My Conversation with Dr. Chris Emdin

 

When I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Christopher Emdin, I was … giddy.

I am a huge fan of his work, so our 30-minute interview turned into a two-hour conversation.

In case you aren’t familiar with Dr. Emdin, know that he is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, scientist, advocate, teacher, and connector, and his new book – STEM, STEAM, Make, Dream – starts with a call to action to “awaken the spirit of young people” as a way to clear a pathway to empowering children with the skills needed to succeed in a science- and tech-based world.

Some of my favorite highlights:

The mistaken belief that STEM is rare, guarded, and exclusive.

It is much more than the realm of a certain group of people working at a specific time and place. STEM also happens in garages, basements, parks, cities, farms, and rural areas.

“We can’t talk about how to teach STEM better, or how to connect STEM to young people, without first really making some sense of this thing,” said Dr. Emdin. “Like what is it? And what gets attached to it? What gives it its meaning? What kind of power does it hold with certain people? Who gets engaged by it, who gets empowered by it? Who gets disempowered by it? So I wanted to begin with just deconstructing it.”

 

 

Deeply engaging in STEM requires honoring the way it manifests itself in the lived experiences and histories of diverse populations.

Historically excluded, certain groups of people have perpetually been marginalized which has resulted in dysfunctional relationships within those fields.

“I have a firm belief that science and math are not just academic subjects, but they are languages that we want to help young folks to be fluent in,” said Dr. Emdin.

A in STEAM is art = aesthetics, ancestry, culture. STEAM teachers’ job is to help students see the observations and connections they naturally made as a way of engaging with the world.

Too many teachers believe that these subjects can be taught in a vacuum. There is no STEM without context. There is no rigor without invoking passion.

“I think if we expand out the A in STEAM to not just be art but aesthetics, the key observation and analysis and reflection, tools that are necessary to engage in the aesthetic enterprise,” said Dr. Emdin. “And I think it also allows us to go beyond just like regular art, but like — when you’re thinking about aesthetics, you’re thinking about textiles, and you’re thinking about fashion, and all of a sudden, you expand out the mechanisms through which we can engage in STEM. So I really believe that the A should not just be arts, but should be art and culture.”

 

 

That we can design implications to build a dream culture.

Reckoning, recommitting, reimagining, developing interdisciplinary collaborations, and unstructured “open hours” and “open curriculum” to provide space for students to play.

“I love poetry,” said Dr. Emdin, “I am an anthro biochemist by training. I did mesenchymal stem cell research for a while, I worked in labs, I worked on the etiology of schizophrenia, I’m like a science dweeb and geek and math lover. But I’m also a person who appreciates words and aesthetics and beautiful things. It took me a long time to deal with the tension of my multiple selves.

“I felt like when I was in my academic spaces, in my scientific spaces, I had to cut off pieces of me that are really strong. And I think because I had to cut off those pieces of who I was, I wasn’t able to be as good as I could have been, in science and math spaces.

“And then when I was in my, you know, poetry and art and hip hop spaces, they were like, ‘Oh, here comes Chris the scientist, he’s going to science geek us to death.’ So I never felt like I had a place where I could just be, and I’ve come to now exist in all my loves.”

Having the chance to talk to Dr. Emdin about our shared hopes, aspirations, schools, and actions for schooling and for students was a true honor, and I hope all of you get as much out of it as I did.

 

About Allison Zmuda

Allison Zmuda is a longstanding education consultant focused on curriculum development with an emphasis on personalized learning. Just as she advocates for personalized learning to be used by her clients, she practices it when engaging with her clients. Allison is also a partner in Habits of Mind with Bena Kallick and Arthur Costa and in Learning Sets with Heidi Hayes Jacobs. Learn more at allisonzmuda.com.

 

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