Robotics, Game Design, & Coding Take Over STEM

The last two years have been marked in STEM by the emergence of robotics and coding as massively popular educational programs.

What an understatement, robotics, game programming, and coding haven’t just emerged, they have charged through the STEM landscape and pretty much stolen the show, upstaged all the other aspects of entire curriculum, and pretty much sucked the oxygen out of the room.

Just a few years, student gardens were all the rage and science teachers were studying the draft version of NGSS but now, it’s all about the robotics and coding.  Is it a good thing? It must be because there’s a resurgence of interest in science and its trendy in way. It’s great if you happen to think game programming, robotics, and coding are gateways to….well, general science curriculum and education.

I do wonder about the core curriculum, take for example,  Matter

STEM Education in Florida

There is so much interest in STEM in Florida, I thought it would be useful to start charting our the different players and approaches.  My focus in elementary and primary STEM and science education in Florida which by itself, is a huge them.

Let’s pick a region, say Palm Beach in South Florida.

First, there’s the Palm Beach Schools with their elementary science curriculum.  They have a grade by grade scope and sequence of the science program as well as information on the science standards and other resources such a robotics, field research, and science fairs.

There’s also a Palm Beach STEM Council made up of a range of interested parties.  Known as STEM PBC, it’s organized by the School Board and includes local STEM interested employers and local universities.  And I quote:

The Council is an alliance of private, public and non-profit sectors that works collaboratively to create and promote STEM education in Palm Beach County.

The purpose of the Palm Beach County STEM Education Council is to address pressing issues in STEM education and identify priority actions that need to be taken to enhance STEM education in Palm Beach County. The work of the council will drive the development and implementation of the Palm Beach County STEM strategic plan. The goal is to build a national model for STEM education and the collaboration of school districts, community partners, philanthropic organizations, and institutions of higher education.

MISSION: The Palm Beach County STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Council represents a unified voice advocating quality STEM education for all students in Palm Beach County. An alliance of public, private and non-profit sectors, the Council works collaboratively to create and promote a world-class approach to STEM education.

It has an impressive list of members. I notice that the leading national digital science program for kindergarent through second grade, Science4Us, which is local to Palm Beach, is not listed as a member. Hmmmmm

STEM Education Council Partners

 

Primary Science Added to Time4Learning

Time4Learning has beefed up their Kindergarten through third grade science offering for homeschooling by including the award winning Science4Us program for their users.

Here’s an example of the type of activities that it includes. This is one of their original science songs.

For more information on the Time4Learning science curriculum, here’s some info for first grade homeschool science.

 

 

Tech Careers: Does Elementary School Help

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In May 2015, Science4Us hosted 40 elementary school students from a Title 1 (100% of the kids at this school are free or reduced lunch) in their office to talk to them about careers. Careers for forty kids who basically live in a part of town where it’s pretty chaotic and planning for careers, for these kids, isn’t a dinner time converstation with the family. In most cases, there isn’t really a sit down dinner time or orderly conversation. Never mind much discussion about careers.

Title 1 Students Getting Career IdeasIt was quite an event.  It’s documented in some detail here an an article about the Dillard SuperCoders Explore High Tech Careers on the blog of the Mayor of VocabularySpellingCity

It look a lot of scheduling and logistics.  Think about it.

Forty kids leave school on a school bus with principal and full staff. Arrive at an office. Get split into five groups of 8 each with two guides: one from their school, one from the staff of the office that they are visiting. Tney are moved among five different centers each of which has them for 20 minutes. There are snack and toilet breaks. Each center has a fullly appropriate set of activities and agenda to expose the kids to career ideas.

Here’s my questions.

Is this sort of big effort worth it?  Did anything change for these kids? Did anything change for any of those kids?  Did it affect the adults in a positive meaningful way?

My thoughts:
Did it affect the adults in a positive meaningful way? The answer here is definitely yes. It shows the company that they can make an effort to reach out and share some vision of the possibilities to kids to whom it makes an impression.

Did anything change for these kids? Did anything change for any of those kids?  Here the answer is yes and no.  The event successfully “met the kids where they are at.”  It spoke to their level of understanding and knowledge and was intended to give them some specific examples of what they can aspire to. For those who are artsy, it showed specific reasonable careers that they can get to. It highlighted that there are lots of support job but that writing and verbal skills really matter. For the technical ones, it made coding look a lot clearer.

If it is continued, year after year, the message and possibilities will get through. It’s about continuity, not single flybys

 

Relevance of Innovation – Standardized Tests and Learning Frameworks

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This information is part of hte support for a S4U grant request solicited by the Dept of Education

All states are required to include a science assessment in each of the three-year elementary grade bands (NCLB, 2001). Current amendments to the ESEA heighten the demand for increasing science achievement and preparedness by focusing attention on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education. The focus on science is further reinforced by allowing states to include science achievement as part of their accountability systems and proposing modifications to state assessments to “measure students’ complex problem-solving and analytical skills” (PCAST, 2010). Within this framework of heightened focus on science education, S4U provides not only a standards-based curriculum and research-based best-practices model, but also embedded online teacher science content and instructional model (5E) training and offline teacher/parent support. By catering to STEM objectives and 21st century learners’ needs, S4U enables both teachers and students to reach the goals set forth by these federally mandated initiatives.

S4U specifically addresses the need for an innovative, flexible, and cost-effective science curriculum driven by both the inclusion of science on high stakes assessments and the movement toward computer-based testing. Many online, virtual models are used across the nation, with assessments embedded in online curricula. Nationally, more than half of the U.S. (27 states) have piloted online tests for statewide or end-of-course exams (Quellmalz & Pellegrino, 2009). Similarly, portions of the NAEP assessment are computer-based (Sandene et at., 2005). The movement to computer-based assessments in K-12 education is here and early exposure to online evaluations as casual, non threatening interactions seems essential.
The digital curriculum and assessment models offer another discrete advantage to educators. As standards change, online models, such as S4U are able to evolve and adapt in real-time, incorporating new standards much more quickly than traditional text approaches. In the near future, science classrooms may be held accountable for the Next Generation National Science Standards based on the NRC Conceptual Framework for the New Science Education Standards (2011). New print texts designed to align with fluctuating state and national standards will have more trouble keeping pace with the need for current curricula. Electronically deliverable student content and professional development components offer a solution to the problem of providing an efficient, cost-effective implementation of new standards, within a real-time transition. Science4Us is poised to offer these solutions to schools.

Proposal to Improve Basic Science Education

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Elementary students are currently not prepared to handle complex science concepts. The 2009 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate that more than half (66%) of fourth grade students perform below proficient level on the science assessment (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Duschl et al. (2007) state that too little commitment to or enthusiasm for science exists and that students are exposed to too many facts and not enough experiences to help them understand processes and big ideas. Although studies have shown that not only are young children able to perform abstract reasoning (Warren, 2005), but that they are developmentally ready for the complex ideas and relationships that make up scientific inquiry and the nature of science (Akerson & Donnelly, 2010).
The S4U curriculum addresses the issues presented by Duschel et al. (2007) by providing an inquiry-based online adaptation of the 5E Instructional Model. The S4U modules include interactive serious games for engagement, simulations to promote critical higher order thinking skills, teacher and parent curriculum support materials, embedded professional development, an effective scope and sequence, and a student portfolio/learning management system. S4U’s design is guided by two overarching principles: one is educational effectiveness for both students and teachers, the second is commercial success.

Here’s more reading on the efficacy and research related to S4U:

 

Science4Us as a Literacy Supplement

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The Science4Us positioning has a few background articles you might want to read:

The future of our economy and our students’ careers is dependent on improving our students’ science education. The decades of ongoing weakness can be traced to a constant problem: the schools fail to deliver a strong science foundation in the earliest grades. This creates an educational deficit which requires remediation later on and perhaps more significantly, it fails to captivate students’ interest in the formative stage when many will decide what careers they will pursue. Science4Us, a K-2nd core science curriculum, was developed to address this weakness including the issues associated with empowering early elementary teachers to deliver exemplary science education despite them being generalists with limited comfort with teaching science.

The development goal of Science4Us is to address an additional challenge, an effective science education can only be delivered if the schools and teachers commit time to it. Today, and for the foreseable future (next half decade), the focus of elementary schools is on the highly challenging and highly measured implementation of the Common Core. However, since cross cutting curriculum is a best practice as defined both by CCSS & NGSS, this is an opportuntiy. The development goal is to research and integrate the elements for a CCSS-aligned literacy supplement into S4U so that time will be won for science education since S4U will be an effective literacy supplement.

 

US Elementary Education

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It seems that the emphasis on building core skills in US public schools has a cost.  Schools have committed themselves hard to making reading and basic math an area of competency which means they have doubled up on intense instruction. Seems like a good idea. But….

What have they dropped?  Recess, art, music, science, and social studies.

Does that matter? I’d like to focus on science. and the naswer is OF COURSE IT MATTERS. It’s a well documented fact that many students pick an area of interest in early elementary school which they pursue for a lifetime in one form or another.  If students only get a rudimentary exposure to science, there will be less interest and career pursuit of science.

How to get more students studying science and more teachers teaching elementary science? I’d suggest that what they need is a really good science program such as  Science4Us.  A Finalist for a 2014 DAA  Whole Curriculum Package for Science, it focuses on the earliest grades:

REVERE DAA FinalistREVERE DAA Finalist

Middle and High School Science

I’m diverging from my series on coding to do a quick review of what a middle school science program looks like. I’m basing this on the Time4Learning Program which is well described on their website:

Middle School Online Science Courses: Overall it’s very impressive use of interactive multimedia. The courses are, while amusing, indepth and not watered down. They have references to labs but I haven’t really figured out how that’s handled.

  • Earth/Space Middle School Homeschool Science Course:  Middle school earth and space science teaches students about Earth’s structure, geologic processes, plate tectonics, oceans and the water cycle, Earth’s atmosphere, weather and climate, our solar system, stars, and galaxies. Students also investigate how the motions of the sun, the moon, and Earth create days, seasons, years, eclipses, phases of the moon, and tides.
  • Homeschool MIddle School Life Science Online Program : Life Science includes materials covering the characteristics of living things, plant and animal cell structures, the characteristics of unicellular and multicellular life, genetics, classification of organisms, the structure and function of human cells tissues organs and organ systems, and the structure and function of plants. 
  • Homeschool Secular Physical Science Online Course: Physical Science includes materials covering chemistry and physics, including physical and chemical changes, atoms and elements, mixtures and solutions, the periodic table, states of matter, motion, gravity, density and buoyancy, energy, heat, the properties of waves, and light.
  • Middle School Homeschool Inquiry-based Nature Of Science – The Science of Nature materials are supplemental, recommended for use alongside the Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth/Space Science courses. It will be included when parents register for any middle school science course. Nature of science teaches students how to safely and correctly use scientific equipment, take measurements, conduct experiments and investigations, collect and analyze data, draw conclusions, evaluate evidence, and present their work to others.

Next week, I’ll look at their high school program….

Where does computer programming and science start?

I’ve seen lots of recent games which claim to be teaching programming and computer skills.  I’d like to see a more indepth analysis of them.

For instance, KODABLE. It’s a cute iPad app which is a series of puzzles. The answer to the puzzles is to give a set of instructions to the game on how to proceed. It starts about a half step away from telling it what to do since the instructions are entered slightly differently and sooner than if you you were just navigating.  And the need for complexity and conditions around the instructions slowly grows.  The instructions are primarily icons, there’s no semantics. (BTW, I played in a few months ago so I could be confusing it with another which is one reason that I’m not linking across at this point until I recheck it). The game is aimed at the first half of elementary school. Does this type of game help students develop logic and a feel for the programming process? It seems like it should or at least could.  Anyone know of any studies one way or the other? 

I think hopscotch is in the same vein. 
I’m asking because I’m about to start a study to see what my online homeschool program should do about teaching programming to students and we’d like to have solutions for K-12 or at least:elementary, middle and high school.

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