From new teaching strategies to innovative equipment, STEM is positioned for growth. What does this mean for the next generation of engineers?

The need for additional applicants in STEM fields continues to rise, and students who begin these studies earlier are better equipped to fulfill these roles. From programming robots to working with satellites and remote vehicles, students are more interested than ever in STEM programs, which offer more real-world experience and interactivity than more traditional methods of education.

And, as companies and researchers collaborate to meet the unique needs of STEM in the classroom, teachers are getting onboard, too.

 

Image from Pixabay.

 

A Better Kind of STEM in Schools

The National Science Foundation, the University of Georgia College of Engineering, and the UGA College of Education recently funded a $2.1 million study that seeks to develop a model course for elementary school teachers interested in broadening STEM in their classroom, eventually lessening the gender gap that exists in engineering.

Tim Foutz, who is a professor in the College of Engineering’s School of Environmental, Civil, Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering and principal researcher in the study said, “There are numerous articles that provide evidence that coding skills are needed in virtually any career that a young student may later choose to pursue. The project is focused on learning to construct and critique arguments, an essential foundational skill for decision-making.”

 

Image courtesy of the University of Georgia.

 

The project is set to last three years and is called Collective Argumentation Learning and Coding or CALC. It integrates coding and robotics into existing methods of teaching students, making it relatively easy to integrate. Roger Hill, who is a professor in the College of Education's department of career and information studies and a project researcher, believes the STEM has an important place in the classroom. “There are many different kinds of scientific and mathematic principles that might be incorporated into one of these lessons. We pick and choose depending on what we need to teach and one of the strategies has been to have teachers identify areas where they have struggled in the past,” he said.

The research team will also provide coaching to teachers involved in the program and provide assessments that analyze both student and teacher performance designed to improve the program over time.

Hill believes their approach is different because it is more integrated. “Our traditional approach to instruction is not only elementary school, but at all different levels, tends to be split into silos. With this study, we don’t do that. It’s all mushed together kind of like real life because it’s contextualized,” he says. The program is largely focused on real-world experience.

“One thing we are hoping is that helping students to make arguments in their coding rather than relying on trial and error will decrease their frustration with coding and increase their connections to mathematics and science, as they will use similar methods and vocabulary across the subjects. Also, exposing students to coding and robotics at an early age will hopefully spark an interest in these and other STEM areas of study,” says AnnaMarie Conner, an associate professor in the department of mathematics and science education.

The researchers hope that the outcomes of the study inform computer science, mathematics and science education on the potential positives of an augmentation-based approach to STEM, incorporating existing teaching practices with a STEM+C program.

Programs that seek to work with teachers are typically easier to implement—but what about equipment?

 

A Fresh (Robotics) Take on the Graphing Calculator

Texas Instruments recently announced the TI-Innovator Rover, a robotics solutions designed specifically for middle and high school students interested in an interactive STEM experience. Using a TI graphing calculator, students can write programs that control Rover.

 

Image courtesy of TI.

 

Rover is designed so that even students with little to no experience can begin writing basic programs that make the robot dance, crash, or draw. “We created Rover to demystify robotics and give students who might be intimidated by programming an easy on-ramp to learn to code. Given the sheer joy we have seen on students’ faces as they learned to code during our testing phase, we are excited to see how Rover will inspire more young minds through an introduction to robotics,” says Peter Balyta, president of TI Education Technology.

Rover is designed specifically for use in a classroom, and is rechargeable, has a color sensor, distance sensor, LED display, gyroscope and marker holder to trace on paper. The robot is expected to be available for purchase throughout the United States and Canada in late fall and throughout Europe in 2018.

In a test group consisting of students from Girls, Inc. in Metropolitan Dallas, students noted that they really liked how visual, interactive, and interesting Rover was, which is a common reaction to increased STEM in the classroom.

 

Initiatives and methods like these are relatively unique to this upcoming generation of engineers. To an extent, this is a continuation of the evolution that is constantly occurring in classrooms around the globe, including engineering classrooms. But the existence and especially the widespread availability of more complex electronics than even 10 years ago means that the education kids are receiving today is markedly different than any received before.

The result will doubtlessly be that these children will have more opportunities to experiment with and eventually design and pioneer new technologies. Does that mean that they're more advanced overall? How do these new techniques and concepts compare to what you were exposed to in your own education? Share your experiences in the comments below.

 

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