STEM Action Planning: Roger Wagner's Response
Congratulations! You've been selected as the new director for STEM, CTE, and Advanced Academics. You will be meeting soon with district leaders to outline your 90-day plan to ensure success for students.
Your plan, leaders anticipate, will explain your vision for STEM, college readiness, potential partnerships, and blend technology into the program. Regrettably, everyone is on a tight schedule so you will have approximately 10 minutes to amaze.
Response by Roger Wagner
Although the challenge is great, our time today is limited, so I will briefly outline the vision of our first 90 days of our new STEM/STEAM program. As you will see, it will prepare our students for STEM/STEAM in both careers and college, and foster partnerships with local schools and businesses as well as national and international opportunities. This vision will show how technology will be blended into the program as the enabler and amplifier of learning by using technology in the context and support of our existing curriculum.
In the first 90 days we will:
• Use the physical curriculum-based projects already being assigned in our schools as the foundation for our current and future makerspace and maker area activities.
Advantage: Our educators and administrators are already familiar with the projects and curriculum, thus reducing the stress and added time demands that might otherwise impede adoption of a new program. Because students will be taking a greater hands-on role in the creation of projects that many times were actually done by parents, greater amounts of learning will take place that will be directly observable by both the classroom teacher and traditional testing. Furthermore, the "A" (arts, both visual and literary) will be integrated in a meaningful way through both the design and creation of the physical project, as well as the language skills that will be used in creating written text associated with the project, and the video narrations that will accompany projects.
• Using our available technology of Chromebooks and network access, students will enhance their projects by making them interactive with both existing digital media such as videos and Google Maps, and also create their own related content using videos and tools such as Google Slides. We also will bring our classic posterboard science fair projects into the 21st century by using real-time sensors, along with student-made explanatory videos of their experiment and conclusions.
Advantage: This builds upon the experience of both our educators and students with Google Apps for Education, and because the blending of technology with traditional physical projects will take place within the context of their curricular assignment, their measurable learning within those subject domains will be reinforced and enhanced. As a natural outcome of this process, students will become more adept in the use and application of different technologies and applications as they serve the overall educational objectives that our school is held accountable for.
• In addition to the usual Google Apps for Education, we will also be able to give a meaningful entry to coding as it further enhances the projects that our students will be doing. In lower grades, this might be as simple as making a model have a "quiz mode", rather like an interactive museum exhibit. At higher grade levels, the experience with models already created and their use of microcontrollers makes the next step into robotics a natural and well-scaffolded transition.
Advantage: Rather than learning coding as an abstract activity without a particular real-world application, our coding activities will be directly linked to the curriculum through these projects, and again, lead to measurable increases in what students learn, not just about programming and computer science, but their core subject areas as well.
• Within this first 90 days, and going forward, students will be able to seek out and make the first connections to partnerships in their community, with other schools, and also in national and international cooperative programs.
* In the community, students can apply what they've learned about creating interactive physical projects, and volunteer with local museums, public agencies and even businesses to demonstrate how interactive models could be useful to those entities. Students can also offer this expertise to artists who are creating interactive art installations. Other project expertise could include applications such as automatic environmental monitoring for those in the community who are interested in the concept, but who have not yet had the time and experience to take the first steps.
* With other schools, students could demonstrate their projects as an inspiration to those other schools and educators. One exciting idea is for different schools to build "exploratory robotic vehicles" that they would exchange between schools. The vehicles from each school would then explore a "planetary landscape" constructed by the other school, and report back with data and images.
* At a national and international level, we would seek out cooperative partnerships with museums, businesses, and schools in a similar fashion to what was developed locally. We would also look for opportunities to share what we've learned and done at state and national conferences.
We believe in not just "low threshold, high ceiling", but that there should be a low-friction "what's next" option all the way along the learning path, where everything that the student has learned up to a given point can be directly built upon for the next activity. Rather than "backsliding" because of the non-connectedness or relevance of one technology tool to the next, our plan centers on a curriculum-centric approach to making and STEM/STEAM where the tools we use are multipurpose and flexible in their use all the way from beginners to advanced learners.
We believe that STEM/STEAM is a natural outcome of this approach to integrating the physical and digital world in curriculum-based projects. That, in fact, it's impossible to "silo" or have artificial divisions in the subject matter and that all the curriculum will be increasingly integrated with this approach.
For example, here is a video showing a project created at Sharyland High School (Sharyland, TX) in a history class as part of their geography studies. This particular project illustrates the Hoover Dam, created during the time of the Great Depression. And because one of the purposes of a hydroelectric dam is to generate electricity, the model and explanation include a demonstration of an actual generator that illuminates an LED, while simultaneously showing a GIF animation in Google Slides of how a turbine works.
Science - Before building a dam, what data is necessary to know that it's in the right place? What sorts of experiments were done in the past by people like Volta, Ohm, Ampere and Edison that gave the knowledge necessary to do the needed calculations, and to know what was possible? Could you predict and compare the expected power output from a dam located 100 miles upstream from where the Hoover Dam was actually constructed? How would you prove your prediction without building the actual dam at that location?
Technology - What different technologies will you use to create your project? LEDs, microcontroller, Google apps, Internet, video, cutting tools, hole-making tools? What technology was used to produce the materials? For example, how is styrofoam made? What kind of wire is best for connecting LEDs and sensors (that wire itself involve science, math and technology).
Engineering - Why is the shape of a dam a curve, and not a flat "wall"? How would you get the needed amount of sand, gravel and cement to a site to make the needed amount of concrete for building a dam? In your own model, where will you run the wires for the LEDs? What will you do to make the model "robust" enough to still function during the Open House event after being transported there, and during its use?
Arts - What are workable materials for the creation of your project? What glue will you use? What type of paint? What will you do to make the finished project have a good sense of proportion and visual appeal? What artistic elements were used by the actual engineers in the construction of Hoover Dam? What was the historical inspiration of those elements? (A: Egypt, art deco, etc.)
Math - If there were x number of workers, and y cubic feet of concrete, how many cubic feet of concrete was poured per worker? If the dam is "h" meters high, and the lake is y square meters, how much potential energy is stored behind the dam in the first 1m of depth of the lake?
and, of course, history and social studies!
As you can see in just this one model, our program lays the groundwork for our students for many different careers as they become adept in all areas of STEM/STEAM as it applies to achieving tangible objectives in their projects. Those concepts also create the foundational knowledge that is not just measurable in the short term, but which gives a solid footing no matter which direction they may choose in college and university courses of higher education.
Thank you for your time today in this brief preview of our vision for the new STEM/STEAM program. I'm sure you now have additional ideas of your own, and I look forward to incorporating them into our overall vision!