By Anna Crowley Redding
GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.
See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020.
Hello, science teachers, educators, readers, and fellow writers! I am thrilled to be a guest blogger on the MimsHouse blog today to share with you an idea that is going to prepare our students for the enormous technological revolution at humanity’s doorstep. I’m talking artificial intelligence, mass acceptance and use of driver-less automobiles, medical breakthroughs, human colonies on other planets, etc. This is such an exciting time to be alive and engaged in all things STEM/STEAM!
I am on a mission to help students of all ages fall in love with problem solving––which really means, falling in love with failure. Honestly, this came naturally to us as toddlers. When we were conquering walking, we fell almost every time.
Sometimes this led to tears. But more often than not, it meant making an adjustment in our balance, gait, or focus. Sometimes, all that was required was a little bit more confidence in taking that leap of faith that we could, in fact, make it two steps without holding on!
The same was true with building towers out of blocks. When the tower crashed down over and over again, we eventually learned engineering (build a stronger foundation) and physics (don’t cantilever that rectangle block quite so much and oh, gravity…ugh.) And you probably figured out there are few block structures that can survive the “curiosity” of a younger sibling.
But somewhere along the way, this spirit of trial and error is often replaced with a quest to get the answer right the first time. Perfection becomes the goal. Our shift is changed from the process to the answer. And not just any answer. No, the right answer. On our first try. And really what that means is falling out of love with problem-solving in falling in love with perfection.
Believe me when I tell you that you are reading the words of a Type-A person who loves getting things right. But writing Google It: A History of Google (Feiwel and Friends 2018) and Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World (Feiwel and Friends 2019) was an eye-opening experience for me! The two students who invented the Google search engine didn’t set out to do so. They set out to solve a problem. Solving that problem resulted in nothing less than organizing the internet. Organizing. The. Internet.
When Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, started his rocket company (from scratch), it wasn’t to indulge his childhood pastime of building launchable rocket kits. No, he started from scratch because he realized the United States had no plan for getting to Mars. And for Elon, getting to Mars solves a specific problem that had weighed on him for years: a mass extinction event like catastrophic climate change, a planet destroying asteroid strike, etc.
In both cases getting these companies off the ground, solving all the mini-problems that cropped up meant failing over and over and over again. Back to the drawing board, tweaking, changing, adjusting and even starting over. This process required asking fundamental questions, cleaning the slate of conventional wisdom and assumptions so you can think about the problem in a new way.
Elon for example, traveled to Russia three times to buy inter-continental ballistic missiles. (Yes, it’s true). But, to hear him tell it, he quickly discovered they were artificially overpriced. Why not build a rocket himself? And to do that, he had to ask himself questions like this one: What is a rocket anyway? If a rocket is made out of these particular atoms, what’s the best way to arrange them?
Answering these questions and others with a successful, less-expensive rocket was no easy task. But he did it. And he accomplished this by dedicating himself to the question, to the problem, and not the solution. Had he dedicated himself to the solution, he might have spent all his money on those Russian ICBM’s, and maybe something would have gone wrong. And, then, what if he no longer had the money to solve the original problem of ensuring humanity survives an extinction event?
Enter today’s students, teachers, writers, and readers. How can we shift our focus back to falling in love with problems, dispensing with convention and dearly held assumptions? What if we pushed our thinking in new directions? What if students began hunting for problems, and trying different ways to solve them? And what if we, as coaches and mentors, let them fail––so that ultimately, they might solve a problem.
These ideas are at the heart of my books. Taking a deep dive into the lives of people who devote themselves to problem-solving has changed my perspective. I’m inspired and I want to share that love for tackling the unknown, the uncharted, and the unsolved with all of you.
In addition to the amazing NSTA BEST OF STEM books on the 2019 list, here are some other books that might encourage your students and support them on their problem-solving quests! See you in St. Louis!
p.s. (Full disclosure, tonight I am teaching my 7-year-old how to chop garlic and my biggest challenge will be to close my mouth and breathe until he figures it out without me taking over!)
For your youngest readers:
The Rabbit Listened. By Cori Doerrfeld – Oh this book! Let’s face it, failure is necessary. But my goodness it can come with a heap of emotions. This book is a beautiful and gentle primer in how to handle those feelings and how to support your friends.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Any mystery series. After all, solving a mystery is solving a problem. But let’s face it, mysteries make the process even more fun than closing the case! Nate the Great, A-Z Mysteries, The Magic Treehouse, and so many more.
I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. So many more!
Google It: A History of Google – How Two Students’ Quest to Organize the Internet Changed the World by Anna Crowley Redding
ANNA CROWLEY REDDING: Before diving into the deep end of writing for children, Anna Crowley Redding’s first career was as an Emmy-award winning investigative television reporter, anchor, and journalist. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow awards and recognized by the Associated Press for her reporting, Redding now focuses her stealthy detective skills on digging up great stories for kids and teens — which, as it turns out, is her true passion.