Tag: STEM (page 1 of 2)

5 Classroom Strategies to Build STEM/STEAM Skills

One reason I and others promote STEM or STEAM education so passionately goes far beyond the outstanding job opportunities the field affords. Beyond this is the abundance and importance in STEAM of so-called “soft skills”such as problem identification, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, critical thinking, etc. Creating a generation of students who are thusly skilled is not just vital to ensuring competitiveness in the current and future global economy, it equips them for life. This is particularly true when paired with other traits/skills, such as adaptability, organization, empathy, initiative, and grit.  As I am preparing for a talk at the STEAM Academy at TCEA next week, the following are some ideas and classroom strategies to promote STEAM-related skills, including critical thinking and problem solving in any subject area:

  1. Stimulate wonder. In any subject area, teachers should work to create situations that will make students scratch their heads and experience a certain level of confusion leading to curiosity. I don’t want to confuse this idea with what I was taught as a young teacher was the “anticipatory set”, which was basically review at worst and far from engaging or stimulating on a good day. Think of a provocative statement, an argument, a perplexing question, a quick but powerful video, or a dramatic demonstration. Our kids need more opportunities to get really engaged in a topic and experience fascination and wonder.
  2. Solicit questions. Once students have been hooked, get them asking good, probing, open-ended questions.

    Image Source: Right Question Institute

    As discussed here before, this is no given, since students all but forget how to ask such questions by middle school.  Re-teach them using a process such as the Question Formulation Technique and give them daily opportunities to practice.

  3. Be less direct. Let your students sort through processes without so much guidance from you. I know I was very guilty of step-by-stepping most of the labs in my science classroom to death when I was still teaching middle school. The best ones, though, were ones where I followed my own advice above and set the stage with a statement or demonstration, then let the kids figure out how to explain, prove, disprove, etc. on their own or collaboratively.
  4. Forsake the multiple choice. I have heard “assessment experts” defend the venerable A, B, C, or D (all of the above) test format for years, claiming it is poor question design that has weakened the art. I believe anything worth learning cannot be sufficiently expressed and assessed with such a format and with no opportunity to see into the student’s thinking. The product of such assessments has no relevance or meaning in the real world, and is I believe multiple choice assessments are a reflection of teacher laziness or inexperience (Before anyone gets your feathers too ruffled, I was as guilty as anyone. Remember those clickers? Ugh.). Leave the format to the people who are paid big bucks to construct shallow assessments and disengage our kids–the testing companies. Instead, utilize performance and alternative assessments, such as rubrics, face-to-face conferencing, self-assessment, demonstrations/presentations, physical products, etc.
  5. Failure doesn’t end with an “F”. There are times in life when you get one shot to get something right, like choosing when to cross the street in heavy traffic. Most of life outside of school, however, is based on a series of trial-and-error events and choices. Whether designing a science project, solving a math problem,  writing a narrative essay, or learning to shoot a basketball, students need to tackle tasks that require evaluation and improvement. Our obsession with grades (in the face of much research demonstrating their failures) means that we too often give students failing marks for a failed attempt, usually the first attempt, when we should be offering meaningful feedback into the process the student is going through. If your school/district requires grades, use them in conjunction with actual feedback that makes the numbers have actual meaning. But, as I advised a robotics instructor in my own district, be careful not to view a step in the process as the end, and be careful not to see a project that has not met hoped for goals as a failure. I watched a robotics team build no fewer than 20 prototypes of 1 model without achieving their very lofty desired outcome, but the group made strides and learned everything I could have hoped. An “F” would have been both crushing and inappropriate.

This is a work in progress, so please give me any ideas or feedback you might have. If I use your comments/ideas, I will even give you a shoutout in my presentation. Thanks!

STEM students image source: http://www.dfrobot.com.cn/images/upload/Image/20140306141707uca3mg.jpg

Computer Science Education Week Resources

National Computer Science Education Week is fast approaching–December 5-11. I have copied the text of an email I sent to our campus technology teachers to help them plan for the week. I thought there might be some usefulness to others out there wanting some options in terms of ways kids might participate in the week or in Hour of Code. If you have other resources or classroom activities that you have come to find particularly successful, please share them in the comments.

Good afternoon to all,

This one is a bit of a long-winded email, but I ask that you take the time to read it all. I wanted to clarify a few things for our new folks in the Tech Apps family regarding National Computer Science Education Week, December 4-8.

  • That is one of several weeks in the elementary and, I believe, middle school curricula in which we emphasize computer coding. You should already be planning to have kids coding.
  • Starting last year, I invited special area guests to attend a campus and participate in a lesson with kids that week. No big deal–they just come in, see how cute your kids are, and enjoy learning the tool they are using. Oh, and I’m sure a picture or two will be taken. If your campus would like me to try and arrange a guest, I would be happy to. I just need to know some good days and times. Feel free to invite whomever you like, just please keep me in the loop.
  • Speaking of the tool you will be using, here are some options for you to brush up on before then. Choose what fits each group of kids best. I have put an asterisk by the ones most often used in our district.
    • Daisy the Dinosaur — fun, free iPad app teaches basics of computational thinking. Emphasis here is on getting the right steps in the right order to complete challenges. There is also a free-programming mode for kids to experiment.
    • ScratchJr — free companion iPad app to the Scratch website focuses on primary kids. Commands are simplified and fewer in number, icons and sprites (characters) are bigger and more colorful to make it more engaging and user-friendly for younger students.
    • *Code.org — great site has self-guided lessons for absolutely any age group, from the kindergartener still trying to master the mouse and keyboard to the high school kid ready to tackle javascript. It is free, and you can set up your classes with an easy upload. The site gives you usernames and passwords–bonus!
    • *Scratch — if your kids are ready for more open-ended learning, maybe upper elementary and middle school, Scratch is a great tool to use. There are tons of how-to vids and lessons out there to help them (and you) get started. Accounts are necessary and free, but there is no bulk upload. You’ll need to do them 1 at a time. Most work is done by arranging blocks for specific tasks, but students can get pretty advanced–things like variables and functions.
    • Code Combat — see the statement above regarding accounts. This fun site does actually require students to type lines of code as they navigate medieval-themed challenges. Students can earn armor and weapons upgrades (Don’t worry–it is comical, not violent.).
    • Swift Playgrounds — fun iPad app that teaches basics of the Swift programming language. Students type code to complete increasingly challenging tasks, all the while learning important coding concepts. Also includes downloadable content to learn to program games, such as Rock, Paper, Scissors or a Running Maze. This is a great step up for middle school kids, and 5th graders would probably also successfully enjoy it. Swift is a great language to learn, because it can be used on any platform, including mobile, desktop, or even the Apple Watch. (Note to middle school peeps–I REALLY like the possibilities for this with middle school kids, and there is a ton of curricula on iTunesU. It might be enough to persuade someone to buy a complete set of iPads for your classes. I plan to lobby for that.)
    • Code Monkey — now included in our Learning.com curriculum, this game-based tutorial teaches kids the basics of coding and the CoffeeScript language and how to create HTML5 games. Probably a bit challenging for the K-4 crowd, but worth a look for older kids already using the Learning.com curriculum.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion. If you feel worried about this unit of study, Code.org is where I would start. It has great classroom curriculum management resources and is super easy to learn. Please do not hesitate to email me if you need help getting set up or just learning the tool you want to use.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenges

The following are prompts for a set of engineering challenge bags I am putting together for our district STEAM fair tomorrow. They are variations on project ideas I have found in a variety of sites and resources. I thought they might be useful to someone looking for makerspace prompts or some quick, open-ended science projects.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
World’s Slowest Marble Coaster

Using the materials in the bag, create a marble roller coaster that takes as long as possible to get from the top of a table to the floor. If yours takes longer than 15 seconds, you are an engineering genius!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Never Underestimate the Power of the Gumdrop

 Using only gumdrops and toothpicks, create a structure that can hold a textbook at least 6 inches off the ground for at least 1 minute. Feeling confident? How about 12 inches? How about 2 textbooks?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Foiled Again!

Using only the piece of foil included, create a boat that will stay afloat with as many pennies as possible. How much treasure will your boat float? 10¢? 25¢? A dollar?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
One Small Step for Man…

Using the materials in the bag, paper rocket that will go as far on a breath as you possibly can. Feel free to customize the design. Does the shape affect the distance? Would adding extra features, like fins help?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Beware the Bridge to Nowhere!

Using the materials in the bag, create a platform that extends out as far as possible from the edge of a table or chair. The catch? There can be no supports or other parts of the platform touching the ground. If you’ve ever seen the Grand Canyon skywalk, you will get the basic idea!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
A Bridge over Troubled Waters

Using only straws and pins, build a bridge that can hold as much weight as possible without collapsing. To test the bridge, use the cup and add a few pennies at a time. Don’t look down!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Ping Pong Zip Along

Using the materials in your bag, create a way to transport a ping-pong ball safely to the end of a zip line. If the ping pong ball falls or gets stuck, it’s game, set, and match!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
The Paper Elevator

Using nothing but paper and tape, create a structure that will hold a textbook at least 12 inches off the ground. Can you achieve this using the fewest pieces of paper necessary? How about TWO textbooks, smarty?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Paper Helicopter

Using the materials inside your bag, create a helicopter that will fall to the ground as sloooooowly as possible. Make that landing as soft as possible!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Launch Catapults!

Using the materials in the bag, create a catapult that can launch a pom-pom as far as you possibly can. Want an extra challenge? Try making the pom-pom hit a target or land in a specific place!

 

Matador Innovators Camp Reflections

19868261593_ecd0711fe4_zThis summer marked the 3rd year of our summer technology and innovation camps. We conducted two Minecraft camps, two robotics camps, and two technology/innovation camps, called Matador Innovators. All of the camps were 4 days long and lasted 4 hours per day for older students (generally grades 4 and up) and 3 hours for younger students. Camps were staffed by district teachers, librarians, and students.

Last year, I supervised and facilitated the camps, but left it to my extremely capable teachers to run the day-to-day events. I missed the face-to-face interaction with the kids, so I decided to lead the Matador Innovators camps again this year, and I am so glad I did.

20495460031_ec74edc42e_zMatador Innovators camps are fairly informal. We spend the week trying out a variety of creative technology tools, with the students given lots of leeway to determine just how they should be used. The activities and technology tools used this year included:

  • MakeyMakeys — electronic project boards that let conductive objects become computer input devices.
  • Paper and tape — students challenge to construct free-standing tower using only masking tape and 20 sheets of paper.
  • Circuit Stickers — surface-mount LED lights that were crafted into a variety of paper/electronic creations.
  • Lego Movie Maker — wonderful, free app for creating stop-motion movies.
  • Scratch — free, online tool for learning programming concepts and creating movies, simulations, games, etc.20462960086_9ae970febc_z
  • Squishy Circuits — homemade conductive and insulating dough that was used with batteries and 9v batteries to create and explore electrical circuitry.
  • Brushbots — simple robots created from toothbrushes, coin batteries, and vibrating cellphone motors. Guaranteed giggles.

These were active, noisy, engaged20301155578_dbce834fff_z camps. Students shared ideas, offered suggestions, asked questions. For the most part, we tried to make the outcomes purposely vague, offering specific instructions or guidelines when students expressed a need for them or just to introduce a tool. For example, I walked the kids through the creation of electronic versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which allowed campers to get familiar with Circuit Stickers. From there, they were limited only by their imaginations, and the results were quite varied: a mask; a car; lighthouses; a model video game controller.

20302528339_9c51b0b8c9_zStudents also had a great deal of autonomy when making stop-motion movies or learning to program with Scratch, leading to a diverse set of products. When we built the brushbots, students were given the challenge of creating a bot that could be steered in a particular direction. The brushbots were set loose on a makeshift racetrack to test students’ engineering ideas.

Here are four observations for the 2 weeks:

  1. Many kids actually need practice dealing with failure. They struggle with adapting their plans, testing new ideas. They are used to getting one shot to get it right, usually do, and consequently can get very frustrated when they are expected to overcome failures. I had to tell one student he could no longer say, “It doesn’t work” unless he immediately followed that with the word “yet.”
  2. 20489198965_077bb404d7_zStudents engaged in imaginative, hands-on experimentation are generally highly motivated, have few behavior issues, and actually have to be told to stop working.
  3. Kids’ imaginations are bigger than ours. A few might need us to provide specific rules or expectations for their products, but many more will exceed our own ideas when given the resources and the freedom to experiment.
  4. Maker classrooms must be flexible. Learning by making requires teachers to adapt to students’ needs and schedules on the fly. The open ended nature of the tasks lends to unpredictable timetables. Embrace the chaos.

All in all, it was an exhausting, extremely rewarding experience. It was amazing to get to spend so much time interacting with the students, the one thing I miss from my classroom days. I am already plotting next summer’s fun!

10 Robot Challenges

The following are suggested activities for robotics programs. They range from the fairly simple to surprisingly complex. I like these because they all can be related to some type of real-world problem situation where robots might be employed as a solution. For example, the dark navigation problem: robots might be used to navigate dark, inhospitable environments where sensors beyond visual must be relied upon. I think most of them will be great opportunities for students to “fail forward”, too, as they progress through designs and programs to solve each problem.

  1. Create a robotic trash compactor.

  2. Double the speed of the robot over a given distance.

  3. Use the robot to clean solid or liquid spills.

  4. Navigate through an obstacle course in the dark.

  5. Climb inclines that are as near to vertical as possible.

  6. Create a robot that can jump.

  7. Navigate a maze using sensors, not simply programming the path.

  8. Teach a robot to play a musical instrument.

  9. Teach the robot to construct the tallest stack of blocks.

  10. Start/stop a video camera upon a sound or other trigger.

I am always on the lookout for more activities of this nature, so please don’t hold back–share yours in the comments.

Code Breakers Presentation Slideshow

I’ll be sharing some info on getting kids started with coding at the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Digital Learning Conference tomorrow and Thursday. The short slide show is below, as are links to all of the sites referenced (and a few more).

DENapalooza Presentation and Links

Presentation and updated links from this weekend’s DENapaolooza event in Austin, Texas.

 

Resources for developing innovation and creativity skills:

  • Scratch–free, online tool that introduces students to programming using a drag-and-drop interface and share projects with a global community.
  • MakeyMakey–electronic “invention kit” that allows users to turn any conductive objects into computer input devices.
  • Picoboard–expands scratch by allowing users to incorporate input from a variety of sensors, including light, sound, and more.
  • Arduino–open-source, inexpensive prototyping platform that can be programmed and used to build endless electronic devices.
  • Raspberry Pi–$25 Linux-based computer; great tool for introducing students to computing, programming, inventing.
  • MinecraftEDU–educational resources and lesson plans for using Minecraft in the classroom.
  • Hopscotch–easy-to-use iPad app that teaches programming skills with a drag-and-drop interface
  • Tynker–Scratch-like programming site with ability to create classes, assign and monitor projects.
  • DIY–site with dozens of categories of challenges to promote creative and inventive thinking.
  • Squishy Circuits–conductor & insulator Play-do type dough recipes & projects
  • LittleBits–child-friendly, no soldering electronic activity kits and components.
  • Lego Robotics–robot kits and supplies for primary (WeDo), intermediate (Mindstorms), and advanced students (TETRIX)
  • MyAtoms–electronic modules that can be used with Legos to create animated objects.
  • BuildwithChrome –virtual Legos; create Lego buildings or objects and share online–requires Chrome browser.
  • Hummingbird–robotics project kits using electronics and cardboard.
  • Lego Digital Designer –free tool from Lego lets students virtually design their Lego and Lego robotics creations.
  • Circuit Scribe–pen that writes with conductive ink, letting users draw electrical components and creations.
  • MIT App Inventor–free, Scratch-like tool lets students design and test their own Android mobile apps.

Other resources:

  • Makezine–online magazine of the Maker movement, great source for project ideas.
  • MakerEd–resources for incorporating Maker ideas into the classroom.
  • Growing Innovators–resources for a variety of innovative technologies for the classroom.
  • Scratch 2.0 Starter Kit–resources for teaching coding using Scratch and other tools.
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