Ignite The Spark of Curious Minds

With hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas, I found myself in the Johnson Ice Rink on the MIT campus. I was there to be a mentor for the, IBM and other companies sponsored, 2018 HackMIT event. I was looking at more than 1,000 hackers from different schools around the globe that were actively brainstorming ideas with their teammates. As an IBM Senior Solutions Architect I was over joyed to be able to share my passion and expertise with the students as they designed solutions for natural disaster preparedness and relief.

We had many students ask about the details of this challenge and discuss the creative solutions they planned to build. I explained to them how the Internet of Things, voice recognition, visual recognition, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and Blockchain technologies worked. I was very happy to see enthusiasm about using technology to make a great impact in the development of humanities.

The event seemed to engage the students because it was set up to reflect the educational practices that science teachers know work well and that research has shown to be effective. Students engaged in a problem-solving task that was tied to a real-world problem they cared about. They worked in groups, were able to direct their own process, and had access to expert guidance.

Watching the students at HackMIT I felt like I was going back in time to my childhood. I saw myself sitting in my elementary school’s classroom. I was looking at a magical science project. A magnesium metal ribbon was burned and emitted a bright light. I still remember the moment I saw that beautiful light, which ignited my curiosity about science. That eventually led me to the technical career path to becoming a 3-time IBM Master Inventor and AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador.

I realize it is very important to encourage kids to be involved in STEM projects, to develop solutions to meaningful problems starting from a young age, and to believe they can be successful scientists, engineers, and inventors. However, while teaching science projects in my community’s school I found that not all science projects are designed to meaningfully engage students learning and loving STEM and invention.

The very first science project I taught at school is called Color Changing Milk. This experiment is easy, fun, and hands-on, but I noticed there was no intuitive way to explain all of the complex chemical theory to a group of kindergartners. The experiment was designed to be fun, but what were the students learning?

To transform the project from a fun experience to an educational activity I did a lot of research and realized that I could leverage the similarity between Legos and chemical bonds to explain what was happening during the experiment. All of the students loved the way I transformed the project and were able to grasp some of the related scientific concepts. They all cheered and even wanted to invite me to become their science teacher.

My favorite moment then and now is when the students show that they understand the concept through fun hands-on experiments. Their eyes light up and they actively participate in the conversation. They look forward to every activity and they always ask when and what the next project will be. I see future Isaac Newtons, Thomas Edisons, and Albert Einsteins from all of these curious minds. 

I truly believe the next generation will be able to improve lives, if all students are given the opportunity to learn and love STEM and invention. Let’s ignite the spark of these curious minds!

Fang (Florence) Lu is a Senior Solution Architect and three-time IBM Master Inventor working at IBM Research. She has developed numerous software applications at IBM over the last 16 years, ranging from Enterprise Social Solutions to Healthcare Analytics.  Florence avidly mentors and encourages other IBMers to turn their ideas into patents by hosting workshops and information sessions, and loves to inspire early professionals as they start their careers in computing.

Lu is also an AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in partnership with the Lemelson Foundation manages the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador program, which celebrates the human face of inventors. Learn more about the program and the 40 Invention Ambassadors here.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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