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Preview of Sessions: FutureNOW! Conference at Design39

March 21, 2015 Leave a comment

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We are excited to release the preview of sessions for the FutureNOW! Conference @Design39Campus on Saturday, May, 2nd. We have an incredible lineup of amazing educators sharing innovative practices on topics like Design Thinking, Growth Mindset, Technology and more. Take a sneak peak and we hope to see you in May. Please register soon as we expect this conference will reach capacity.

New Hashtag: #codeK12

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

It was a few years ago when I said the next foreign language in K12 education was going to be programming languages. There is no question that Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin are languages to learn in the future, but the ability to speak the language of computers deserves the same attention. Recently, I attended the California STEM Symposium, where code.org CEO Hadi Partovi highlighted the $500 billion opportunity in jobs and that less than 2.4% of college students graduate with a degree in computer science (https://code.org/promote). Moreover, he also mentioned that only 1 out 10 schools offer some form of programming classes. It is clearly evident that K12 education is not aligned with the industry demands of coding professionals.

While the keynote left many of us asking more questions, it left me rejuvenated to keep pushing the need for coding in K12 education. One of the ways we can join together is through connecting the educational community around the topic to begin sharing, questioning, and promoting the coding movement. In my search in Twitterverse, I couldn’t find a hashtag that brought the K12 community around the topic of computer science and coding. I figured the first step was to start a hashtag called #codeK12 to begin the conversation. I look forward to connecting with the K12 coding pioneers there…And if there is another hashtag that already exists, that is awesome and I will gladly join that conversation stream.

STEaM: Engineering Design Process in the Context of K12 Education

April 10, 2012 1 comment

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

  • Asking the right questions
  • Socratic seminars
  • Divergent thinking
  • Challenge-based learning
  • Putting topics and content in context

Step 2: Imagine to Step 3: Plan

  • Discovery learning
  • Convergent thinking
  • Formulate of the problem
  • Design multiple paths to the answer

Step 3: Plan to Step 4: Create

  • Theory into Application
  • Blended approaches to learning
  • 21st century skills practice
  • Project-based learning

Step 4: Create to Step 5: Improve

  • Evaluation and analysis
  • Self-reflection
  • Trial-and-error learning
  • Portfolio-based assessment

Step 5: Improve and Beyond

  • Reaching the mountain top (sharing successes)
  • Innovation
  • Reaching a higher level of Step 1: Ask (asking a better question)
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