STE(A)M, libraries and collaboration

Since my last post on the importance of promoting and engaging library learning spaces for STEM-based activities, I have been conducting more research and attended professional development days on STEM and coding.

The first was a workshop I attended in the holidays for teachers interested in engaging girls in STEM, hosted by SLNSW and Girl Code. It was a hands-on experience, which was great, and had me playing with a variety of gadgets. The focus on STEAM was definitely there, as often we can engage the interest of a wider audience when also introducing the Arts to STEM-based projects.

A valuable learning experience, I was fortunate enough to play around with:

  • Sphero – I want these for myself (and my kids) as they are great fun. With basic coding apps and more than one Sphero you can work together with others to choreograph synchronised movements or colour changes; it is a fun way to engage with coding and can be extended further with construction projects. However, I’d need to conduct more research into activities that link to learning outcomes, preferably cross-curriculum, as I think they are quite expensive.
  • Little Bits and/or Innobits – electronic kits that are easily connect like magnetised building blocks… There is ample opportunity to incorporate construction and craft into projects with these kits, and I believe they can be quite easily integrated and linked to syllabus outcomes in a variety of subjects (Science – electrical currents & physics, English – advertising, create a product or new invention and sell it, Industrial Arts – mechanics, electronics and construction, Creative Arts – enhancing projects with electronics, etc.). Little Bits are more well known, but Innobits are cheaper and can connect with Lego – so actually seem like the better option.
  • Ozobots – a fun little gadget but less able to use across a variety of subjects, the website offers a library of lessons for practical classroom application – the majority of which apply to mathematics, including probability.
  • Raspberry Pi /Arduino – lots of opportunity with the Raspberry Pi or Arduino for slightly higher-level engagement with coding, or electronics (with breadboard attached). My amateur skills in the area prevent me from grasping the full potential of these miniature computers… but there is SO MUCH information available online and the possibilities seem endless.
  • Coding (various apps, mostly introductory, including: Scratch and Scratch Jnr, Tickle – which is great with Sphero products – I am creating a collection of recommended apps and ideas on my Pinterest board, but haven’t had the opportunity to experiment with many).
  • Circuit Scribes or drawn circuits – I had limited time to play with these, so perhaps did not see their full potential… seemed more novelty
  • eTextiles and sewn circuits – fun and crafty, with possibilities of cross-curriculum projects in TAS and Science (at risk of generalising or stereotyping, it could potentially engage more boys in sewing by incorporating the electrical circuits and vice versa).
  • 3D printing pens, a fun toy to experiment with and quite easy to use despite no previous experience… BUT it was having issues on the day with clogging, etc. so something to consider when purchasing. I think educationally, a 3D printer has more to offer.

The second PD I attended was at the NSW State Library, and is directed predominantly at teacher librarians. The conference was called Teaching and Learning: DISRUPTION and had a series of seminars throughout the day – some more interesting than others. The Keynote and one of the seminars I attended were to do with the brain, technology and education, and included a focus on memory/retaining information. The presenter, Jared Cooney Horvath, was excellent; the topic was fascinating and definitely worth further reading. Also some great tips for our senior students for their study. However, not really relevant to introducing STEM into the library.

The seminars I chose for STEM were hit and miss…

  • STEM: Getting physical to keep your kids motivated
    This was interesting; presented by INTEL, it demonstrated some practical applications of Arduino / Genuino with a focus on student-directed projects, illustrating the broad potential of the hardware (especially in creation and innovation). There were also some examples of coding and some great online starter resources shared. (http://bit.ly/101Plug-n-Playhttp://bit.ly/101ArduBlock)
  • STEM: Professional learning agenda
    This was less useful, and was more about teaching us the importance of professional learning and how to develop a learning plan. Whilst I’m not sure exactly what I expected of this seminar, I did expect more – and did not feel like I learnt anything I did not already know. I did at least learn of a valuable resource, The National STEM School Education Strategy, released by Education Council in Dec 2015.
  • STEM: Accelerate student learning
    This had potential to be great, but after arriving early and having a discussion with the presenter I determined that the session was much the same as what I had spent all day working on with Girl Code, and was also focused on primary school – so I switched to the session on brain in education, mentioned above (which was great).

 

So overall, I feel like I have learned a great deal about some of the tools available that are great for promoting a hands-on approach to STEM. I’d love to work collaboratively with a small cross-curricular team to get some project ideas up and running, preferably hosted in the library learning spaces. I think I need to have a few more minimal cost ideas to work with though too as some of these learning tools require a budgetary commitment that is difficult (for my ‘faculty’, and I’m assuming others) to make at this stage of the year. Perhaps these are discussions for a later date. Meanwhile, I intend to start a Google Classroom page and get some other interested people on board to share ideas and resources.

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