Revelling in STEM – a week of activity to immerse teachers and students



In our experience real tangible opportunities for teachers and students to be immersed in technology is key to enabling integration.

We have raised money to support a STEM initiative which involved a range of new gear. We used a some external providers to help enable a week of immersion. Here are a few snapshots from a week of activity. 

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Lego EV3 & iPads 

  
There are always challenges with new “stuff” and from my perspective that’s part of the fun. Today we ran a session with two Year 5 classes using Lego EV3 robots that we had recently purchased. This was experimental. We have used Lego Mindstorms before, but this was our first venture using the EV3s and in teaming them with our iPads via Bluetooth. 

The sessions went really well. Preparation for this activity was crucial. We were dealing with a newly acquired app and a new robot. We also needed to put together a series of activities which would entice and challenge the children. It was also important to anticipate different capabilities and provide enough progressively for the children to complete in just under two hours.

Lesson overview:

Introduction:

  • The EV3 Brick – input, output, navigation, display
  • The Robot – physical attributes 
  • The App – lobby, robot educator, programs
  • Geometry and measurement
  • Programming – motors, forward, back, turning, rotations, angles, wait, loop (note: introduced sensors briefly, but not required for this lesson)
  • Bluetooth 

 
  

   

The greatest challenge, it turned out, wasn’t actually to do with programming or in completing tasks, but was actually about enabling the Bluetooth connection. This is where playing before introducing technology is vital. As soon as we started experimenting with Bluetooth on the EV3s we realised that all the robots had the same name and that with multiple robots and multiple children robots needed to be easily identifiable. We named each EV3 brick to avoid confusion. Additionally we noticed that sometimes the EV3 Programming App didn’t pickup the Bluetooth connection even though in settings the Ev3 and the iPad were paired. This was resolved by restarting the app (double click the home button on the iPad and then push away the programming app). Even the pairing process wasn’t simple when adjusting settings on the brick via the buttons. Here I must say that once paired the Bluetooth interaction between the iPad and the EV3 was brilliant – getting rid of clumsy plugging of wires made it easy. 

The short video below shows the students in action. The children worked, cooperatively, collaboratively and purposefully. There was full engagement across the two Year 5 class sessions. The other thing which was great to see was the perseverance of groups to complete tasks even following repeated failure. It was a rich learning experience for us all. 

Stepping Out With Robotics and Coding

  

We have used our regular community fundraiser to enable the further integration of technology in classrooms. As I have indicated we are committed to bringing 3D printing, Minecraft, robotics, coding etc. into our learning programs purposefully. We are keen to move away from these being extra curricular and more a natural part of what children can chose to do. 

And isn’t that a great thing! I wish I’d had such possibilities in my own education. I can still remember Sunday nights and having a sinking feeling in anticipation of the week of school ahead. I hope our children wake on Monday morning delighted and leave on Friday sorry that the weekend is getting in the way. We have certainly.observed heightened engagement and focus courtesy of our 1:1 iPad program. This is more than wishful thinking. We often have visiting educators who comment on the engagement of our students. Certainly our surveys of students, teachers and parents have also reflected this. From my perspective I see it on a daily basis and student engagement is truly tangible and importantly there is a sense of purpose in the activity. This of course hasn’t occurred without the considerable commitment of our teaching staff. Here too we have focussed on real integration and it has delivered a natural feeling where the technology just fits comfortably. This is what we hope to achieve with the additional technological integration. 

We have just invested in a very comprehensive bundle of EV3 Lego Robotics. The bundle includes software, sensors, a huge range of blocks / resources enough to build a dozen robots. These will be added to our existing Mindstrorms resources which have existed in the background for several years. We have also bring into play a set of Blue Bots (just a note of warning  iPad 2s are unable to connect via Bluetooth to the Blue Bots) for use with the younger children and ten small drones. All of these will provide great tangible, interactive devices for our coding initiative. We will use apps like Tickle to assist with block coding of drones. We are also looking at a range of coding applications. One stand out amongst these is Scratch https://scratch.mit.edu. Scratch is a powerful block coding application which was developed by MIT and is recognised as a powerful coding tool for children. This isn’t a new application and it has been used from time to time in co curricular activities. There are also a great series of coding resources available via https://code.org/. Additionally apps such as Scratch Junior, Hopscotch and  Pyonkee etc. may all be employed. 

A number of teachers have had opportunities to attend training and development days in support of our program to integrate coding / robotics. Initially we will focus on block coding as a standard capability across the school. Here I must add that some teachers are already actively employing applications such as Minecraft and 3D printing as possibilities in their learning programs. Coding and robotics are also appearing and are being actively planned for. As planned we will run some open ended experiences using robotics and coding for the children. Here we hope to start to upskill both teachers and students in the more relaxed atmosphere of our end of year alternative education week. 

We have three essential ingredients which will drive change 

  • students who are inquisitive, intuitive and motivated
  • teachers who are innovative and prepared to take risks
  • leadership which is visionary, supportive and enabling

 
Above: Groups at work sorting EV3 kits and building base model robots.

Below: experimenting with drone programming using Tickle – fly a square.  

Bringing Computational Thinking Into Classrooms

  
One of the challenges for us has been how we can make what we are doing with technology and innovation a simple and natural part of what occurs in classrooms. We have certainly achieved this, in some considerable measure, via our 1:1 iPad program. In our learning environment iPads are, for the most part, a bit like a pencil case. They travel everywhere with students and they are pulled out for purposeful use as required.

Like many schools we have tended to hang things like robotics, coding, Minecraft, 3D printing on as side bits – extracurricular or co curricular. What we are really striving to see is classrooms filled with options naturally incorporating coding, robotics, Minecraft, 3D printing, circuits, recyclables, crafts etc – maker spaces which entice, inspire and enable.

So how do we hope to achieve our vision?

Firstly the vision is dependent on developing pedagogy to enable the learning environment. We are committing ourselves to fairly major shifts in thinking as we recognise that we need to be providing more authentic challenges, cross curricular project based learning, physical environments which change learning dynamics, making thinking visible and gaining insight through effective formative assessment, along with differentiation and more personalising learning opportunities. This is not to say that these are not in play already because they are occurring in varying degrees across our classrooms. The shift just needs to more universally enabled and embedded. The circumstances are right for us to pursue further change and our more innovative teachers are seeking opportunities to enhance their classroom and challenge their students. 

The plan below is dependent on two funding streams. The first allocation is towards professional development and the provision of release time so that teachers can explore and learn. The second funding stream is directed towards hardware and software acquisition.

The program would aim to:

  • Map learning activities associated with coding / robotics to Curriculum Outcomes
  • Provide students authentic learning opportunities using code / robotics 
  • Identify first order barriers to implementation in the classroom
  • Identify effective enablers for teachers and students
  • Consider ways to differentiate and personalise learning for students
  • Provide a roadmap for future development and improvement 
  • Engage and excite the school community about a STEM infused learning environment.
  • Measure the learning outcomes and engagement of students through empirical and anecdotal measures

Phase 1: Acquisition

Aim: To provide a broad understanding and provide teachers time to focus on an area of particular interest based on potential integration into learning programs.

A pilot group of teachers is identified (4 teachers – one teacher per year group). Provision of training and development e.g. Scratch, Tickle, Orbotix, Sphero, Lego Robotics, Xcode etc (we are actively exploring options).

Pilot/lead teacher(s) will be released to examine makers kits and rate them for suitability for different age groups – vendors to demonstrate their products. Teachers will choose from amongst the coding/robotics options the applications that they believe will have most application with the Stage 2 and Stage 3 class groups. 

We recognise that teachers may have a stronger connection or see greater potential with certain applications and this can be accommodated providing the teachers have a broad functional understanding of others. We are keen to see provision of diverse options for students in the longer term. It is expected that the pilot teachers would consider ways in which coding / robotics might be incorporated within existing learning programs.

Provision of 2 full days release per teacher.Provision of professional development resource personnel as required – providing specific training re coding and robotics. 

Phase 2: Implementation

Aim: To provide project based activities to engage and facilitate learning in a “Code Camp” – for students and teachers.

Pilot teachers develop a “Code Camp” series of lessons which target basic code and robotics skills and knowledge based on their experience in Phase 1. These will provide immersion opportunities for students and other teachers. Code Camp sessions would aim to provide for differentiated learning and would be run by the pilot group collaboratively with different class groups during our alternative activities week, which runs each year at the end of Term 4. Activities e.g. creation of a robotic dance, developing a solution to an authentic problem, or a solution to an authentic challenge. 
Provision of 4 days (one day per teacher) release time for pilot teachers to enable development of Code Camp activities etc. 

Evaluation of Code Camp Series. This will provide guidance to teachers for the development of programs that will leverage code / robotics in Term 1, 2016.

Phase 3: Application

Aim: To integrate Code / Robotics into learning programs and activities.

Participation of our students and teachers in external events / maker spaces e.g. Future Schools. Partnering with other schools etc.

Teachers work to integrate coding / robotics into one or more of their learning programs during the next three school terms. This may apply to Science and Maths specifically or may be a part of integrated Project Based Learning e.g. Challenge Based Learning, Problem Based Learning, Inquiry Based Learning etc. 

Enter groups in ICT Young Explorers 2016 and other learning challenges (Measure of success – if coding / robotics feature strongly as part of student work).

  

Update progress  to date: Stepping Out With Robotics and Coding | Learning Journey