10 February 2014

How My Son Taught Me to Appreciate STEM

Lucky me.  13 years ago today I became a mom, and this parenting journey couldn't be any better.  From an early age, my oldest son has had an interest in STEM fields, and through him, I discovered that I have a great appreciation for science, technology, engineering, and math.  From my own perspective, art was already appreciated, and I enjoyed sharing art appreciation with Ethan. Together we appreciate not just STEM but STE(A)M (A--art).

Earlier this year, I read an Atlantic article by Jessica Lahey in which she shares how her dad taught her to appreciate STEAM, especially the design and creativity aspects needed to implement scientific and mathematical concepts.  Since reading this article, I began thinking about what I have learned to appreciate. I realized that I started to appreciate the STEM parts of STEAM about the same time I became a mom.

As a baby, Ethan's interest began with all things in nature...worms, caterpillars, trees, flowers, the ocean, the mountains, the stars.  He taught me to look and to listen when I carried him on my back as we hiked trails in the mountains of North Carolina, and he taught me to stop and observe the
greatness of our universe when he was walking on his own.  As he grew older we moved on to thinking more about how things work and move. We built with Lego blocks, looked through telescopes, rode trains, made energy from fruit, assembled circuit boards, made homemade bubbles and play dough, read books about everything science and tested a variety of energy sources.  Always, art was an essential part of our exploration as well.  We drew, painted, and created things for holiday gifts.

Since learning to count around age two and a half, it was apparent that numbers made sense to him.  Ethan didn't just count, he understood from an early age what numbers mean.  Mathematics became an area of strength for him,  and for some reason, he understands and makes sense of mathematical problems that I don't even contemplate (but I do appreciate!).

Around second grade an increased interest in all things solar powered took hold, and we soldered solar panels together, attended E-day at the University of Kentucky, and worked on a science fair projects for school.  In third grade he researched Thomas Edison and built a cardboard monograph for his biography presentation. Edison was his favorite because of his fascination with electricity, and for Halloween one year he even dressed as Edison, his favorite scientist and inventor.  His fourth grade science fair project investigated solar power versus battery power for toy train lights.

Toward the end of elementary school, a stronger interest in computers and video games developed, and everything Ethan knew about science, design, and art fed directly into his interest in technology.  Like many other children his age, Minecraft is a popular pastime.  With this video game, he's able to use all of his design creativity along with mathematical concepts and technology know-how. His next big plan is to build a computer, and he said this will be a father-son project.  I guess my role as mom and explorer is changing as my son grows and matures.  Even with these changes I will forever be grateful to this boy who has taught me to appreciate all things STEM because this is not an appreciation I expect to lose, only one I expect to continue developing.