top of page

The ISPI launches a high school space race for lifelong learners

Above: Spacesuit engineers demonstrate how four crew members would be arranged for launch inside the Orion spacecraft, using a mockup of the vehicle at Johnson Space Center. Photo by Robert Markowitz, Public Domain.

Many years ago, a chemist and an engineer were talking over coffee when they first met. After much discussion they realized that for both, business is straight forward, and technology is fun. That most of their real problems are with people.

The engineer who said it was Idea Connection Systems VP and Chief Scientist, Gary Wihelmi, and the chemist was ICS founder Bob Rosenfeld.

As part of his 35-year collaboration with ICS, Gary recently brought some of his expertise to Lewisville (TX) School of Science and Technology to engage STEM students with real world problem solving. He has taken proven approaches to project execution coupled with using ICS’s Innovation Strengths Preference Indicator® (ISPI) to help form teams, coach the resulting teams, and to introduce students to understanding how to work together, understand key differences, and appreciate these differences.

Even in middle and high school technology is fun, and people (students) are still a "problem" But a very solvable problem. Here’s how.

As part of his recent career, Gary became a high school teacher in STEM and eventually a principal. Now he is merging his innovation and education experiences by piloting an ICS program to revolutionize how kids learn to think. And a big part of this is making school more engaging, challenging and more fun.

As a teacher and innovation practitioner, Gary has voiced his perspectives to various educators that students are too often learning to check boxes and not how to think and solve novel problems. They learn how to pass tests very well, but then they get jobs where there are no multiple-choice tests, just big challenging problems.

High school concepts going into space

“Many students coming out of school now have learned how to operate to a rubric and checkboxes,” said Gary. “They haven't learned necessarily how to be a lifelong learner, they haven't learned when somebody's not standing in front of them, lecturing them and showing them what to do. And that's a big gap in our educational system.”

Among other initiatives, Gary’s working with the school in its participation with the NASA HUNCH program, described by the school as:

…a design and prototyping way for students of all skill levels to develop innovative solutions to problems posed by life on the International Space Station. Many of the projects are items personally requested by the International Space Station Crew to help ease living conditions aboard the station, giving students the opportunity to really make an impact on the lives of Astronauts. Other projects come from Flight Crew Systems and Operational groups at NASA that need more idea development.

Lewisville Tech has already sent several ideas into space via NASA. It’s got students enthused about learning, but critically important, each student is learning on their own terms. How? By integrating a focus on human dynamics – how to solve problems while interacting as a team. Too many schools don’t do this. They simply lump kids together with little thought to differences and when things break down, it’s blamed on the kids.

Gary took the ISPI to school

During Gary’s tenure at the school, the ISPI was used to help design NASA HUNCH teams. He had every student in the program take the ISPI and then used the data to design teams of three. This approach helped to optimize the teams, provided valuable insights for the students to better understand each other, and provided direction for the teachers to help coach/mentor the teams.

In addition, for several of these years, the ISPI was used with 8th graders through juniors to put together teams in the earlier engineering classes. This approach proved to be very effective with this range of students. This has led to the ICS initiative to expand their business and human dynamics experience in various for profit and not-for-profit organizations and bring it into the high schools.

“Working as outside consultants we’re starting to help high schools look at projects, the way businesses and industry looks at projects, which is quite different than the way academia looks at them,” said Gary. “Layered on that is human dynamics. Every stage of the project requires some form of human dynamics. That's where the ISPI comes in.

“From the very first week, the seniors at the school are going to be taking the ISPI and the second they've taken it, I'm going to help design the teams for the NASA HUNCH program. Following that the 8th graders will take the ISPI and begin their journey over the next five years to understand what it means to be a lifelong learner and the value of understanding and appreciating the differences in their peers.”

The ISPI makes it easy to assign teams. The key in putting teams together is to leverage the available pool of students to maximize the potential for each team to be successful, avoid having known conflicts within a team such as in desire for control, having a leader for each team, etc. One of the significant advantages of this approach is that the teacher has a way to know how to individually coach/mentor each team immediately vs. waiting several weeks to see what they need. This way, each team is learning valuable project, team, and human dynamics skills which opens the pathway for them to be successful in bringing ideas that are accepted by NASA for further study

Technology is fun

Gary: “When Bob and I started looking at the human dynamics of innovation from his chemist perspective and then from my engineer perspective – neither one of us are psychologists –we realized most problems we deal with that are driven by people and how people interact, rather than the most difficult technical problems that we've had.”

It’s the same in high school. We are trying to help students be better prepared for their careers after they graduate but do so in a fun and encouraging way. To help them become lifelong learners and really be able to work with different people. The ISPI frameworks are used to coach, whether similar or different profiles to work together effectively.

“We see lifelong learning as teaching people how to learn on their own, take that knowledge and solve a real problem – a meaningful problem,” said Gary. “If you can get a student to be able to say, ‘Oh, I don't know how that works, let me go figure that out,’ that is the core of lifelong learning.”

We also anticipate as time goes on, that the school will have a more inclusive culture leading to less bullying, lower student anxiety or depression, and better student / teacher interactions and eventually making a difference in a student’s family life.

What’s the goal for ICS?

The work in Lewisville, Texas is just one way that ICS is striving to bring a new approach to education, applying what we’ve learned in helping businesses become more innovative. The company hopes to roll out this program to more campuses moving forward and eventually have it be accepted as part of the core education our future leaders.

Engineer Gary and Chemist Bob are close to completing a book on the application of this approach in education and they’re actively working with educators and foundations around the United States to expand this program. If you’d like more information or think you could help advance the concept, contact Gary Wihelmi.



bottom of page