STEaM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, is not simply a list of subjects that are to be taught, but more of an educational approach to teaching and learning. Although there are several models of implementing a STEaM program, we have developed a model based around the Engineering Design Process (EDP). Although the EDP is typically used in the professional field, we have formatted the process in the context of K12 education.
The Engineering Design Process is a five step cycle where teachers create an inquiry-based learning environment that stimulates students to learn through questioning and doing. The five steps are the following: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create and Improve. Within each of those steps, and transitions, there are teaching and learning strategies that help facilitate the process. Below describes the cycle in the context of K12 STEaM education.
Although the first step in the cycle is to ask the right questions before beginning any process, teachers often begin with step 3, the Plan. In K12 education, it is not uncommon to teach with the “plan” as the focus, and inadvertently bypass two important steps of what are we trying to do/learn, and giving students opportunities to imagine the topic/problem in question. When one skip steps 1 and 2, what often occurs is that teachers give away what we call the “formula” or “step-by-step” plans of solving problems. While understanding the steps are important skills, it is only one part of the process of learning. Students who are simply given the formula in the book are fixated on how to systematically solve an equation and not taught how to truly problem solve. Instead of developing critical thinking skills, the unfortunate outcome is that students are taught to memorize steps and practice rote techniques.
|Dan Meyer (http://perplexity.mrmeyer.com/) is a teacher who models how to engage students in math before jumping to the formula in the textbook. He offers several examples in how to introduce math concepts by allowing the students to ask the right questions, allow opportunities to imagine and formulate the problem (without giving it to the students), and leveraging multimedia tools to enhance the experience.|
The first step in a solid STEaM program is to build a curriculum established on asking the right questions. Fundamentally, we are trying to provide insight on common questions found in STEaM studies, such as “why am I learning math?” And if you are in middle school math or above, why am I studying Algebra? It is important to build curriculum that puts Algebra or other mathematical concepts in context of real-world applications. In helping guide those questions, a well-thought out socratic seminar will put the context around Step 3 (Plan) and give opportunities for divergent thoughts around the same topic.
It is in Step 2 (Imagine), that teachers give students opportunities to ask questions that will guide them to formulate the problem that needs to be solved. In this context, students are discovering the learning, and not given the answer. Strategically, a teacher will guide the questions and divergent thoughts into converging ideas, ultimately leading to Step 3, the Plan. The work and effort to get to Step 3 gives students the foundations and context of the formula, rather than searching for the formula in the textbook.
|Step 3 Differentiated: Using Blended Approaches
To provide more personalized instructional approaches to learning, a blended learning model can help facilitate Step 3 in a more efficient manner.
The first 3 steps of the Engineering Design Process remain in the theoretical framework of learning. In order to provide experiential opportunities, a well-rounded STEaM program will need to integrate the application layers of the model, which are Steps 4 (Create), and Steps 5 (Improve). Once students have established theoretical proficiency of content, teachers can elevate the learning experience by introducing project-based activities around the content. It is in Step 4 that students experience STEaM in its fullest by providing opportunities to transform the theory into practical hands-on experiences. In this level, students are building, designing, creating, and experimenting with the content in ways textbooks could never provide. It is important to develop a strong project-based curriculum that strategically brings together the theoretical frameworks into practical design applications.
The last step of the Engineering Design Process is giving students opportunities to improve upon their creation. In a test taking culture, we often create an environment of a pass-fail mentality. Step five is the opposite of that mentality, where failure is looked upon as an opportunity to improve the design. The ideal EDP fosters a culture of trial-and-error and that improvement is a sign of self-direction and evaluation. When students are in the improvement level, rubrics and portfolio-based assessments help guide the evaluation process. If designed correctly, students would be documenting the process right from the beginning in a portfolio that can be referenced, improved, and edited along the way.
The culmination of the Engineering Design Process can lead to three desired outcomes for any given topic. The first outcome is referencing back to the original question that the project asked and determining if it was appropriately addressed. The second outcome is determining that the original question was just the beginning, and that one has to ask a higher level of questions to get to the desired outcome; therefore going through the EDP again. The last outcome is what engineers call innovation, the creation of something new that addresses a problem. In K12 education, an important last step of the EDP process is providing students a platform called Mountain Top to share all their hard work, no matter the outcome. The Mountain Top can present itself in many forms, such as digital portfolios, competitions, debates, showcases, science fairs, videos, and more.
|Big Ideas Around the Engineering Design Process
Step 1: Ask to Step 2: Imagine
Step 2: Imagine to Step 3: Plan
Step 3: Plan to Step 4: Create
Step 4: Create to Step 5: Improve
Step 5: Improve and Beyond
The buzz word around education is “blended learning,” and how it can potentially transform the way instruction is being delivered, created, and assessed. According to Quality International Research definition, blended learning is a “flexible approach that combines face-to-face teaching/learning with remote (usually internet-based) learning.” While many will argue that this concept is not knew, the landscape that web-based learning is developing is definitely in a new phase.
The rapid development of educational software is providing teachers access to digital content in a new interactive way. While the teacher remains as the core of the blended learning model, the hope of blended learning is that the technology will enable teachers to efficiently personalize instruction for each student. The goal of these tools is to provide teachers real-time data, differentiated instruction paced for each individual, and deliver various methods of curriculum interaction. The success of the blended model has strong dependance of the tools available for teachers.
There are several technologies that are being developed to support this model. Unless you are building your own internal tools, below are the technologies and example companies who are developing in this area:
- Learning Management Systems (LMS) – Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Haiku, Sakai, Canvas, and BrainHoney
- Student Information Systems (SIS) – PowerSchool, Genesis, eSchoolPlus, Zangle, BlackBaud and Focus SIS
- Content & Instruction Providers – Apex, e2020, K12 Inc., Aleks, Learn360, Khan Academy, Compass Learning and DreamBox
- Data Assessment Systems (DAS) – Data Director, EduSoft, Illuminate, NWEA, CoreK12, D2SC, Link It and SchoolNet
- Communication & Collaboration Tools – Google Apps for Edu, Microsoft Live 365, Zoho, Wikis, Skype, GoToMeeting and Edmodo
And in near future, there will be a host of companies developing products that will provide Data Aggregation, Teacher Dashboard & Reporting, Infrastructure Systems Integration, and Predictive Analytics.
As one can see above, there is a heavy dependance of the development of these technologies to power our blended classrooms. The teacher ultimately drives the blended classroom, but these technologies provide the tools that will bring it all together.
As blended learning continues to evolve as an educational approach, technologists and educators have to keep a close eye on the industry that will support it. And as more and more companies develop products, there will be a growing need to be critical on who will survive to truly support our classrooms. Let the product wars begin…
Below is a list of several reports and articles for the edtech community that I highly recommend reading. Most link to pdf documents.
- Horizon Report 2011
- The Rise of K12 Blended Learning
- AUP in a Web 2.0 and Mobile Era
- Children and Electronic Media
- Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year Olds
- Managing Learning: Next Generation Learning Systems
- The MILE Guide
- Understanding Projects in PBL: A Student’s Perspective
- PBS Technology Integration
- Learning in the 21st Century: Taking it Mobile
- National Education Technology Plan
I am currently trying to wrap my head around the blended learning model that is becoming well known in the education reform sector. As school budgets continue to decrease, the blended learning model has offered an innovative way to run operations at a lower cost without sacrificing academic rigor. The concept is based on a framework where students learn from both traditional face-to-face formats, and individualized adaptive technology learning lab environments. With this model, schools build schedules that places students in block where they meet with teachers regularly while also spending portions of their day on a 1:1 computer laboratory environment without a teacher. John Danner, founder of Rocketship is well known for this new hybrid model and he talks about it on EdReformer. My next goal is to explore deeper in how these schools function daily both operationally and academically. I am looking to answer the following questions:
- What type of technology infrastructure will it take?
- How much does a customized learning management system cost annually?
- What academic technologies are being used?
- How effective are these adaptive data-informed learning management systems?
- What kind of technical staffing is required? What does the lab staff look like?
- How do we build trust and rigor in these new learning labs without teachers?
- What components of web 2.0, collaboration and project-based learning is involved in the learning labs?
- How do teachers connect the learning labs with the regular classroom?
- What kind of access do parents and greater community have with the learning lab and LMS?
- What does professional development look like with hybrid schools?
- How is digital citizenship taught and how do we maintain academic rigor in online environments?