STEM Trends: Innovation Transcends Good Grades

kids in a classroomAn inherent part of secondary education is grades. From A-F, the majority of school systems place some value on what grades a student receives, using them as an indication of intelligence and potential future success.

However, recent studies have shown that innovation is not only not linked to good grades, but in fact, there might just be a reverse correlation. For nontraditional students and those who don’t feel comfortable in traditional school settings, including many vocational and occupational skilled workers, this is scientific proof that it’s okay to be comfortable in nontraditional learning environments.

According to associate professor of higher education Matthew Mayhew, demand for innovation is at an all-time high. You can read more about the importance of innovation in manufacturing here, but the takeaway is: “The importance of innovation in manufacturing cannot be emphasized enough. It does not only refer to production of innovative products that are different from those offered by the competition, but it also refers to innovative and creative approaches to production processes and advertisement. . . innovation plays the key role in all levels of manufacturing.” Thus, a major concern for manufacturers and economists is figuring out where these innovators will come from.

Mayhew spent seven years researching just where innovators come from. His research is definitely worth reading; here are a few things we found interesting:

  • Students who were encouraged in problem-solving and argument development were more likely to want to innovate, and students who formed close relationships with faculty members or had meaningful interactions with faculty were also more likely to be innovative.
  • As GPAs went down, innovation tended to go up. Students with lower GPAs reported innovation intentions that were on average greater than their higher-GPA counterparts.
  • Innovators tended to be intrinsically motivated: They are interested in engaging pursuits that are personally meaningful, but might not be immediately rewarded by others.

Thus, the research isn’t necessarily saying that grades don’t matter, but they’re saying that higher grades are an indication of more than just intelligence (whether or not a person is internally or externally motivated, for example). This type of study certainly reinforces investment in nontraditional education like Rebecca Lucore discusses here: “[programs that develop highly proficient STEM workers] replace highly competitive classroom environments with personalized coursework that emphasizes cooperation and teamwork . . . for students who wish to pursue STEM studies. These programs have evolved teaching methods and nurtured students by helping them learn in methods more appropriate for their development.”

In other words, while tradition is often wonderful, it isn’t always best. People who feel a passion for STEM careers should seek out the means of education that works best for them, whether that’s apprenticeship, college, community college, or something else. American manufacturing will succeed if it has hardworking, skilled innovators, and it is our duty to invest in those workers, no matter who they may be.

photo credit: 6th grade parent day: math class via photopin (license)