This is STEAM!
First in a series about STEAM thinking.
My “reading room” is brimming with books on Roman history (my husband’s) and magazines –Smithsonian, National Geographic, teaching material and what not. We are big on learning in my family. I flip through various resources as time permits. Recently, I stopped as soon as I spotted the coverage of Gayatri Datar-- a woman that speaks to me of her values of helping others with integrity and insight. She’s just the right person to begin a series on people and projects who work in STEAM.
In Datar’s photo, her smile belies a secret about projects: success starts with a problem. In this case, the poor health of the Rwandan people needed STEAM thinking. Alongside colleagues, Datar explored questions of how to improve the lives of these people who had so little. On the tour of Rwanda made with colleagues, she listened (rule #1) to the complaints about leaking roofs and observed the puddles with insects inside homes. As she moved through ways to improve the health, she turned to the ground floor. Literally! How could she improve or protect the health of families by changing a floor?
Worldwide, over a billion people live on dirt floors because they can’t afford the alternatives. Her next questions (questions are essential to the process!) focused on what type of flooring would be eco-friendly, locally sourced, and easily and inexpensively installed. The floors also needed to be aesthetically pleasing (art is essential to the process!). Earth-Enable, Datar’s startup, experimented with types of flooring materials, stepping through many iterations of failure, questions and exploration. Yes, failure. All too often we want to skip that step. But not Gayatri Datar. After experimenting, Earth Enable, her new company, came up with a product that met the requirements and included an eco-friendly seal of varnish.
Without a doubt, STEAMers and entrepreneurs always face challenges. With persistence, Datar met these obstacles—including locating local raw materials and workers, seeing plenty of poor- quality installations before creating training workshops – and overcame them. From inspiration, problem, and questions to experimentation, failures, and challenges and finally to outcomes of products, long range positive solutions and success for so many! That’s STEAM in action.
By the time the National Geographic article was written, Earth-Enable had installed over 4,000 earthen floors, raised more money to continue the effort, and is now working closely with the Rwandan government to eliminate dirt floors and the diseases they entail. Collaboration!
What causes disease? What might prevent disease? Who knew rocks and sealant could be an answer until someone started with a problem, listened and asked the questions?
What type of thinking does our generation need? STEAM thinking. Who teaches our children STEAM thinking and question making? Rubber Duck Laboffers it with plenty of space, resources and master makers to guide students from inspiration to success.