This week is National Science Week in Australia and to celebrate I am sharing several blog posts dedicated to how I have used popular technology tools to enrich science learning. In today's post, I share how a simple thematic connection between Lego We Do and the Year 5 STEM unit resulted in an afternoon of fun, problem solving and cooperative learning.
While browsing the IOS app, I happened upon one of the investigative units, Plants and Pollinators, which made a nice thematic connection with the Year 5 STEM unit this term. Students are using the alarming decline in bee populations around the globe as a lens for problem-based learning. During the unit students study the anatomy of bees and flowers and the important role bees play in producing the food we eat. It is more than honey! Without bees a variety of fruits and vegetables would no longer be produced. Students watch Vanishing of the Bees and several other documentaries to discover the threats to bee populations. Colony collapse disorder, Varroa Mites, diseases, pollution, habitat destruction and agricultural pesticides are all contributing factors.
Last year, the Year 5 students decided to make bee homes for native bees in the area. This year, students are developing pollinator gardens to support the native bee hives on our collage campus. Raising awareness is also a major part of what the children wish to do and so they are hosting a special "Bee Aware Day" at school.
The greatest benefit to the students in relation to this project was the cooperative learning and problem solving the build presented to them. It was a tricky one to complete (intermediate level) and students worked in pairs to accomplish the task. The interpretation and visualisation of the build, as well as the construction, challenged students. Perseverance was essential. The students were totally absorbed and had so much fun with the task. Further learning opportunities suggest then having students innovate on the design, create alternative pollinator models or expand the model to demonstrate cross pollination.
The lessons on the Lego Education Website have some great ways to link with not only Science, but also other STEM subjects. As well as being great tools for facilitating the instruction of coding and design, sets are flexible and are only limited by your (or the student's) imaginations.
How have you used Lego WeDo at your school? Please share below in the comments!
This week is National Science Week in Australia and to celebrate I am sharing a blog posts dedicated to how I have used popular technology tools to enrich science learning. In today's post, I share a series of lessons exploring how popular robots, Ozobots, were used to explore the moon's orbit around Earth and how eclipses occur. Read on to learn more...
Lately I have been interested in finding ways technology tools can connect with and enhance classroom curriculum. With an increasingly crowded national curriculum, developing rich learning experiences that address several objectives at once is a way classroom teachers can work smarter. Utilising engaging technology tools and layering up skills and knowledge produce highly effective learning experiences for students. A recent mini unit with Year 3 students made use of Ozobots, a tool that I have historically reserved for teaching coding. I cannot take credit for this concept at all. The lessons were based on educator resources found on the Ozobot website. I highly recommend you check them out. As teachers, we do not always have to reinvent the wheel (as the saying goes), but it is always good to innovate on it and adapt it to your context....and that is what I did.
In the end, a very small unit of a couple of lessons had a big impact on students. The video below was a culminating project of sorts.
Connecting with Classroom Content
Lesson 1: Learning to use Ozobot Colour Codes
Lesson 2: Exploring Lunar and Solar Eclipses
The Celestial Mechanics lesson on the Ozobot website provided the resources and inspiration for the lesson. We blacked out the track for the "moon" and programmed the earth to spin on the spot using the suggested code. We used torch light as the rays of the sun which created a shadow, beautifully simulating how eclipses occur. Students were also able to identify the difference between solar and lunar eclipses from this activity. They captured video of the model for later use.
Lesson 3: Learning about gravity and orbital momentum using Ozocodes
Teaching Year 3 students about angular momentum seems to be pitching a little high, but students understood it easily with our second task. We actually spun a student on a chair in the classroom, getting them hold their arms close and further away, illustrating how the speed of the spin changed. This kind of exercise was very relatable to students and from this we were able to simplify that the moon moves faster in its orbit when it is closer to Earth and slows down as it moves further away. Students then used basic Ozocodes to program the moon's elliptical orbit to represent this. An example is shared below.
Lesson 4: Sharing our Learning
Teaching kids to code is seen as the 'new black' in education. Over the last couple of years it has gained support and is now a curriculum priority in Australia with the release of the Technologies Curriculum. Resources, educational products, research and training continue to harp on about how important it is to teach kids to code. It is going to set them up for the jobs of the future...whatever they are..
The reality is that coding is NOT the new black. It's more the new blue...collar, that is. Read on to find out why.
Straight from the horse's mouth
During his keynote, Taj made a point that really resonated with me. Teaching kids to code is not preparing them for the future. Thirty years ago, the ability to send an email or even use Microsoft Office was the bar educational institutions aimed for when preparing their students for the future jobs market. These days, those skills are the norm and are just expected in the workforce across a broad spectrum of industries. The ability to code is not going to open doors for our students in the future - because everyone will be able to do it!
What made Mark Zukerberg a success (or even Taj Pabari), wasn't their ability to program a computer - it was their ability to innovate and create new ideas and that is what we need to foster in our learners.
The new economy is here!
In the future, any job that can be replaced by automation will be. Filling heads with knowledge that can be found on Google is a waste of time in the classroom. The new economy is one of innovation! Strong communication skills, the ability to collaborate, emotional intelligence, digital literacy and most importantly creativity are the currency we need our students to be trading in. The Word Economic forum highlighted the growing importance of creativity in its Future Jobs Report, with creativity coming third to Complex Problem Solving and Critical Thinking. We can only guess as to what skills will be prioritised in the coming years, let alone what will be important by the time our students in Kindergarten graduate.
Coding isn't all bad!
I love teaching kids to code and what's more I think it is immensely valuable for them to learn. I am in no way saying that we should take a step back from teaching coding in our schools. In fact, we need more schools jumping on board early on. Just as it is with learning a second language, learning to code and think computationally is best developed in the early years of education. Computational thinking has benefits for students across the curriculum. The ability to decompose a problem or think in a more abstract way can assist students to understand more deeply, plan and develop solutions. Coding is a vehicle for teaching complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity - all identified as important skills for the future.
So by all means, jump on the coding bandwagon, but don't turn it into a unicorn. It's a good skill for our students to have in their 21st Century arsenal but it is not the only skill they should have.
For anyone unfamiliar with Kahn Academy, it was founded by Salman Khan who was making YouTube videos to tutor his cousins. The videos became popular and the idea grew from there into a website that now offers free world class education for anyone across a variety of subjects. You can watch Salman Khan talk more about Khan Academy here - seriously click the link - it is worth a listen!
I had used a few videos here and there for maths lessons with success, but had never signed my class up as a "coach" (as it is known on the website). That was until I noticed that computer programming was offered as a course on the Khan Academy - and this got me thinking "why not?" We had some time each week in the computer lab where I could supervise my students a little more closely and guide them in this little experiment. From the minute they watched the introduction video below, they were hooked:
We started out very structured. We watched the videos together. I demonstrated and broke everything down and then they would go and try it themselves. We did suffer a few hurdles as the lab computers were not really up to the task, but we got there. With each task, the kids enthusiasm grew and soon I was noticing that they were spending time at home working on their course - and not just a few minutes either! The children found the tutor very relatable and the activities challenging but fun. If they ever got stuck, the website had built in features to help them (way to make me feel useless!) It wasn't long before I found myself thinking "how did they do that?" and noticed that the skill of my students was surpassing my own - quite hard for a teacher to admit at times!
Here are a few of the pictures the children produced using java code:
One of the biggest shocks to me was the success that my learning support kids were having. I had my hesitations about throwing something so seemingly complicated at them, but they surprised with me with what they achieved and their enthusiasm for the course in general.
Do I think kids should learn to code? Absolutely! Why not? My students felt empowered and suddenly saw themselves as creators. I think it is a skill that is going to become more and more valuable over time. Even exposing the children to this introductory level of programming gave them a lot more perspective on technology in general and had them asking a lot more questions. A few have had some ambition ignited by the experience and want to go to learn more.
Would I recommend Khan Academy as a tool to teach programming? Again, absolutely! It was a wonderful platform - easy to navigate for the children, it gave me a way to monitor their progress, the course was well structured and suitably paced.
...and will I do it again next year? For sure!
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.
Read all about my thoughts on teaching in the 21st Century, my experiences with technology in the classroom, running a Maker Space, launching STEAM and Design Thinking with students, coding, robotics and much more!
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