Feb 09

On February 8, 2014 I gave workshop at the 2014 Central Virginia Youth Leadership Summit to young adults ages 14 – 21 about “Authenticity – Using STEM to Make Your World Real.”

“Your generation is very attuned to doubting what you see around you, but instead you should be investigating and applying Math-Science-Engineering/Computer Science & Technology to draw your own personal conclusions. Leaders who have the ability to make things authentic to others will be the inspirational and unforgettable. This session will show the layers of Authenticity, and how to use STEM to constantly make what you see and hear personally realistic to you and therefore real to others around you. (E. Malick)”

 My inspiration for seeing our young adult’s sensitivity to inherently perceive things as “REAL” or “FAKE” was a 2010 DICE Summit TED Talk by Jesse Schell at Schell Games about “When Games Invade Real Life. (Note: This is not a formal TED talk, so there is some cursing in this video)” Jesse stated his new perspective to this generation focusing and preferring to purchase things perceived as real was a book called Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II.


After reading this book cover-to-cover I promptly began changing my lesson plans for STEM Education in Atlee High School  and STEM summer camps for middle and elementary school starting in 2010 to focus on making my objective “real” and communicating why my activities were meaningful, even discarding a significant porting of class activities (mostly on paper) because they would be perceived as “meaningless” and “phony” by my students.

According to Gilmore and Pine, here is the “History of Consumption”

* Oldest – Agrarian: Based on Supply/ Availability
* 2nd Oldest – Industrial/Manufacturing: Based on Cost/Affordability
* Most Recent – Brands and Performance: Based on Quantity/Service
* TODAY: Based on Authenticity (Experience Economy)

According to Sir Ken Robinson and his 2010 TED Talk on “Ken Robinson: Changing education paradigms” schools are still following the 2nd Oldest – Industrial Model of Education.

Sir Ken states our educational systems focus on the same Industrial Model as the Industrial Era they were created, stating if we teach our students learn the exact same things the exact same way, we should get the exact level of success for all students. Unfortunately I believe for this current generation of students and young adults who are the Authentic Generation, the exact same things the exact same way are often contrived as “Fake. Contrived. Disingenuous. Phony. Inauthentic.

When this current generation of students hear new pieces of information, especially for the media who portray “hype” and “Reality-TV-celebrities” on a regular basis, they quickly make an inherent judgment call as it being “REAL” or “FAKE” and if they perceive the lesson as “FAKE,” reject it outright.
We teachers need gear our lesson plans and student understanding to memorable events that engage our students in inherently personal ways.

According to Gilmore and Pine, there are 5 main types of Authenticity:

  • Natural Authenticity: Centered on sustaining the environment and experiences outside; not enclosed in advertisements and packaging.
  • Original Authenticity: Difficult to attain because the appeal is being the first of its kind; noting previous conventions and how they were obliterated by this new ideal; how all followers or “copies” are less valuable.
  • Exceptional Authenticity: Make each person feel exist/matter; personal caring gestures/notes/body language; if you treat people exceptionally on the front end, you get an exceptional return on the back end.
  • Referential Authenticity: Power of connecting people, places, or events already perceived as real; historical moments of time; iconic ideas of human thought; the theme is unstated and you learn by experiencing it.
  • Influential Authenticity: Appeal to benefiting a greater good; just donating money is not trusted; you want to actively participate in a cause.

So how do you teach lessons that have your students engaged and not rejecting your lessons as boring? … STEM:

STEM S is for Science
Backup anything your students may doubt with facts.
Instead of students calling something fake outright, give them opportunities to try prove you wrong by investigating and comparing what exists.
If you are right, have them communicate how they proved it.
If you are wrong, have them communicate how they proved it.

STEM T is for Technology
Surveys and sharing are powerful now thanks to technology.
Instead of reacting to smartphones and tablets as a nuisance, create lessons that involve apps that engage students to participate and share with the group.
This would be an excellent opportunity to involve library media specialists on conducting factual searches online.

STEM E is for Engineering (also Computer Science as the foundation of STEM)
Making things or digital creations on computers.
Controlling the constantly changing technology around you.
Giving your students an opportunity to modify a product so there is an opportunity for customization and creativity to occur.

STEM M is for Math
Applied math on computers is more powerful than paper math.
The creators of WolframAlpha, Mathematician Conrad Wolfram created an excellent TED Talk in 2010 called “Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers” where he states that real adults in the workforce never use paper to solve problems in the workforce and all calculations are not trusted unless calculated with computers.

There is also a movement for STEAM A is for Art which is an opportunity for students to customize their learning to make them meaningful and therefore valuable for themselves

  • You can BUILD the EXPERIENCE.
  • You can SHARE your CREATIONS.
  • You can have students EXCITED about LEARNING on an INHERENT LEVEL.

You do not have to do all of the work as a teacher.
Students have been practicing Authenticity all along, but they have just called things boring and meaningless and “FAKE,” ignoring it outright.
Challenge your students to take the next step and tap into STEM to be successful.
Once they have done the work to prove something true or false, have them communicate their ideas with the group.
Being REAL does not mean forcing your ideas on someone else (that would be hype), but communicating with others how facts were investigated and their findings makes these individuals memorable and therefore powerful citizens in our 21st Century.

One Response to “STEM and Authenticity: Success by Making Worlds Real”

  1. Ginger Lewman Says:

    Nice intro-level post as a way to explain it to a newbie. I’ll be passing it along.

    Incidentally, I’ve heard many now using STEAM as Science, Tinkering, Engineering, Aesthetics, Mathematics. I like that update because it it reflecting more of the doing aspect of learning, which I find important.

    I’ve seen too many teachers continue worksheet-type lessons in traditional classes and call them STEM. Changing up the terminology makes the concept look different than what some might initially imagine.

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