Inspiring students with STEAM learning

Computer science is key part of initiative

What are the key components of a successful STEAM education initiative?

Every learner should have the opportunity to be inspired by STEAM learning. Not just physics, chemistry and biology, but also computer science. I go into schools sometimes, and I’ll hold up a phone and say, “An alien didn’t make this, people like you and me made this.” Every kid needs to know that they can be creators in the world rather than just consumers. Show them something that they never thought they could do, and suddenly they’re hooked. For educators, it’s fostering that creative learning cycle, empowering students to design and build something, get feedback, and make what they’ve built better.

Why is learning by making so important?

It gives kids memory anchors, and inspires them to “do.” For example, when they’re learning about data types, they’re not simply memorizing and regurgitating definitions and facts. They’re learning why and how data is used, and applying it to real-life scenarios, such as developing code and controlling sensors. When students apply a concept to solve a meaningful problem, it solidifies the concept in their mind. Having real engagement and ownership in their learning increases their interest and motivation. Through that hands-on experience, they’re inspired to create, not just told to memorize.

What is the link between learning by making and this idea of constructionism in education?

The point of constructionism is to give kids a richer exposure to subjects and the ability to learn and apply their knowledge, and not just parrot back what they’ve heard. In today’s classroom there’s too much instruction-based learning, rote learning and memorizing. These kind of rule-based skills are increasingly being automated by machines. We need to shift the learning paradigm because by the time today’s students get into the workforce, the jobs that they will be looking for will have changed or been automated, and students will need to be able to adapt. The point of going to school is to learn the act of learning. Constructionism, learning by doing and applying knowledge to real-world challenges, can give those students the experience needed to compete in a rapidly changing working world.

How can educators help students develop these skills and capabilities that are required for today’s technology jobs?

They can design learning by making experiences with a product such as pi-top, which is easy to deploy and provides “full service” computer science. You can do some fantastically complex projects with pi-top. We’ve had kids measure the telemetry of their solar car, develop tsunami warning systems and build devices for the Internet of Things. We’ve seen the joy on students’ faces from doing basic projects too, such as building an LED circuit and adding code to make it flash on and off. We are there helping to guide and inform teachers to provide experiential learning outcomes that will inspire and delight their students. Ultimately it’s this inspiration that creates better student outcomes.

How are educators able to measure success?

A challenge with project-based learning is that some teachers find it difficult to measure learning outcomes based on traditional metrics. pi-top’s classroom technology allows teachers to assess student performance and progress through a project, adapt the curriculum as needed, and achieve better, more engaging results. The more data, content and components a teacher has, the more effective they will be. So, technology can enhance the abilities of the teacher in the classroom. Teachers are vital role models and a catalyst of inspiration for students. Successful STEAM learning and computer science teaching starts with a confident, inspirational teacher, and that is the first thing pi-top aims to support.

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