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Introducing STEAM!

October 19, 2012

Eighth grade students have been sharpening their problem-solving skills by building and programming Lego Mindstorms Robots in Swain’s new STEAM program.

Christian, Hannah and Gianna confer on the calculations needed to get their robot to move along the grid pattern on the floor.

In STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education, students collaborate to solve meaningful challenges in a hands-on way that demands analytical thinking.

With the guidance of teachers Deb Lindsay, Ellen Gerkens, and Julie Kibelbek, students have spent the first six weeks of the semester taking turns as builders, programmers, and project managers within small groups.

First, students constructed basic robots that carry “bricks”— onboard mini computers onto which programs can be loaded. Experienced Lego builders shared their expertise with other students; everyone had the opportunity to think and build in three dimensions.

Rachael and Marcy are hoping they’ve made the correct calibrations.

Next, groups programmed their robots to solve a series of challenges, breaking down each problem into its logical steps and using Mindstorms software to code the steps.  Students showed both perseverance and flexibility in generating solutions to these challenges.

The process was spread out over several class meetings and required lots of hands-on experimenting, testing, refining, and troubleshooting.  Students (and teachers) felt a real sense of accomplishment as each robot executed its routine perfectly, followed by a round of applause!

As the eighth graders became more proficient, they added touch and light sensors to their robots and took on programming challenges with switches and loops.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, as Steven shows!

As both robots and programs grew in complexity, so did the students’ understanding: they learned that there was no “right” way to solve their challenges; rather, each group was aware that they were generating their own unique solution.

As we move forward, our students will create their own robot challenges centered around a Mars Exploration theme.  This is where they’ll experience the Art component in STEAM, designing an alien landscape, a mission, and maybe even a robotic Martian!

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