Monday, February 6, 2017

Full #STEM Ahead with #LimitlessCuriosity

On a sunny Saturday morning in Spring Branch ISD (SBISD), more than 250 students, parents, educators and community members turned out to experience the power of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Education at SBISD’s Learning Lab Showcase.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into real-world learning applications.

The Learning Lab was hosted at Westchester Academy for International Studies and coordinated by District Educational Technology and Science and Math Curriculum Area staffers.

Attendees arrived in groups and moved from station-to-station listening, engaging and participating in hands-on activities. Attendance for the day’s event peaked at more than 250. If shares to the school district’s Twitter account were an indicator, fun was had by those in attendance.

“I participated on Saturday for several reasons,” said Hunters Creek Elementary School teacher Jessica Wright who brought her Cougar Coder students to the event.  “First, I felt it was important for the students to have the opportunity to share what they have learned with a real world audience. It makes their learning even more authentic and purposeful.”

The idea for the Learning Lab experience was simple. Bring together learners from all ages and provide fun activities to expose children and adults alike to STEM and inspire the next generation of engineers, technologists, and scientist while hosting a collaborative space for educators to showcase and share instructional practice.

From interactive robotics playgrounds with coding challenges to hands-on maker spaces for designing catapults and creating circuits, attendees enjoyed the excitement of designing, testing and working through challenges while experiencing firsthand the powerful combination of great teaching and engaging STEM instruction.

“I love coding so much because of the fact that if you miss only a single letter in your code, you can break the whole thing and having to find where you messed up and fixing it is awesome because when your code finally works it feels amazing,” said fifth-grader Shepherd Scimemi.

In addition to this range of maker spaces and playgrounds constructed for the event, dynamic poster sessions were presented by top SBISD educators and several outside organizations including industry-specific sessions from Girlstart, RICE, UofH and TAMU

“As an educator, it was so great to see that there are so many wonderful things going on in our district. As teachers, we don’t get to celebrate and support each other enough. This kind of experience teach us new things. It’s an opportunity for us to support one another and say that your hard work has not gone unnoticed. I think that is so important,” said Wright.

If Wright has anything to do with it, the Lab’s impact will be a lasting one.

“Mostly I learned that I needed to step my game up! My coders spent the last two months working on codes for the Wonder League Competition,” she explained.

“They’ve mostly used Ozobots and Dot and Dash. Today reminded me that there are so many other coding opportunities out there that we need to be taking advantage of. I can’t wait for them to get their hands on Little Bits. That, to me, will be one of the coolest experiences to create for them.”

Over the next few weeks, she plans to work with her students to perfect their coding skills as they prepare for participation in the Wonder League.

Student coders programming Dot and Dash Coding Robots
Wonder, creators of the Dot and Dash coding robots, created the league competition to further encourage students to code. The Dot and Dash coding robots are used in classroom instruction, coding camps, and a wide range of instructional applications.

From the sound of it, Wright’s students don’t need much-added encouragement to want to code.

“I like coding because I can get a challenge and it is fun to try and solve. And I also liked doing coding with friends, because you can think of new ways to make codes,” said fifth-grader Lexy Whitefield.

“Coding helps me to be organized. It also helps me with teamwork and to be able to ask for help, so I don’t have to struggle,” she said.

Along with building teamwork skills and self-confidence in an increasing collaborative learning environment, coding and other hands-on STEM instruction are helping students learn that failure is an important part of problem-solving.

Maybe the most important lesson in all this is how Cougar Coder Miles Tucker summed it up. “It helps me to learn and never give up!”

As Tucker and the other Cougar Coders prepare for code competition with Ms. Wright, this simple statement has big implications for the future, and the coders who are heading into it at full steam with a curiosity and drive that educators in SBISD can only hope is limitless.


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