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Op-ed: Leonardo da Vinci understood why we need STEAM, not just STEM

Published October 7, 2016 5:33 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Millions flock to see The Last Supper, Mona Lisa and his other masterpieces each year. His contributions to geology and biology rank him as one of the greatest scientists in history. His inventions — from the parachute to the helicopter — were centuries before their time.

He was able to accomplish all of this in large part because he saw all knowledge as related.

So when trying to tackle one of the biggest challenges of our time — educating students today for the jobs of tomorrow — it is only natural to take inspiration from this true "Renaissance man."

To best prepare students for the increasingly complex and demanding challenges in today's world, they must learn to adapt to new environments and readily envision new ideas and innovations. They must be able to think conceptually and learn from failures. They must understand science, technology, engineering, arts and math — the STEAM fields that will be critical in the 21st Century workforce — and how all of them work together in the real world.

This week we celebrate The Leonardo Museum's fifth anniversary. For the past five years, we have developed one-of-a-kind interactive exhibits to help Utah's students think more like da Vinci and become better prepared for whatever comes their way in the future. Visitors are immersed in issues that face us locally and globally and are provided STEAM concepts and tools as a way to navigate these real-world problems.

Students have fun while they are learning. And because they are more engaged than they would be in a more traditional classroom, they leave with better knowledge retention, greater interest in schools, and, perhaps most importantly, critical thinking skills.

But the spirit of da Vinci told us that we can't limit learning to just our faculties. So as our state's leaders emphasized teaching computer science, we wanted to expand our efforts. And we saw that there weren't enough qualified teachers to teach the courses.

Around the same time, representatives from Boeing reached out to us. The company has a long history in our state dating back to 1927, and today the company has nearly 1,000 employees based here.

Since the company's founding in 1916, Boeing has made giving back to the communities it calls home a core part of its mission. And around the same time we were looking for more ways to help Utah's students, Boeing took notice of the impact we were having. They reached out, wanting to invest in our efforts and help us grow.

Soon after, Boeing provided the funding to help us create a Teacher Professional Development program focused on helping teachers gain the skills and resources to support Applied Computer Science classes. Since Boeing's initial investment, we have served over 200 teachers, and each of them went on to help inspire between 20 and 120 students a year.

And that was the beginning of a great partnership between The Leonardo and Boeing.

Today, Boeing is helping with our FLIGHT exhibit, providing not only a donation but, more importantly, the manpower to help oversee design and fabrication. For example, they connected us with Curiosity Machine, a group that creates hands-on engineering design challenges and provided activities to bolster our FLIGHT exhibit.

To some, this partnership might seem odd, after all, we are a young organization, still testing what works and learning from our mistakes. Boeing on the other hand is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Our partnership with Boeing has shown us that their leaders understand the right mix of start-up enthusiasm and the tried-and-true experience that are both needed to build something to last.

In many ways, they are a lot like us at The Leonardo. Five years into this adventure, we continue to be inspired by the spirit of da Vinci, as we lean on the experience of our partners to guide us. Together, we will ensure the students of today learn the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.

Dr. Dinesh Patel is chairman of the board of directors at The Leonardo.






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