STEAM Innovation

For the past four years I’ve helped to produce the South Fayette STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. This year’s two week set of workshops were extremely well received by educators and students who attended. Close to 98% of the participants gave a 4 or 5 to the workshop instructors and 99% for the organization of the sessions. Here’s a quick look at just five of the fifteen workshops that happened with quotations from the participants:

Python

Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation for the South Fayette School District and the Coordinator for the Summer Institute, gathered together a team of South Fayette students to co-teach a four-day workshop. The students worked with Carnegie Mellon University graduate and faculty members to develop a course for 8th grade students. The summer workshop provided an opportunity not only for the students to teach, but also for other students to test out the course along with several teachers from around the Pittsburgh region. The course includes a variety of activities that incorporate the Finch robot as part of a unit based on the novel and movie, The Martian. Both students and educators enjoyed the opportunity to test out this new beta course. One the teachers commented, “I will be teaching a coding course this upcoming school year and this course exposed to me Python for the first time. It also gave an insight into what the kids would be doing in a course, how they learn the software, what intrigues them in the coding world and how they adapt to the new language they are learning.

Scratch Programming

Shad Wachter, the STEAM teacher for South Fayette’s Intermediate School, shared his talents for the fourth time this summer. Shad shared his years of experience working with Scratch for a team of educators who ranged from beginners to experienced teachers. At South Fayette everything fits into a computational framework. Shad constantly provided stories from his classes on how sets Scratch and the classroom experiences part of a larger context that includes the ability to problem-solve, develop algorithms, find repeating patterns, and use coding as part of other tools, such as BlocksCAD, a free kids-focused graphics program. According to one of the educators, “Everything was new! If I begin working at an intermediate or middle school, I can absolutely see fitting Scratch into the curriculum to introduce computational thinking!

Join the Maker Movement

Melissa Unger, the South Fayette Elementary STEAM teacher, has become one of the premier educators in the Pittsburgh region taking the Making tradition into the primary curriculum. She sets the stage at South Fayette for students’ foray into computational thinking. In her workshop she shared a variety of activities that she employs with her K-2 students. To get students to start to work in collaborative teams she uses BreakoutEDU, an immersive learning environment where students (or teachers) need to find clues to open a series of locked boxes that have clues toward a final goal. Educators who had never worked together quickly became a team working together to figure out the clues to open a series of locks. In another activity Melissa challenges her students (teachers) to use an electric toothbrush and stickers to create a machine to generate mathematical drawings. The challenge is really an introduction to the design and engineering process, a key component of South Fayette’s curriculum. Teachers come to South Fayette to learn from workshop facilitators who have become leaders in the region. One of the teachers remarked, “We are starting a maker space extreme in the fall and this workshop gave me many, many ideas from equipment to storage. Instructor was remarkable.”

Building Sustainable Mindsets

For the first time South Fayette partnered with Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. According to the Summer Institute program: Topics in sustainability have great potential to help integrate across the disciplines while providing fodder for meaningful, student-driven projects in schools and communities. This workshop will introduce participants to mindsets and topics in sustainability, including: food systems and access, biodiversity, green buildings and schools, air quality, renewable energy, aquaponics, vertical gardening, community development, systems thinking and ecoliteracy. For the session participants used a Project Based Learning (PBL) framework to begin planning units to encourage students to take action in their schools and communities. The participants were quite enthused by their experiences in Sustainability and PBL. One of the educators indicated how well the two themes wove into her work, “My job is mostly project based so this helped me think about sustainability for my program.

STEAM Innovation

Another key component for South Fayette program is infusing the arts into the STEM framework. Stephanie Deluca, South Fayette’s Curriculum, Technology, and Innovation Coordinator (K-12), shared her experiences with the Summer Institute participants. One of the favorite projects tapped into the power of the Hummingbird, a Robotics kit developed at Carnegie Mellon University, and used as part of intermediate and middle school projects at South Fayette. Educators had to design their own interactive representation for a language arts unit. For another activity participants had to create their own visualizations for cells using water colors. How did the educators react? “It was great getting to know different fun things to do in a STEAM classroom.” “There were interesting ways to implement coding and robotics into the LA curriculum, science, social studies and STEAM. Creating a scene from a book, or play, demonstrating how body parts move and work.”

 

 

 

 

Preview of 2017 K-12 Horizon Report

[This year I was part of the team selecting the Emerging Technologies, Trends, and Challenges for the global K-12 world. The team had members around the world. I served on the team representing the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). When I served as the Coordinator of Educational Technology for the Fox Chapel Area School District, I used the report annually to benchmark the district goals for integrating technology into the learning process. In my teaching at Carnegie Mellon University I always shared the document with my students who worked on their technology plans or other planning document. ]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

The expert panel has completed voting and the topics for the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report > 2017 K-12 Edition have been selected — below. The K12 Project as whole is led by the New Media Consortium, in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and made possible by mindSpark Learning (formerly known as Share Fair Nation). The report is set to be released in August, 2017. We’re now looking for any projects, programs, policies, or leadership initiatives that fit any of the below chosen areas, to be submitted here. Download the official NMC/CoSN Horizon Report Preview > 2017 K-12 Edition to view definitions of the topics below or check out the related discussions of all of the final topics in the 2017 Horizon.k12 Workspace.

I. Key Trends Accelerating K-12 Tech Adoption

 Long-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for five or more years

  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation
  • Deeper Learning Approaches

Mid-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next three to five years

  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces

Short-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next one to two years

  • Coding as a Literacy
  • Rise of STEAM Learning

II. Significant Challenges Impeding K-12 Tech Adoption

Solvable Challenges: Those which we both understand and know how to solve

  • Authentic Learning Experiences
  • Improving Digital Literacy

Difficult Challenges: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive

  • Rethinking the Roles of Teachers
  • Teaching Complex Thinking

Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address

  • The Achievement Gap
  • Sustaining Innovation through Leadership Changes

III.  Important Developments in Educational Technology for K-12

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Makerspaces
  • Robotics

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

  • Analytics Technologies
  • Virtual Reality

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Internet of Things

What Educators Can Learn from SpaceX

[For the past two years I’ve worked with the Energy Innovation Center of Pittsburgh and the Parkway West Career and Technology Center on a series of real-world Design Challenges. I’ve been amazed by the creativity and problem-solving the student consultants have demonstrated. There are other examples I’ve witnessed, but as this Getting Smart article points out, it’s important that ALL students work on complex problems, not just a handful who self-select to join a Design Challenge.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

To cut to the chase, educators have much to learn from SpaceX.

I had the opportunity to tour SpaceX, a company that “designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecrafts,” and as I explored the grounds, the following idea kept entering my mind:

Students—ALL students—deserve, need and want to work on real-world challenges and complex problems.

I saw employees working to create the world’s next solutions to life beyond planet Earth. That experience made it incredibly evident that if we talk about preparing students to lead our future world, we need more SpaceX-esque learning experiences for students today.

I found myself thinking about K-20 classroom educators. What are the learning environments and experiences K-20 educators created (or should’ve created) that got these employees to where they are now? Don’t we want all students to feel ready for highly engaging and challenging workplaces where they daily apply themselves to work on integrated projects that are world-changing?

Three Takeaways for Educators

As Dr. Philip Hickman, Superintendent of Columbus Municipal School District in Mississippi, would say, “The world doesn’t have time to wait and neither do our students.” Here are three takeaways for educators that I have developed after ruminating on the above thoughts for some time:

1) Ask students to work on problems they can’t solve in a day (or even several months). Imagine knowing you had the next SpaceX rocket developer in your class—you very well may already. How would that shift what learning experiences you provide students? All students need and deserve the opportunity to grapple with problems that aren’t easy, linear or even truly ‘answerable’. Often, advanced challenges or concepts are reserved for those in advanced placement classes or as extension projects. This is a trend that needs to be broken. Foundational concepts can and should be embedded into big concepts that allow all students to explore, investigate and problem solve. The brain thrives when we feed it challenging work, and this goes for students, too.

2) Facilitate learning experiences around big world challenges and future needs. Start these experiences with “what-ifs” and “imagine a world that…”.  Sure, students need to build and develop relevant competencies so they then feel empowered and confident to take on novel problems and “what-ifs”, but it is important to think about the percentage of time they are getting to work on big challenges.

3) Get students inspired and then get out of the way. If you aren’t excited about what goes on in your classroom, your students certainly won’t be either. Educators like John Hardison know high student engagement is possible when you are excited and inspired yourself about learning, and that you need to find ways to let students explore and run with their own curiosities. Think about it… the idea for starting SpaceX didn’t come from a teacher telling founder Elon Musk that he should invest and spend his time trying to go to Mars. He got inspired (I’d love to hear that story) and got started.

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