As schools gear up for in-person learning in the fall, it would truly be a travesty if an analysis of the best practices over the past 18 months were overlooked. In terms of academics, virtual learning during the pandemic has resulted in the haves and have-nots.
Some students thrived in the online environment, having the right tools, resources and teaching approaches. However, some students were left behind when there was limited access to the teacher and technological assistance was not available.
As an online instructor, I’ve realized the benefits of online learning in K-12, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral settings. These benefits include continuous learning during bad weather or environmental hazards, increased technical skills, and the ability to learn in a socially distanced setting. There is also the added convenience of increased access, accessibility, structure and the freedom to create an inclusive environment.
However, there must also be a focus on students’ social, emotional, economic and technological needs. As a result, new learning approaches are needed to ensure the “Lost Einsteins” of the world are equipped to champion tomorrow’s challenges.
Who Are the ‘Lost Einsteins’?
“Lost Einsteins” is a new term to describe an ongoing challenge in the classroom. Simply defined, “Lost Einsteins” are the missing geniuses of their generation whose talents are being wasted by a flawed and unfair education system. Many such students are overlooked because their talents are not recognized and celebrated using traditional evaluation methods such as regimented curricula and standardized testing.
In fact, traditional evaluation methods may actually be making these students worse. The more that “teaching to the test” dominates the school day, the more creative learning gets sidelined.
Instead, the key element that makes a difference is exposure to innovation. We need to invest in children’s imaginations.
A New Approach to Learning
Investing in imaginations requires a new approach to learning. Adding spatial ability to talent search identification procedures (currently restricted to mathematical and verbal ability) could uncover a neglected pool of math-science talent. Doing so would hold promise for refining our understanding of intellectually talented youth. This understanding provides a strong connection between science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and spatial ability.
According to Education Psychology Review, an abundance of empirical evidence exists identifying a significant correlation between spatial ability and educational performance, particularly in STEM. Despite this evidence, a causal explanation has yet to be identified. Nevertheless, spatial ability can be developed and has positive educational effects.
New Ways of Learning
Schools offer young minds a wider storehouse of knowledge than they would discover on their own. However, when we train students only to get to the right answer as reliably and efficiently as possible, we’re missing a crucial step.
Knowledge shouldn’t just be a landing point; it should be a springboard. More class time needs to be devoted not just to mastering the material, but using it as a launching point. All children carry on their shoulders the most inventive piece of machinery nature has ever produced – their brain.
Mentoring Is Essential
Researchers at three institutions agree that “The failure to harness the underutilized talent of mathematically inclined children from middle-class and working-class families results in a substantial loss of innovation and economic growth. Underrepresented groups with strong math scores need greater exposure to innovation through mentoring programs to internships to interventions through social networks.”
The key is to expose “Lost Einsteins” to the world in creative ways so as to cultivate underutilized talent.
What Are the Consequences of Underutilized Talent?
What happens if Lost Einsteins’ talent is underutilized? From a macro view, untapped potential is bad for the economy. For starters, students whose parents are in the lowest economic levels are not given the same opportunities and that could impact future innovation and invention.
As a result, a good predictor of whether a child is going to become an inventor is the parents’ tax bracket. Composer Anthony Brandt and neuroscientist David Eagleman are the authors of “The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World.” They too agree that the best predictor of whether a child is going to become an inventor is the family’s tax bracket. For parents in the top one percent income bracket in the United States, their children are 10 times more likely to file a patent than someone who comes from an economically disadvantaged background.
Patents have a direct correlation to innovation and future inventors. Brandt and Eagleman point to a Stanford University study that found income and academic talent played a role in how likely a student was to become a patent-holding inventor by 2014. “If women, minorities, and children from low-income families were to invent at the same rate as white men from high-income families, the rate of innovation in the economy would quadruple,” the researchers noted.
Equal Representation Matters
In order to spur innovation, all genders, races and socio-economic backgrounds need to be represented. In a recent paper explaining its findings, the Equality of Opportunity Project described generations of “Lost Einsteins.” As the gap widens between the haves and have-nots, the ranks of inventors taper to an ever more elite minority.
In addition, researchers have concluded that a concentration of female inventors significantly boosts the likelihood that young girls would grow up to be inventors in the adults’ fields. For example, girls in Modesto, California, grew up in a community where more than 40% of inventors were women, while in Santa Rosa, California, women made up fewer than 10% of inventors. If you have greater representation, chances are you will have a greater chance of being influenced by those external factors.
Tapping into the Lost Einsteins’ Learning Environment
So as we transition back into the in-person learning environment, the key to tapping into “Lost Einsteins” is to use new ways of learning in the classroom. In her book “Visual-Spatial Learners: Differentiation Strategies for Creating a Successful Classroom,” author Alexandra Golon reviews what visual-spatial learners and auditory-sequential learners are, and how teachers can use strategies specifically geared toward these students’ styles of learning. The strategies and lesson plans in the book can be applied to any classroom and include developing innovative and creative ways to make the classroom a successful learning environment for all learners, including the “Lost Einsteins.”