STEM or S.T.E.M. - Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.
Readers will note that our use of the acronym STEM does not include the arts, reading, entrepreneurship, or other disciplines. We are working in the “all things STEM” era, and we recognize that many more disciplines are included under the STEM umbrella. For the Buildit Challenge organization, these letters are implied, and we would prefer not to change the spelling where it has been used in print and on the internet. In our view, what we do to change the STEM ecosystem carries more weight than the letters we use to spell the STEM acronym.

Inventive adaptation - The principle of taking objects or systems from one area of life and repurposing them to function in another system or area of life. Inventive adaptation has a role in almost every modern invention. For example, the first vacuum cleaner was a machine with a set of roller brushes (from a hair stylist) attached to bellows (from a blacksmithing shop). The machine generated a vacuum when the bellows expanded. When Daniel Hess built the first vacuum cleaner from seemingly unrelated objects, he used inventive adaptation. When students repurpose everyday objects to create their projects for a Buildit Challenge, it is an exercise in inventive adaptation.

Improvisational engineering (or improvisational play) - The process of making small changes, adjustments, and repairs along the way to create a working model. When students begin to construct their projects, they usually start with a goal in mind. For example, they plan to make a claw machine or a model dream home. As they work with various building materials, they learn about material properties such as the operating range of cardboard, and they learn about mechanical principles such as shape dynamics, structural tension and compression, and the laws of physics. When our judges interview students, they often hear stories about how an earlier prototype collapsed under pressure and how reinforcements were added, or how materials were substituted at some stage in the building process based on weight, durability, or other material property. 

Yankee Ingenuity - Combined, inventive adaptation and improvisational engineering make a philosophical approach to problem solving that we like to call, “Yankee ingenuity.” This philosophy is has universal applications in all fields of study and all parts of life. This hands-on approach to STEM was famously the backbone of the industrial revolution in America, and it is the kind of engineering that fuels NASA.

As a society, we need more of this "Yankee ingenuity" as current generations face some of the biggest challenges in history.