Interview report: Dean Kamen | Inventor, entrepreneur, advocate for science and technology, and founder of FIRST

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation

 

Dean Kamen, participated as keynote speaker in the 3rd International Congress of Educational Innovation. As an inventor, holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of healthcare worldwide. He is also the founder of FIRST, an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation of young kids to understand, use and enjoy science and technology (FIRST, 2017). 

Observatory: How can we innovate education in science and technology to make these subjects more interesting?

Dean Kamen: If you said to kids, "We're going to play football soccer tomorrow” and they showed up but there's no field, no ball, there's only a 50-page textbook called “The History of Soccer” and then after that, there's a quiz, to see if they know the rules. But if they never played, never kicked the ball, never ran, nobody would like soccer. Well, isn't that how we teach science? We learn this formula, then that formula, and then there’s a quiz on this formula, and then a test on that formula. But, if you said, "We are going to build a robot” and to build a robot, students got to connect this to that, and need to understand voltage and current, and got to understand how to measure things, cut things and assemble things. And then, my robots are going to run around, and if I didn't do it right, it's going to fall apart like the first time you tried to kick a soccer ball and missed. But then you practice, get better and come back, and you see your robot doing more, and that's exciting, and you're proud of it. 

So, when they say they're teaching science in school, they're not teaching science, they're teaching the history of science. They learn Isaac Newton, 1687. They learn Archimedes, 275 BC. They learn facts. They learn names. They learn formulas. To this day, I don't remember which law is which. I don't care what the label is. I know what the laws mean and how to apply them. I believe that we should stop teaching the history of science. Science isn't about studying those guys.

When they say they're teaching science in school, they're not teaching science, they're teaching the history of science. They learn Isaac Newton, 1687. They learn Archimedes, 275 BC. [...] I believe that we should stop teaching the history of science. Science isn't about studying those guys.

Observatory: What is FIRST?

Dean Kamen: FIRST stands for (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). FIRST is an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation of young kids to understand, use and enjoy science and technology. It was founded in 1989 and has served more than 300,000 young people, ages 6 to 18, in more than 60 countries around the globe. My goal in starting FIRST was to create a generation of kids that embrace technology and see it for what it is: a powerful tool to fix the world and give them great careers. Studies have shown that FIRST alumni are highly motivated to pursue careers in science and engineering (FIRST, 2017).

Observatory: What are the competencies that you see in children who have experienced the FIRST program and that differentiate them from other kids?

Dean Kamen: People used to tell me, "Dean, you're not going to teach kids how to be a roboticist in six weeks." And I'd say to them, "You're exactly right." Of course, I don't plan to do that. In fact, FIRST, as I said today, F-I-R-S-T, education isn't even in our name. We are For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. If the kids recognize it, if they are inspired by it, they'll go get an education. It will take them 10 years. We're not going to give them an education. That's what schools are for. To answer your question, they have self-confidence and self-respect. They understand how to work with teammates even when they disagree with them. I think FIRST is a model to show kids what the world could be like if people are open-minded and willing to learn and work hard, and willing to fail and pick themselves up and try again. That's what they learn.

Observatory: What inspires you to work on an invention, and how do you decide what project or idea to work on?

Dean Kamen: It's very hard to explain to somebody why we worked on a specific project. But when you look at all the projects we work on, I think the safest thing I can tell you is, there are so many big problems to work on, we end up sort of stepping onto one if we think our engineers are uniquely qualified to do it better than anybody else, based on their experience. And maybe we believe we need to do this one because nobody else will do it. So, we don't work on any project unless, fundamentally, we believe we're going to make a big difference. If we do this and it happens right, it'll make a big difference to the people that need it.

For example, we worked on a water machine because we can help the largest number of people on this entire planet. It's the biggest problem, there is no water. But, also, we worked on a prosthetic arm for a few hundred soldiers, and we hope they won't need anymore because we hope to stop sending them out into battles to get their arms blown up. So, I guess a long answer to your question is, we finally pick the project to work on mostly if we think we're really going to make a difference. If we had to compete with five other companies for the project it means we don't need to do it, they'll solve this problem and can take care of it. What I’m saying is I'm not in this to compete.

Observatory: What personality trait makes you who you are?

Dean Kamen: I guess curiosity about the world is what's always driven me, believing that if you think about it long enough you'll understand it, you'll have an insight, you'll figure out how to solve a problem if you really understand it. So, curiosity is a driving force in the world of innovation.

Observatory: Do you think higher education is efficiently delivered? 

Dean Kamen: I think it could be made more effective. It could be made lower cost, and therefore it could be delivered to millions more people that desperately need it. I believe there are many things we could do to make it different. For example, I would make sure kids use the education piece for the education. In other words, I think people confuse education and training, and we use schools to do the training, and we should use schools to do the education. And for the training, schools should say to students, "If you want to be able to do this, here's this program." It's Word, or it's Inventor, or it's some software program. "Go study this and learn how to use it." You don't need a professor to train you to use this program; you just need to practice it. That's training. And then come to class and use the classroom for the education of taking your training and doing something valuable with it.

Observatory:  What's your opinion about this 3rd International Congress of Educational Innovation?

Dean Kamen: I see a lot of people from Tec de Monterrey and its 26 campuses and 37 high schools, and others that came from other institutions in Mexico and other institutions around the world, including South America. It seems like there's a lot of energized people, energized universities, energized companies, energized parents, energized professors, and energized government people that really get it. They realize that if they want the future to be really successful and exciting for these kids and for their country, they've got to double down on tech, and they've got to give kids the inspiration and the tools to make tech part of their future. And, so far, that seems to be the mission of this convention, and that's pretty exciting.



References
FIRST (2017). Founder, FIRST President, DEKA Research & Development Corporation. http://www.firstinspires.org/about/leadership/dean-kamen

Images: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciietec2016/albums/72157677668877466                                                             

Interview report: Leonardo Garnier | Former Education Minister of Costa Rica

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation

 

Leonardo Garnier Rímolo, Former Education Minister of Costa Rica, has several publications in journals and books on economic and social topics related to development. He promotes the theory of subversive education, defined as helping students become who they want to be.

Observatory: How can we develop skills in students based on emotional intelligence?

Leonardo Garnier: In many countries, education is based on subjects, which is one way of organization, with its advantages and disadvantages. One of the most interesting experiments in the world right now is being conducted in Finland. They are scrapping subjects and working only on projects, something that the Jesuits are also doing in Spain. However, an exceptionally mature educational system and an extremely highly-trained faculty are required to develop skills in our students on the basis of emotional intelligence.

For example, teachers who work only with projects, without subjects, they need to have a command of the subjects even though they are not being taught as such. They must have the highest pedagogical capacity, since it is so much easier to teach in the traditional way. I think you have to be very careful and consider educational reforms as part of a gradual process.

One of the most interesting experiments in the world right now is being conducted in Finland. They are scrapping subjects and working only on projects.

Copying a Finnish reform in Latin America wouldn´t be recommendable if you don’t have the organization or culture; I would opt for reforms that do have this more ambitious vision, but that take into account which stages need´s completed so an organization can gradually change and, above all, so that the culture can change.

Another way of responding would be to work with projects within the subjects. In Costa Rica, an interesting strategy was to mix soft subjects (music, art) with hard subjects (mathematics or science), and, all of a sudden, students are working on a joint project for both subjects. So, the teachers coordinate with each other, but keep their own subject. Why not scrap subjects? Because I don’t think we’re ready to scrap them, just yet, even though in theory it might seem the right thing to do.

Copying a Finnish reform in Latin America wouldn´t be recommendable if you don’t have the organization or culture. 

Observatory: Based on your experience in education in your country Costa Rica, and in other Latin American countries, what is the main obstacle to developing or implementing innovation?

Leonardo Garnier: There are two main obstacles that are tied in with each other. In the education area, a permanent battle has been between the conservatives and the liberals. The conservatives have understood education very much in the style of the inquisition: preparing obedient, well-behaved children whom follow instructions, they have to memorize all information. In Latin America, many people have tried to break up this paradigm. This conservative resistance is deeply set in not only in the education system, but also in parents who usually think: "I’ll send my child to school so they can teach him to be obedient ". It’s such an old-fashioned mentality: you should fulfill your role as a parent and the school should make the child creative, free, audacious, but not obedient, that’s another matter entirely.

Leonardo Garnier at  CIIE 2015 .

Leonardo Garnier at CIIE 2015.

In Latin America, we have two key issues: if the teaching profession is not well respected or well paid, we can’t attract the best people to this profession. That’s crazy.

The second challenge is that in order to achieve an education with freedom, well-trained teachers are required. In Latin America, we have two key issues: if the teaching profession is not well respected or well paid, we can’t attract the best people to this profession. That’s crazy. If you look at countries like Korea or Finland, among other countries that have been successful in education, the teachers are the most highly respected and valued profession in their societies. But it’s not enough just to recognize teachers or pay them well; the problem we have is on teacher training, including the institutions that produce teachers.

Observatory: In your conference, you mentioned that we have to learn to follow rules, but also change and challenge them. In your opinion, what is holding us back from this subversive education?

Leonardo Garnier: I tend to be rather liberal, open, flexible, but I don’t know what it means to be a high school teacher and stand up in front of forty teenagers. That can’t be easy. An example would be one of the reforms we implemented: in Costa Rica, if students got a bad conduct or behavior report, they failed their academic courses. So, there were many students who were failing academically, not because they hadn’t passed their classes, but because the teacher had given them a poor conduct report. So, the conduct report had replaced the ruler and chalkboard eraser that were used to keep us in check when we were at school.

Our responsibility is to educate, but they say: "No, students have to learn to obey rules.” If blue pants are part of the uniform, they have to come to school wearing blue plants. If they don’t like it, there’s a process for changing the uniform and they can participate, maybe successfully and the uniform is changed, maybe not and they will just have to put up with the uniform. However, I think it is a very important lesson that’s not black and white; there are also grey areas.

Teachers are afraid of the students.

Observatory: How do you think teachers see themselves in front of the students in the classroom?

Leonardo Garnier: Teachers are afraid of the students. I can understand it in some way, but I think we have to stop being afraid. Education is much richer when we remove fear from the equation.

Observatory: What should be the first change made to revolutionize education?

Leonardo Garnier: Teachers need to undergo a transformation. Here we are, thinking that when we train teachers at university, with critical thinking and the theories of Freire, Piaget, Vygotsky and others, they will go out to teach like that. But they leave college, get hired in educational institutions, and on the first day of classes they turn into their old high school teacher.

The new generations of teachers aren’t teaching as they were trained to do at university, but in the same way that they were taught at school 20 years beforehand. Shining away from this is extremely dificult, but that’s the challenge. There are many teachers who do manage it. Something that helped us to understand was that we weren’t inventing anything new, but there were already many teachers doing this in their classrooms.

Observatory: What recommendation would you give to our teachers?

Leonardo Garnier: That’s a tough one. To start with, I really like the way in which Tec de Monterrey is evolving, changing direction towards an education based more on projects and reviving the topic of citizenship, leadership, I think it’s fantastic. Moreover, the goal of increasing the percentage of students who come from socio-economic sectors that could not normally pay for a university like Tec de Monterrey, I think that’s being socially responsible.

The students’ experience will transform the institution, because they won’t just learn from the teachers, but also from their classmates. We can build a rose-colored bubble where everyone comes from well-o- families and the like, but we’ll gain a completely di-erent picture of the world if the kids all come from di-erent backgrounds. I think it’s a fine educational proposal. My congratulations to Tec de Monterrey because I think it’s moving in a direction I like and which is part of its objectives, to place the student at the core of the process.

Observatory: In your opinion, why is it important to hold events like the International Congress of Educational Innovation?

Leonardo Garnier: There are two reasons: first, education is an indispensable tool to turn each student into the person he or she wants to be. It is the most crucial tool for change. And second, activities like this congress are important because in general, our educational systems tend to be very conservative, resistant to changes and old-style ways of understanding learning, which, instead of driving education, holds it back.  


Images:
2nd International Congress on Educational Innovation (2015). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciietec 2nd International Congress on Educational Innovation (2015). Retrieved from http://www.ciie.mx/en/httpciiemxspeakerdeb- masters/leonardogarnier/

Interview report: María Acaso | Pioneer of the rEDUvolution concept in Spain and Latin America

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation

 

María Acaso, Latin-American leader of the rEDUvolution and professor at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, talked to us about the difficulties of generating innovation in education. She also discussed about Sexy Pedagogy and Art Thinking, in other words, the need to incorporate pleasure as the core component of education, and creativity as the primordial quality for teachers.

Observatory: What are the difficulties of innovating in teaching?

María Acaso: Each country’s specific situation should be analyzed. In Spain, for example, the teacher training faculty has one of the lowest passing scores, so ultimately people who teach do so because they don’t know what they want to do, because they couldn’t find anything better to do. I find this approach nefarious. We are always talking about Finland, but the truth is that what Finland does is select the best students so they can go into education, not engineering or suchlike, but education. Being a teacher is a profoundly intellectual job that requires extremely high capacities at every level. It’s a job that everyone who is a teacher knows is exhausting. It’s a very political job, and, therefore, that’s where we need the best people. And these people need to be well trained.

Moreover, what I see in the teacher-training curriculum, or master’s for secondary education, is that they are completely outdated for what is required of a teacher in the 21st century. There are subjects such as: "Didactic unit scheduling III"; this course is pointless now. You need to inject humor, substance, power dynamics, disruptive assessment systems. In other words, teacher training overall needs to be radically different and also keep on changing. In other words, it can’t be a curriculum that will be relevant for the next 10 years.

The teacher-training curriculum its completely outdated for what is required of a teacher in the 21st century. Teacher training overall needs to be radically different and also keep on changing.

Observatory: How important is creativity in a teacher?

María Acaso: I think that the most important competency for a teacher to have is to be creative. For me, it is almost more important than being knowledgeable in the subject. If you have a creative teacher, who is capable of designing all these different learning spaces, then you’ve already won 90% of the battle.

But it would also be interesting to reformulate what creativity means in the 21st century. In the 21st century, creativity isn’t the creativity of the 19th-century genius who would get up in the middle of the night to paint. Right now, creativity is the remix, it’s remixing. And remixing isn’t copying. You are not copying someone’s idea, because what you’re doing is appropriating that idea. You link this idea with your thoughts and you create another new idea. This leads me to a concept I like a lot, which is viewing the teacher as a DJ: DJs take other people’s songs and their contribution is the combination of songs on their playlist. I think that nowadays, as teachers, we need to work in the same way. Teachers take content from different people and their contribution is how they combine it in the class itself. We have to understand creativity rather as this process of creating new ideas based on other people’s ideas, and that our contribution is the combination of others’ ideas.

I think that the most important competency for a teacher to have is to be creative.

Observatory: How can art be used to educate disruptively?

María Acaso: Actually, the new concept I am developing is called Art Thinking, which is drawn only to some extent from Design Thinking, since it is larger. Art thinking would be like using art to transmit any subject, understanding that art incorporates dynamics, performance, installations, images… So, it would mean training teachers in these possibilities offered by the arts, not just visual arts, but also literary arts, musical arts, everything that concerns divergent thinking, in order to teach their classes in a methodologically different, fashion. I always use it. Every time I teach a seminar, or a workshop, I look for different materials and don’t know what the outcome will be. But, generally speaking, the outcome is always better than before. Sometimes I’ve used white sheets, at others squid, and others doughnuts. And this different material inspires astonishment, it works well because people don’t get bored. These materials excite people intellectually, which makes the learning process far more interesting.

Observatory: How else can creativity make a course more engaging?

María Acaso: Something I love doing is to use naming in pedagogy. I think that what we need to do to address pedagogy in the 21st century is to take concepts from other disciplines and transfer them to pedagogy. Naming is a marketing discipline that consists of designing names. Why do banks have such interesting names? Why do chefs give their dishes such interesting names? So, why to educators use such boring names? One of the values I think creative teachers have is naming their classes, which is very important. These names have to be as interesting and as exciting as names in advertising.

María Acaso at  CIIE 2015 . 

María Acaso at CIIE 2015

For example: In Madrid we had a biology center that nobody went to, which was called the National Biology Center. They changed its name and called it Faunia, and now you have to queue up to get in on a Sunday. In other words, names make you want things, desire things, and that’s what we as teachers need to achieve. So, all my lectures, all my concepts, and those that teachers must develop, should be linked to a name that catches your attention. "Sexy Pedagogy", right now I can’t remember when I thought that up, but it works very well. You say “Sexy Pedagogy” to someone and they are already smiling. And that makes you think: What does this mean? So, astonishment works and from there, knowledge starts. If I call a conference “Methodological strategies for education in the 21st century”, everyone would fall asleep.

Images:
2do. Congreso Internacional de Innovación Educativa (2015). Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciietec/ page4 aulaplaneta (2014). María Acaso llama a los profesores a emprender la revolución educativa en rEDUvolution. Retrieved from: http://www.aulaplaneta.com/wpcontent/ uploads/2013/12/noticia114a.jpg mediacionartistica (2015). Foto María Acaso. Retrieved from: https://mediacionartistica.org/2015/02/11/programa-arteeducacion-porprimera- vez-en-arco-2015-entrevistacon-maria-acaso/  

Interview report: Tyler DeWitt | Research Scientist and Professor

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation

Tyler DeWitt participated in the 2nd International Congress of Educational Innovation organized by the Tecnológico de Monterrey. He is a research scientist, high school teacher and digital content author. Tyler holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology from MIT. As a teacher he has been dedicated to developing educational models that encourage critical thinking and creativity using the art of storytelling.

Observatory: What is the most important skill a student must develop to face the challenges of the future?

Tyler DeWitt: There are so many, but in my mind as a scientist, are scientific reasoning skills. I think students really need the ability to look at information, to look at data in the world around them, and be able to make sense of it, to make logical conclusions based on information that they see in the world.

One of the most important challenges teachers face nowasays is that they need to teach students how to think, not just how to memorize.

Observatory: What are the most important challenges that teachers face nowadays?

Tyler DeWitt: There are so many challenges for teachers. The one that is most important for me is teaching students how to think, not just how to memorize. These are two very different skills. And I think traditionally a lot of education has focused on memorization, learning lots of lists of definitions and facts. That can be important because you do need a foundation in some basic knowledge, but once a very basic level of background has been taken care of, that's when teachers need to shift their educational focus, and start teaching students how to think through problems, how to engage in creative problem solving and critical thinking and all that sort of thing.

Observatory: What has been your experience in the 2nd International Congress of Educational Innovation?

Tyler DeWitt: There are so many different people all over the world engaging education in very different ways, and it's a great opportunity to come together and talk about what they're doing in their own corners of the world.


Images:
2do. Congreso Internacional de Innovación Educativa (2015). Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciietec 2do. Congreso Internacional de Innovación Educativa (2015). Retrieved from: http://ciie.itesm.mx/es/tyler-dewitt-teaching-science-as-storytelling-how-engaging-students-in-the-process-of-authenticsience-can-bring-relevance-engagement -and-excitement-to-the-classroom/