Tag Archives: stem

STEAM/STEM Core Skills

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Developing STEM and STEAM programs (Science Technology Engineering/Art Mathematics) is very exciting, but I have noticed recently there is a lack of cohesive standards to measure progress.

Like many people, I am working on building a set of standards. Some are customized, and some are licensed.

In my research, and through various networking engagements, I have settled on a set of core skills that need to be incorporated throughout the STEAM environment. The standards are being built around these skills.

I have found more engagement among students if the skills are presented first. The skills tend to fuel the desire for hands on work. I also want students to not focus on grades and common rubric models. I want them to focus on creating and going through the design process.

These skills have been developed by the MIT FabLab Program. The FabLab has been operating for well over a decade, and many FabLab partners have developed programs for younger students as well.

The overall philosophy is to learn the skills at every level, but increase the difficulty and complexity within the projects as students gain experience.

The List

DIGITAL FABRICATION PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES
COMPUTER-AIDED DESIGN, MANUFACTURING, AND MODELING
COMPUTER-CONTROLLED CUTTING / Drawing
ELECTRONICS DESIGN AND PRODUCTION
COMPUTER-CONTROLLED MACHINING
EMBEDDED PROGRAMMING
3D MOLDING AND CASTING
COLLABORATIVE TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT
3D SCANNING AND PRINTING
SENSORS, ACTUATORS, AND DISPLAYS
INTERFACE AND APPLICATION PROGRAMMING
EMBEDDED NETWORKING AND COMMUNICATIONS
MACHINE DESIGN
DIGITAL FABRICATION APPLICATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
INVENTION, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, AND BUSINESS MODELS
DIGITAL FABRICATION PROJECT DEVELOPMENT

Looking at this list, it might seem impossible to imagine a Grade 3 or even Grade 8 students accomplishing these in a meaningful way. I would argue that all are achievable at least at the planning and design thinking stage. Most of these are achievable with the correct level or equipment and/or some creative outsourcing.

The Game

Gamification has been a buzzword at conferences for some time. I have finally found an fairly universal way to “gamify” the list and formally track progress.

As students learn a core skill at different levels, their progress as a class or individual can be color coded.

Sample Using Colors

For better analysis, the color bands can also connect to numeric values. There are many ways to approach tracking. Even curriculum mapping systems can do this.

The best part about this structure, is each school can decide what their levels mean for their students.

I look at this as age independent. It is very possible for a grade 5 student to be a beginner in many skills, and have completed others at a level. It is also very likely that many older students who have never attempted STEAM topics, would fine they can quickly master Levels 1-3, while struggling with the final two levels.

As a student, I would like to see this type of grid and work towards being in the all green club :).

As a teacher, I would like to have students be all green, and after the smiles settle, add Level 6.

If you are inclined, share how you are measuring STEAM and STEM skills or standards. You can do this in the comments, or email me directly. I will post all ideas and give you full credit. ~ tony.deprato@gmail.com

Inverse Relationships: Project Based Subjects and Class Size

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A classroom containing 18–24 students appears to be the ideal number. Anything less and you lose the unique excitement that comes from a critical mass of engaged students. ~A Commentary and Review of Malcom Gladwell’s research on small class sizes; David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

The Hattie Research

I was introduced to Visible Learning by John Hattie   a few years ago. After studying the data, and doing a course that focused on the data, I was forced to reflect on my beliefs and practices as an educator.

As an IT professional that actually uses meta data to make decisions, I knew the power of data about data.

I think the one point that must be made is that the data and analysis used by Hattie is what is known as long-tail data. Hattie did not find a “smoking gun” or a “big reveal”. He found a collection of things, that when working in combination, make a difference in learning out comes.

This data, when studied, must be studied as a collection. Focusing on a single point, and believing doing “that one thing” will make a difference, is a mistake.

The Hattie data can be viewed here. 

The following image focuses on the areas addressed in this post.

 

The Class Size Issue in Project Based Subjects

The relationship between class size and project based subjects is inverse compared to studies that look at traditional courses where instruction is rote, and the differentiation needs to be very focused.

Of the top 22 Hattie indicators, 10 connect directly to courses that at project based:

  • Self Report Grades
  • Piagetian Programs
  • Response to Intervention
  • Cognitive Task Analysis
  • Classroom Discussion
  • Teacher Clarity (Students Questioning Teacher Instruction)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (6 Facets of Understanding)
  • Feedback
  • Formative Evaluation
  • Self Questioning

Class size has been a central focus in nearly every school improvement plan I have been connect with. In fact, I recently helped build a schedule that was nearly solely dictated by class size.

As some one who solely works in project based subjects, team driven contests, and peer reviewed assessment I can attest that small classes are detrimental to learning in these environments.

When a class falls below 12 students, the student input, instances of serendipitous discoveries, the diversity of teams, and the needed conflict to fuel trial and error scenarios  all diminish. To be clear: the class becomes boring and stagnant.

Students need to be formed and re-formed into teams and groups in a project based environment. They need variety of opinion. They need to take the lead and be the teacher; they need to lead their peers; and they need their peers to explain “what went wrong” when failure happens. And failure will happen more often than trophies are presented.

If a class size is too small, this process (learning spiral) becomes repetitive and predictable. In my experience, small classes can be a stimulus for groupthink.

As a teacher, I can entertain and keep the energy going. As a believer in a student-centered environment where there is no “front of the room”, being the center of attention undermines that belief.

Successful Projects are Busy and Messy

I recently visited three MIT powered Fablabs. All the labs were busy, messy, and had learners ranging in age from 16-60.

These people were working on entrepreneurial projects, or science projects. The work is difficult at every turn, and the skills are interdisciplinary. In fact, I doubt it is possible for a single person to do their entire project alone. There is collaboration, and exchange of work and ideas, and a general consensus that failure is going to be very common.

These labs run programs and open work days based on simple metrics:

  1. The capacity of the room
  2. The availability of the staff/instructors to help people with specialized equipment

They do not balance sessions to keep the number of people to an optimal level of learning, because they know that having a variety of people means having a variety of talents and ideas.

Project based subjects are not about giving everyone an opinion or platform for an idea. These subjects revolve around taking an idea and making it a reality. Students not only have a variety of known talents, they also have a hidden talents.

Engaging students with a group of people they may not socialize with; allowing them to team up to offset each other’s weaknesses; and scaffolding peer/self criticism into every project is the secret to unlocking a students potential. New potential will lead students to see new opportunities.

Creating opportunity for students should always supersede creating small classes for the sake of creating small classes.

 

 

A CONTINUUM OF LEARNING

download1By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

School administrators are often faced with complex decisions about curriculum, assessment, and the oversight of both. There is a myopic condition that can occur as conversations lead people into a spiral of good intentions full of false understanding. This condition is the belief that learning is a one-to-one relationship, and that content is related to a course or single field of study. The truth is learning, real learning, is a one-to-many relationship where content can connect to an unpredictable number of areas if it is allowed to develop organically and time as a constant is removed.

Understanding One-to-Many Relationships

A one-to-many relationship is often used in database development. It is normally defined as a situation where an element of A may be linked to many elements of B, but a member of B is linked to only one element of A. For instance, think of A as mothers, and B as children. A mother can have several children, but a child can have only one mother.[1]

In terms of education and learning, a one-to-many relationship is created when something learned in one context becomes relevant in another context. For example, a student in a math course learns about sample size. Then when they are working on a psychology research paper they apply that concept to their survey initiatives. I used math and psychology as examples because I have often spoken with students who enjoy psychology, but claim they are not skilled in math. Flipping the relationship, if students studied sample size mathematics in psychology I wonder if they would feel the same about their computational abilities?

Unlike the database model, there is no real restriction on the relationships between knowledge. An idea (a child) can form new paths and ideas and become a parent.

Supporting the Unpredictable

As administrators debate, decide, and set policy they should consider that the best outcomes are often unpredictable. The history of invention has taught the human race this lesson, yet we seem to constantly try to create outcomes instead of observing what is happening without constant intervention.

The only true way for students to experience one-to-many relationships is to set guidelines for teachers that stress a continuum of learning around a single topic. Most topics have many layers, and as students spiral through the topic they can experience connections to other topics.

The concept of mastery becomes a single question: Have I gone as far as I can go?

Each time a student re-enters the topic they move closer and closer to the answer to that question. They may never reach the end, but they will reach a satisfactory point where they can justify saying, “For now, I am finished.”

download

Supporting this type of learning is difficult. It requires the administration to discourage small unit based learning and timed slices of activities. School leadership also has to set policies and procedures that allow students to constantly revise and revisit previous projects and topics for additional credit and potential accolades.

From the top level down to the classroom, many aspects of daily life must change to accommodate the organic nature of a continuum of learning. One barrier many students face is an appointed single subject resource. Textbooks, websites, and other pre-selected and filtered materials box students into silo of information. Inside of a silo, they may not see connections to other ideas, and students may dislike the format(s). Department leaders need to be required, not requested, to diversify the options to allow students some choice in the formal materials required to meet the curriculum requirements.

One might think the internet allows for unlimited access to learning. Unfortunately unstructured materials are just as bad as a limited materials. Teachers are subject experts, and they need to help students make smart choices. Having diversity in resources, does not omit the need for standards.

As a computer science teacher I would often have three to four textbooks students could use. I did not set units of work with books, I set projects that I knew could be supported with all the books. Each book was structured differently and had an appeal to different students. Never forget, the medium is the message.[1]

Large scale change to improve learning does not require administrators to sit in a room and write dozens of standards. Developing core concepts that people can understand and support creates a mission everyone can support. And ‘people’, must include students.

When you push students towards an endless formative outcome, the stress and pressure are as real as preparing for an all encompassing summative assessment. The only difference is the student(s) will work until they find the end, and not stop because someone has told them the end is now.

I had a STREAME(L)

I had a STEM, I mean STEAM, I mean STREAM, oh heck, I mean STREAME(L). It’s what happens when innovation meets institutions. We come up with catchy phrases and then glom everything onto it so it’s impossible to figure out (Read: global citizen).

Science
Technology
Reading
Engineering
Arts
Mathematics
Exercise
Languages

Yes, it was a good move to integrate the arts into the hard sciences. It gave STEM more complexity and makes it sound less “sputniky” and more “21st century(ee). (For you youngins, Sputnik was Russian launching of Earth’s first satellite in 1957 that catapulted America into the space race and gave birth to a generation of engineers and scientists). So, we have evolved to some extent from guys with tape in the middle of their glasses to girls coding with their MacBook Air.

Having said that, schools are still missing the point. Doing more stuff isn’t innovation, it’s annihilation. Of your teachers, your resources, and your time. When are we going to start doing things differently? Is anyone eliminating their science programs altogether and creating a new STEAM platform? Of course not, we’re hiring a coordinator and hoping that he or she can catch up and integrate it into a jam packed IB curriculum (and don’t you dare let those scores drop).

The best schools in the world are creating separate R&D branches that allow the time and space for prototyping STEAM and other initiatives (before they lose steam). It’s a bold move for those with the time and resources to do so. It’s bold because it speaks not only to program development but the entire scope of how we do business, not just creating new positions that will eventually be cut or turned into something else.

But how to integrate those ideas into fixed, existing structures built on high risk/reward (getting high paying clients into the best colleges) is not something for the faint of heart. And in a leadership culture where int’l heads tend to move on average every three years before innovation can take root, therein lies an endemic roadblock to change.

So, it’s not about STEM or STEAM, STREAM, or my favorite STREAME(L). It’s not about institutional fixes (i.e. creating positions) to complex institutional problems. It’s about what the best athletes in the world can do, and that is to slow down the game so that they can see it unfolding before them, then making the move.

Hey, what do you want from me? Nobody Said It Was Easy!