Engineers Australia

“Engineers Australia is the largest and most diverse body of engineers in Australia. As Australia’s principal engineering association we serve and represent around 100,000 professionals at every level, across all fields of practice. We are committed to advancing engineering and the professional development of our members.” www.engineersaustralia.org.au/About-Us 

As well as being the “largest and most diverse body of engineers in Australia” the Engineers Australia website provides resources for the following groups:

  • Primary students: “EngQuest is a free, hands-on science, technology, engineering and maths program that is loads of fun for students.”
  • Secondary students: Becoming an engineer – “Learn how to attain qualifications for Australia’s most trusted profession.”
  • Educators and Advisors: Resources and information for educators committed to guiding Australian students who are interested in engineering.
  • Parents and caregivers: “Is your child showing an interest in engineering? Engineers Australia can give you the resources, insights and information you need to help guide them towards a rewarding future.” 
  • Explore engineering careers: “Explore and learn about engineering pathways. What is engineering? The future of engineering.” 

 

Sphero Robots

Paul and Tim have been doing a lot of work with the Sphero robots and the Year 5/6 class. Students have been manually controlling the Spheros’ in activities like Sphero soccer while also developing block coding skills to move the Spheros through a maze. Students have experienced high levels of engagement, great collaboration, problem solving and the use of mathematical and scientific concepts. The other great thing to come from these lessons is the learning that Paul and Tim have experienced alongside the students, never having used Spheros before.

Sphero Soccer (Black ball is the soccer ball. Two teams Green/Blue & Red/Pink/Yellow)

Coding a Sphero to go through a maze

 

Putting STEM education into perspective

The DEC Intranet provides some useful resources around STEM including information about STEM learning and its importance, STEM learning programs and STEM learning resources.

One of the resources is a best advice paper titled Putting STEM education into perspective. The purpose of this paper is to clear up misconceptions about STEM education. I have summarised the key points.

  • STEM is not new emerging in the 1990s in the U.S.A. Much as it is now, the driving forces were economic and political. The original focus was science and maths. Technologies evolved within this framework in the later 90’s.
  • There is speculation about what STEM actually is. Some see it as only pertaining to an interdisciplinary focus (Breiner, Johnson, Harkness & Koehler, 2012). While The National STEM School Education Strategy states: STEM education is a term used to refer collectively to the teaching of the disciplines within its umbrella: science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and also, to a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching (Education Council, 2015, p.5).
  • The paper highlights real world examples of connections between the each. Examples provided include connections between two subject areas to all four.

At the centre of the figure is integration across the four areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Again, using the telescope example, current construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope in the Chilean Andes moves beyond technology to become a mathematical and engineering feat, given its seven 8.4m mirrors and aperture of 24.5m. It is predicted that this mega-telescope and others will increase our current understanding of the nature of the universe exponentially (Spinks, 2016). 

  • In more recent times STEM has been seen as seperate to its four foundational areas making STEM a separate entity. The rhetoric communicated around this view is that unless children or students are building, designing and solving problems they are ’not doing STEM’. 
    • STEM as a seperate entity is often accompanied by the idea that the pedagogy is the focus and this will automatically allow students to learn, for example problem solving, problem based learning, collaboration and group work. Missing from this thinking is a focus on ‘traditional’ content knowledge.
    • There is no educational premise for STEM being a separate entity (taught isolated from the weekly maths, science and technology lessons). When taught as a separate entity the risk is focusing on the associated pedagogies with little thought for content knowledge which is required to successfully explore authentic problems.
    • While these pedagogies are effective, content discipline knowledge is a requirement, as is teacher direction and guidance. In actual fact, using these pedagogies appropriately requires considerable skill and teacher expertise (Rosicka, 2016).

What does this mean for our practice?

  • STEM should not be viewed as a new/separate subject to teach.
  • Depending on your previous practice you may need to adjust your teaching:
    • to create clearer, practical links between the STEM subjects
    • to provide tasks that allow students to apply content knowledge from one or more STEM related disciplines to authentic problems.
  • A lesson of building, making, problem solving, problem based learning (at any year level) is not STEM without the underlying scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical principles being explicitly identified and applied.
  • We have identified a room in our school which staff and students refer to as the “STEM room”. We must be careful not to associate this with where STEM is taught. It is one of the many spaces STEM can be taught in our school.
  • We should not lose sight of the importance of content knowledge, careful teacher guidance and explicit teaching. While Hattie can often polarise educators I think he explains this well in the following video discussing why pedagogies like inquiry based learning can fall down without the supporting content knowledge.

STEM Project – Make your own speakers

Exploring sound in science with your students?

  • How does sound travel?
  • How do different materials absorb sound?
  • How can we amplify sound?

After teaching students about sound and how it works set students the challenge of amplifying your phone. Have students work in groups with each group presenting their ‘speaker’ to the class using your phone as the audio source.

  • What materials worked best?
  • What shapes worked best?
  • What size works best?
  • What other things need to be considered to improve amplification?

 

Click here to access a lesson and resources on sound vibrations.

What is an authentic STEM project? Would creating a phone speaker satisfy the following criteria?

Who is Rube Goldberg?

Rube Goldberg was born in 1883. In 1904 he graduated Berkley College as an engineer which eventually gave way to him becoming a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He continued as an editorial cartoonist for the New York Sun and his fame came from a fictional character he created, Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. Through this character he would illustrate complex inventions later to become known as Rube Goldberg machines.

A “Rube Goldberg Machine” is an extremely complicated device that executes a very simple task in a complex, indirect way. rube-goldberg.com

 

Rube Goldberg in your classroom

How could you use the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine to create a STEM project if a STEM project is defined as the following?

Diagram provided by STEM 500 Primary Educators 

Examples of Rube Goldberg Machines

Click here for an example STEM lesson building a Rube Goldberg machine (NSW Education Standards Authority).

Like to see more Rube Goldberg machines? Just click here!

Using a laser cutter to create moving models

I wonder if these models could inspire our students to design, engineer and create their own moving models. The only materials needed are rubber bands and wood (and a laser cutter).

The following models were created by Ugears a company formed in 2014 in the Ukraine. The company has an online presence in Australia – to find out more click here. Amazingly I found out about these these models through a local shop in the main street of Moonta just recently.

Sphero Edu App

Thanks to Jackie and Kelly for introducing us to the Sphero robots last Wednesday. As a follow up here is an overview of what is available on the Sphero Edu app. Currently the filtering at PBAS does not allow content from the Sphero website to appear on the app but I have requested that the filtering be changed to allow the content. So be aware that at this point in time you cannot access the following but very soon will be able to.

Home – Feed

This shows the Twitter feed for Sphero Education.

Home – 3D Models

This section allows you to see an exploded view of the Sphero.

 

Home – Settings

The settings section gives you a variety of options including links to the Sphero blog and JavaScript Wiki. So if you are keen to learn about JavaScript (written code) this may be useful.

Programs – My Programs

This is where the programs that you or your students make will be saved.

Programs – Sphero

This is where you can access programs created by the employees of Sphero. When you click on a program you get a written explanation of the program and a video to watch. There will be a link to open the code that has been written. The code will open in the Sphero Edu app and can be used by you or your students. This option allows students to invsetigate and analyse detailed coding. I have included a video below of the Animal Origami program.

Programs – Community

These are programs provided by the community of Sphero users who have submitted their programs to the website. Again you get a written explanation, a video and a link to download the code. To access the community programs you need to sign in with an account. It is a simple process to create an account for yourself.

Activities – Sphero

This section provides activities for teachers to do with their students. You need an account to access these in full. A great source of ideas!

Activities – Community

A huge range of STEM based activities created by the Sphero community. An excellent resource for teachers. I recommend signing in and and having a look at these. They provide step by step lesson plans and extra resources like videos and web links to support the lesson. I have added a video below that briefly shows the K’nex Chariot Challenge. While the video is not brilliant it gives you an idea of what you can expect to find when you access this content.

Robotics at PBAS

As our STEM redevelopment gradually reaches completion we have been able to update our robotics kits to more current technology, reinvigorating our robotics program.

To cater for R – 12 and provide at least two different platforms for students we have purchased the following two robotics kits:

The Mindstorm kits will replace the old Lego RCX programmable robotics kits while the Sphero’s will provide a flexible robotics platform that can be used R-12.

Why Robotics?

The company Tactile Theory explains through their website the following reasons why robotics is beneficial for student learning:

  1. It’s a fun and hands on activity.
  2. Robotics can be taught at any level. The Sphero Sprk robots can be programmed using three different methods – 1. Drawing a line in the app that a robot will then follow. 2. Drag and drop blocks that contain code and 3. Use text coding like Javascript.
  3. Using robotics kits can assist with developing fine motor skills. Children are involved in manually manipulating sensors, motors, blocks, remote controls, gears, joints, switches, and axels (Lego Robotics).
  4. Robotics provides a base for teaching programming. A physical robot allows students to test out what works, and what doesn’t and have a better understanding of the importance of precise instructions.  Research also indicates that by starting children early in robotics, the gender bias in STEM subjects is decreased significantly.
  5. The teaching of robotics allows schools to address a variety of Government and education department initiatives including of the The National STEM School Education Strategy, the Australian Curriculum and the DECD STEM Learning Strategy.
  6. Robotics can assist students to learn skills that are applicable to future employment. Involving children in quality robotics programs can provide students with opportunities to be critical thinkers, innovators, collaborators and leaders while applying scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical principals.
  7. Teaching robotics assists with computational thinking. Recognising aspects of computation in the world and being able to think logically, algorithmically and abstractly.  Robotics can help develop computational thinking by teaching children how to “think like a computer” and use concepts of computer science to solve problems.
  8. Allows students to be creative. By allowing students to explore, experiment and investigate with robotics they can create their own programs, load them onto the robots and watch them perform the programmed tasks before their very eyes.

During our first days back in 2018 Jackie and Kelly are going to talk about the STEM training they undertook in 2017 (continuing in 2018) and take us through some activities using the Sphero Sprk robotics kit.

Makers Empire – 3D Printing in South Australian Schools

Makers Empire are an Adelaide company that produce software and programs for schools in the area of 3D printing. During Feb – June of 2017 Makers Empire partnered with DECD to roll out 3D printing programs in 50 primary schools. The program, titled Makers Empire learning by design involved a 20 hour professional learning program which culminated in schools presenting their completed projects at Grange Primary School. To read more about this click here. To see a list of schools involved in the project click here.

Makers Empire does not supply or sell 3D printers but supplies the training, software, programs and lessons for teachers to use 3D printing in the classroom.

See how the Makers Empire software works

 

Here are some examples of how schools have used the Makers Empire software.

To see more videos from schools and how they used Makers Empire click here.