Educate the Whole Student by Integrating STEM, Liberal Arts, and Social Responsibility
Synergies in Teaching and Learning
My Teaching Philosophy
Things I Learned in School; and Out Of school; and ... Back in School, Again...
“What do you want to be, when you grow up?”
is a question every kid is asked, presumably, more than once.
“I want to be a doctor, a teacher, or a lawyer.”
is a response we may get, perhaps because the father or mother is one.
“I want to be an astronaut, an artist, or an explorer…”
are some of the idealistic responses we may get.
“I want to be a receptionist, a fast food restaurant worker, an investor/financier, or a custodian.”
are responses we rarely get.
“What do you do for living?”
is a question adults frequently ask each other when we meet.
“I teach college.”
“Well, I am an electrical engineer by trade but I teach statics (which is in Civil Engineering), dynamics (in Mechanical Engineering), engineering economy (in Industrial-Systems Engineering), mathematics (in Mathematics), physics for filmmakers (in Physics), and electric circuits for non-electrical engineers (in Electrical Engineering).”
I say. "And this does not even capture half of what I do with my students", I think to myself.
What do I really do for living? I ask myself. I am an educator. But, is this not what professors who teach in educational studies answer when asked what they do for living? What about schoolteachers, what do they say they do for living? Maybe I am a teacher. But then, ...
“What grade do you teach?”
“I teach college.”
people will ask me.
I will respond…
What about trainers, such as CDL (commercial driver’s license) trainers, are they also teachers and educators? “No”, my colleagues assert, “they are job trainers who train students to the job of driving for living”. But don’t we, engineers or teachers, educate our students to do a job, for living, too? What about students in technical schools, do they not get an education along with learning technical skills, so they can get a job for living?
"When asked about the role of education, most people would probably respond by saying that it is to develop people to their fullest potential. This response raises several questions, such as: What constitutes a person’s potential? How do you develop one’s potential? What conditions facilitate the development process? What educational methods can advance one’s potential? Can these methods be applied at any subject matter? At what level or age", (G. Tolias, personal communication, July 8, 2008)? The answers to these questions may derive different philosophies of education; and different theories within each philosophy; and different frameworks within each theory; and different methodologies within each framework. I am an educator who happens to be an engineer by trade. Therefore, I educate my students by teaching them engineering. As I keep up to date with the developments in my engineering trade, isn’t it also my duty to keep up to date with the developments in the role of education?
What is the role of education? Winston and Patterson (2006, p. 1) stated that “a search of the Expanded Academic Database in 2003 of published articles that used the term ‘leadership’ returned 26,000 articles”. In addition, the authors analyzed 160 articles, until they reached saturation, to uncover over 1,000 constructs of leadership, which they organized into 90-plus dimensions that comprise the whole of leadership. Furthermore, Winston and Patterson (2006) reflected on the parable of the blind men describing an elephant where, although each blind man accurately describe a characteristic of the elephant, the synthesized descriptions fail to accurately describe the animal. Finally, Winston and Patterson (2006, p. 1), humorously (in my opinion) inferred that “while the 26,000 articles talk about leadership, there seem to be a lot of blind men describing an elephant”; and humorlessly produced a 1 and 1/5 page-long integrated definition of leadership; a fine definition of leadership. A simple search in https://scholar.google.com/ about the “role of education” yielded 5,190,000 articles. A comparative analysis of the number of findings on the role of education to the number of findings on leadership using proportionality mathematics may require the analysis of 31,938 articles until we reach saturation, to uncover 199,613 constructs of the role of education, which may be organized into 17,965 dimensions that comprise the whole of the role of education. We may even produce a 240 page long integrated definition of the role of education; a fine definition of the role of education. Apparently, while the 5,190,000 articles talk about the role of education, there seem to be a lot of blind men describing an elephant. Undoubtedly, in my job, I lead my students through the process of teaching and learning; and I do this by exercising my role as an educator. In doing so, I certainly do not want to be a blind man describing an elephant. Therefore, I need a motto to help me “see” my role as an educator. According to Vouzianas (2017):
Educational institutions frequently come up with mottos that reflect their missions and are easy to remember. I recall Columbia College Chicago's "create change"; and Ohio University's Russ College of Engineering and Technology "create for good". I spent time at both Institutions, and I subscribe to "creating" both "change" and "good". As an educator, I strive to graduate engineers who “create for good” which, I believe, also entails the creation of "change". In my attempt to analyze “create for good” so I can build it in the daily interactions of teaching and learning with my students I started researching “how humans learn” and the “role of education”. Thus, I came upon Gardner's “Multiple Intelligences”, Gardner (1983), and “Five Minds for the Future”, Gardner (2009). These compelled me to create Synergies in Teaching and Learning (ST&L, Synergies Project, or Synergies). Synergies is a (teaching and learning project) framework that aims to educate the whole student by enabling the integration of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with liberal arts and social responsibility. Synergies enable different constituents to work together and deliver teaching and learning to students by creating (together) curricular, co-curricular, or ancillary learning activities. Constituents can be faculty from different programs/ colleges/ universities, as well as members from the community or industry. Finally, as I like to say, “from Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, to Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, to Russ College’s ‘create for good’, Synergies enable learners to see real world problems with different view lenses, therefore, models to the learners the synergistic nature of problem solving”.
Synergies enable engineers, scientists, and technologists to see the importance of liberal arts and social responsibility in solving real world problems, including the ones of a technical nature; and enable people in humanities, arts, and social sciences to see the importance of the engineering methodology and scientific process in solving real world problems, including the ones of a social nature. Hence, Synergies enable both peoples to view the World's problems by sharing their view lenses with each other. (p. About)
Synergies is my way of teaching and learning. Therefore, Synergies “is” my teaching philosophy.
I have not been teaching long enough to see all my students become presidents, business owners, chief engineers, fast food restaurant workers, custodians, teachers, community workers, doctors, technicians, artists, volunteers, or parents. But the other day I was approached by a young man in the Chicago-subway.
“Excuse me, do you teach electricity?”
“Hello John.” (name changed)
“I am sorry I cannot remember your last name... with so many students…”
I continued, recalling his first name.
“No worries, I cannot remember your name either.”
“I have to tell you; I was an arts-major but really enjoyed your class. As a matter of fact I am pursuing a career in electronics.”
When I went home, I looked through my records: I had given John a “D” in electricity. Well, at the end of the day one thing is important: I want to look back at each one of my students and say “Yes, I want to work with this person!” Perhaps I am striving to help my students achieve happiness – and – THIS is my personal fulfillment of my teaching philosophy.
Synergies Project Founder, Partner, and Team Leader
Renaissance Engineers Founder and Adviser
Universal University Deviser
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (2009). The Five Minds for the Future. School Administrator, 66 (2), 16 – 20.
Vouzianas, A. (2017, December 16). About Synergies Project. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.synergiesproject.com/
Winston, B. E., & Patterson, K. (2006). An Integrative Definition of Leadership. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 1(2), p.1. Retrieved June 10, 2020 from https://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/ijls/new/vol1iss2/winston_patterson.doc/winston_patterson.pdf