Belarus Delegates Look to Early STEM by Vista Teach

 

Sue Sorrentino and Donna Chaback, Co-Directors of Vista Teach Instructional Services, were honored to meet and conference with a large delegation of educators from Belarus (Eastern Europe) in their STEM classrooms at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, NY.

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Approached over the summer months by Cecelia Hencke, Executive Director of Rochester Global Connections, we were specifically requested to meet with the delegation to share about our bottom-up approach to STEM Education beginning at the early elementary grade levels along with, also providing hands-on, practical STEM curriculum models as a part of the 3-week practical training program focused on STEM Education for school-age children. The delegation of teachers were highly motivated to learn more about our bottom-up approach to STEM Education as we shared about building on a culture of curiosity and the risk-taking mindset of young children with sustaining interest as well as, building competency, across the STEM disciplines:

SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING: DISTINCT DISCIPLINES IN STEM EDUCATION
With teaching both the Natural and Applied Sciences in the elementary grades and, with being former corporate engineers, we believe it is a priority to clarify that Science and Engineering are not mutually exclusive disciplines. The disciplines are distinct, but they are highly dependent on one another for the success and advancement of each…

As our young students implement the Scientific Method, the students understand that Science is an inquiry-based discipline in their role as experimental researchers, and when implementing the Engineering Design Process, the young students understand that Engineering is a task-oriented discipline in their role as solution strategists. With this interdisciplinary foundation laid, our elementary STEM students are well prepared for progressing onto comprehensive learning and systematic applications in real world, Engineering Education.

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INFUSING REAL WORLD, ENGINEERING PRINCIPLES AND PROFESSIONAL PRACTICES

Like their very young students, the Vista Teach STEM Educators are also risk-takers. Using and repurposing numerous robotics systems and electronic components, we continue to develop all of our own curricula with infusing real word, engineering principles and professional practices:
Kindergarten students first learn about navigation engineering with programming floor robots.

Kindergarten

 

First Grade students continue programming floor robots with navigating a tournament field mat, complete with numerous obstacles and constraints. Programming Tasks include: strategizing, testing, re-testing, and program documentation. Next, students are introduced to structural components including gears, pulleys, axles, screws, wheels, connector pegs, beams, bricks, cranks, etc., for developing their design thinking skills for innovating solutions (viable prototypes) to the problems they are posed with also maintaining specific constraints and incorporating real world, unanticipated “function change requests.” The young students also build experiences in teamwork, collaboration, project management, design documentation, data collection, and reporting out results.

Grade 1
By Second Grade, all students are required to comment on their code as they share out design thinking, debugging, and strategic innovation. Third graders apply complex programming and high-level mechanical concepts with further developing their solution-focused, problem solving and design thinking skills. A typical innovation engineering challenge at this grade level involves designing, constructing, and programming self-loading catapults triggered by motion sensors. Equally exciting, the young students themselves come up with their own engineering challenges such as designing, constructing, and programming an elaborate and fully functioning pinball machine. Yes, we are talking third grade!

Grade 2
Beginning in Third Grade, students also learn to program floor robots originally designed for middle school students. The Vista Teach STEM Team continues to collaborate with their corporate partner, Parallax, Inc., with developing STEM curricula, specifically for elementary students incorporating the Parallax GUI and Blockly programming software for the S3 Robot.

Grade 3
Fourth & Fifth Grade students are provided a comprehensive and systematic sequence of problem-based building and programming modules in structural design as well as, robot navigation and manipulation – using a variety of robotics systems. Students solve for mission challenges on tournament fields with implementing iterative development and testing with project management, programming multiple switches inside of loops along with, continually improving upon mechanical functionality and performance. “Unannounced Design Review Sessions,” modeled directly after the experiences of the former corporate engineers, are also incorporated throughout these real world, learning experiences.

Grade 4_5
Sixth Grade and beyond (Summer STEM Programs)… After providing direct instruction to students, Innovation Engineering courses include mock Design Review & Think Tank Sessions where students bring their completed “factory prototypes” – the LEGO Education Color Sorters – to the conference table for lively discussions with sharing out ideas for design, function, and programming modifications and enhancements. Students then return to their stations with coming up with a proof of concept for an improved viable prototype, with maintaining specific “factory constraints” of reusing parts with innovating enhanced robot designs and functionality. Students creatively re-engineer their physical models with improving hopper functionality, adding new moving parts and functions, and so much more. Equally exciting, all students are able to successfully program completely new, efficient, and well-commented coding!

Grades 6_8

 

LATEST PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT:

Optics

Grades 3 – 6: With Rochester, NY recently established as a national photonics hub, the Vista Teach STEM Team soon recognized the importance of expanding their STEM programs to include the study of Optics.

Integrating the use of high-end optics components from the LASER CLASSROOM as well as the Digital Sandbox Microcontroller from SparkFun, Sue and Donna have developed a comprehensive, multi-grade level instructional program in STEM-Focused Optics.

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PROVIDING AN INDIVIDUALIZED APPROACH TO TEACHING PROGRAMMING

All Engineering Education Instructional Modules (including the programming of microcontrollers in our STEM-Focused Optics Program) have been developed in a systematic and comprehensive approach for instructing classroom teams of two students. However, each student within their team of two, is responsible for completing individualized programming tasks. This is a major pedagogical tenet of the Vista Teach STEM Team. Why? First of all, completion of individualized programming assignments is the norm at the high school and college levels with initially learning specific programming languages. Why shouldn’t young, elementary grade level students have the same high learning standards and expectations? This also solves for keeping each of the young students actively engaged – as well as, individually accountable – in a team approach to completing specific design, construction, and programming task requirements in today’s classrooms of energetic and diverse students. And, what elementary teacher couldn’t use additional data to record on their individual student report cards?

So much more was also shared, including:

BUILDING THE SOFT SKILLS OF COLLABORATION & EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
REPURPOSING INDIVIDUAL ROBOTICS SYSTEMS ACROSS MULTIPLE CLASSROOMS & GRADE LEVELS
MAKING RELEVANT CONTENT AREA CONNECTIONS
BUILDING COMPETENCY ACROSS THE STEM DISCIPLINES
MAKING THE CASE FOR A BOTTOM-UP APPROACH TO ENGINEERING EDUCATION

 

Allendale Columbia blog post on the Belarus STEM Delegate Visit

ABOUT VISTA TEACH INSTRUCTIONAL SERVICES

The female, former corporate engineers, and practicing STEM Educators at Vista Teach Instructional Services are New York State certified teachers currently in their seventh year as faculty members at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York. The Team has been presented with the 2014 K-12 Corporate STEM Innovation Award by the International Association for STEM Leaders at their invitation-only, Annual Forum in Washington, D.C. Along with being invited, local and national-level conference presenters, the STEM Team is uniquely known for “taking the mystery out of teaching Robotics & Engineering Education” in their comprehensive, yet fun and engaging approach to STEM Education Professional Development.