This past Saturday I attended the 24th Annual Connecticut Invention Convention at the University of Connecticut. It was an amazing event where 500 students from kindergarten through eighth grade showed off and explained their inventions to judges. The judges were primarily from industry and a great many of them were engineers. So it was an intimidating audience for some of these young people. The students did an incredible job though. This is not that surprising since these 500 were the cream of the over 10,000 students who participated in preliminary qualifying events.
I had an interesting talk with a teacher after the event though. She is a supporter of standardized tests and the need to hold schools accountable but she has worries as well. The worry we talked about was that the pressure for standardized test results and the work to the tests that goes on is squeezing out some of the other very important things that kids should be learning in school. Things like creativity, problem solving, working on teams and thinking outside the box. A lot of activities that teach those things are not being allowed during the normal school day. They take time. They are messy. And worst of all they are hard to measure on standardized tests. And yet clearly we need those skills to stay competitive in the world marketplace.
Programs like the Connecticut Invention Convention (which had students from states beyond Connecticut's borders by the way) fill a role that is growing in importance. We need these mental/educational events that take the good parts of the sports model to reward kids for learning. Other programs that come to mine are Destination Imagination and the various FIRST programs.
If we are not going to teach these skills during the school day we will have to find ways to do it after school. All of these programs are highly dependent on volunteers though. Parents, teachers and other caring adults have to step forward to take part and to mentor students. In an ideal world these would be paid positions just like football coach but we don't live in an ideal world. So please find a program that promotes out of class learning and support it with your time, your money or some other means. Our kids futures and our own depend on it.
By the way, Microsoft was a corporate sponsor for this year's Connecticut Invention Convention and sent judges to select the awards for "best inventions enabling improved access to anything by the disabled."