility the district must prove itself first at home, applying the innovative model to transform its struggling neighborhood schools.