Experiential Learning Makes the Abstract Concrete
Tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, and mathematicians have their hands full — literally. High performers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes learn best when they learn experientially. According to a study published in 2014, average exams scores were six percent higher for students who were taught using hands-on learning methods. Perhaps more importantly, these students were 1.5 times more likely to pass their classes than their lecture-based peers.
Learning by Doing
It is hard to get more experiential than the MOE365 Robotics team. This team, part of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), brings DuPont scientists and engineers together with students from around the Wilmington area to learn.
As part of the program, students learn the intricacies of working in an engineering-focused environment, from safety practices to Six-Sigma techniques designed to improve efficiency. The students even go through a six-week, experiential learning crash course, which is designed to prepare them for the real challenge — “The Game.”
In “The Game,” students must design and build a robot to compete in live-action arenas. For example, this year’s game was a mash-up of basketball and cross fit. Teams were awarded points for shooting a ball through a hoop, but also for having their robot do a “pull-up.” Through this iterative process, DuPont scientists and engineers offer guidance and expertise to help the students improve their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Concrete Skills to Succeed in the 21st Century Economy
Jesse Taylor, a DuPont Field Engineer and former MOE365 member and current advisor, says “the program gives kids an opportunity to step outside of their normal activities and to learn a concrete skill” such as coding, computer-aided design (CAD) or welding. MOE365 team members can also develop skills in marketing and photography by designing and building the team’s website and Facebook page. They are learning new skills to succeed in school, but they are also building a strong foundation to start their own business.
Experiential learning helps improve soft skills as well; creativity, confidence, collaboration and communication are crucial to a successful transition into college and the job market — yes, even for engineers. Students are encouraged to experiment, fail and learn from their mistakes.
By starting with an immense challenge — building a fully functioning robot — and breaking it down into actionable pieces, the students learn how to problem-solve and process information quickly and effectively. This reinforces confidence in their own ability and will help them rise to future challenges, rather than running from difficult problems.