Programming and robotics seem to be the new, hip thing in today’s classroom. STEM concepts are being taught from elementary school, sometimes alongside core topics like English and Math. But why is teaching STEM topics to young kids so popular? How useful could it possibly be? (It’s not like the average person interacts with robots all day)
I’ll take you through my morning just to show you how silly this fad is!
First things first, I got up and brushed my teeth. My toothpaste tube was nearly empty, so I pulled out my phone and ordered a new one on Amazon with one click.
The Four C’s have created quite a buzz in the last few years in education. The four C’s consist of Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication. Each has a very unique and powerful aspect, and some might say that one is more important than another. We will discover each of the four C’s and why teaching the 4 C’s is important to prepare our students for the 21st century workforce.
Let’s take an example in a Math class. For so long Math has been taught in a way to give a strict question and have the student come up with one answer. There are very specific 1, 2, 3 steps and a rigid guide on how-to. The first C represents the opposite of this, which is Creativity - thinking outside of the box. Being inspired to come up with more than one solution to a problem which allows students to approach it in multiple perspectives.
Dr. Keith Devlin (the NPR Math Guy and Stanford Mathematician) believes that anyone can become proficient in math if it is taught in a way that makes it relevant to them, and a perfect way to teach math to middle-school kids is with video games. He’s putting his money where his mouth is by starting his own video game company, InnerTube Games. According to InnerTube Games, the company doesn’t just build video games to teach mathematics, instead they build ‘instruments’ which are designed to be played; and playing with these instruments teaches the players mathematics. A bit like learning about music while playing the piano.
Wuzzit Trouble, the first game developed by InnerTube games, came out late last year. Wuzzits are imaginary little beings that look like tailless squirrels with a proclivity for getting trapped in cages in dark castles. It’s up to the player to get them out of these cages with keys found by answering puzzles. That’s one level of the game. At another level the game is a device for acquainting kids with the mathematical concept of integer partitions. Integer partitions are whole numbers expressed as a sum of other whole numbers. The whole number 4, for example can be expressed in five different ways: 4, 2+2, 3+1, 2+1+1 and 1+1+1+1.
I’ve never thought of Vermont as “poor and rural” inspite of the image I had of it as nothing but forests and maple syrup farms--or whatever they call them ... maple groves, maybe? So I was surprised to read about one school superintendent’s difficulty in upgrading the public schools in his district: Ned Kirsch, superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union (FWSU) in the small town of Georgia, Vt., population 4300.
He says that upon his arrival in Georgia, he was pleased with the schools that he found. The problems in the schools were not with the “hard-working teachers, committed administrators, and 2,000 excited students;” instead, those excited students needed a connection to the technological world outside Northern Vermont.
This book, Playing to Win: Gamification and Serious Games in Organizational Learning by ASTD Research, claims to be the result of rigorous research into the value of gamification as an aid to learning. Gamification, for those of you for whom the word isn’t instantly definable, is the use of games in a non-game context to engage and encourage users to solve problems. It's a new paradigm in learning made more possible by recent technological advancements.
The book’s author, ASTD Research, is introduced by Wikipedia as “The Association for Talent Development (ATD), formerly American Society for Training & Development (ASTD)... a non-profit association for workplace learning and performance professionals.” It was formed in 1944. On its website ASTD claims the following for its research: “... an empirical foundation for today's data-driven decision-makers, containing both quantitative and qualitative analysis about organizational learning, human capital management, training, and performance.”
Oakland CA schools have a problem trying to teach their academically diverse student body. Kilian Betlach, the principal of Oakland’s Elmhurst Community Prep says that while one third of Elmhurst’s kids are at grade level in reading and math, the remaining two thirds are from one to four years behind. No doubt Principal Betlach’s school shares the same problem with many inner-city, high-poverty middle schools.
The question of how best to address this problem is complicated by lack of staff and lack of funds -- another common problem with inner-city schools. With too few teachers, how can they keep the slower learners from falling farther behind without denying faster learners the time they deserve and thereby cheating them all of a decent education? Unfortunately the answer to this problem is not to be found in the old factory model of education most of us grew up with.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, but after three months off in the summer most kids return in September at a lower learning level than when they departed: A whole month behind, according to Catherine Augustine a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation who has studied summer learning loss. Apparently a majority of children come back behind in math, whereas fewer are left behind in reading. This step backward is most obvious with children in low income neighborhoods where they might have less access to libraries and books in the home.
Over the years educators have promoted various changes in the educational system they thought might go a long way toward cutting back this deficit. School year-round was one idea; a marginally longer school year was another. The year-round idea apparently wasn’t anywhere near as effective as its proponents had hoped: studies still showed a deficit of one month or so at the beginning of the next year. It didn’t make much sense fiscally, and it surely ruined a lot of family summer vacations. Extending the school year made better financial sense but didn’t work all that well in some countries that had tried it, and Canadian schools showed better than the U.S. on the tests while only holding the kids in for three more days during the year.
We’ve all heard the old saw “the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I can’t say I put much stock in that one, but I’ve heard that the “quickest way to get a kid’s interest is with an ice cream cone” -- I believe that one based on my own experience an impossibly long time ago.
Therefore it didn’t surprise me at all to hear that the fine institution of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was experimenting with producing ice cream with a 3D printer in hope of drawing kids' interest to the technology. It apparently started one semester when Professor John Hart’s class in additive manufacturing printed 600 ice cream spoons. Additive manufacturing, by the way, is considered by many including President Obama to be the new revolution in manufacturing. Instead of forming things in molds or by punching, pressing and whittling them down on tool and die machines, additive manufacturing builds things up nature's way, one layer at a time.
Kaplan, Inc., the global education company and largest subsidiary of the Graham Holdings Company (NYSE: GHC), and Techstars, the global startup accelerator, announced today the 12 education-technology startups selected to participate in the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by Techstars, their three-month immersive mentorship and business development program beginning today in New York City.
When computers first burst into the classroom back in the late eighties and nineties, most teachers were nonplussed by a new technology they had hardly been aware of, much less trained for. They stared at these new machines and wondered what were they supposed to do with them. A lifetime of teaching couldn’t provide them with a clue and what they were hearing from their administrators only added to the confusion. As a result some retired rather than deal with the newfangled things and some simply set them on their desks and ignored them.
The majority, thankfully, buckled down and decided to find out how these things worked and how they could be made to serve their students. Of course one of the first things they discovered was that the students either already knew how to use the darn things or were capable of learning to use them faster than their teachers … and teachers are still playing catch up with their students with each new technological arrival.