Can we use technology to help spark interest in STEM fields even in a Pandemic?
Charles Darwin once stated, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” This is a power quote in today’s education field. With the current pandemic, it makes it difficult for many teachers to adapt their lessons to a virtual landscape. I would argue that a science or engineering class has one of, if not the hardest time during this situation. Having a hands-on science class is critical for the growth of the students so they can walk in scientists’ shoes and see situations from a logical, scientific perspective. Engineering and Science needs to be a hands-on class so the students can get hooked and want a career in a STEM field. With this in mind, is it possible to have a classroom that is hands-on, exciting, and can still get students interested in a STEM field? With using powerful simulations, being able to watch in-depth videos, and having videos of themselves to analyze scientifically, I think it is possible.
In my Principles of Engineering class, the students have to learn to build robots in a way that will allow them to complete a task, and then program it to complete said task. If we are in a virtual setting, it is impossible for my students to learn this aspect of engineering. With RobotC Virtual Worlds, it is possible. This is a program that will allow the students to write a computer program and then “upload” the program to a virtual robot. The robot will then run the program to try and complete different tasks. RobotC Virtual Worlds includes different robots they can program, different objectives they can complete, and different courses to run through. For example, one of the objectives is to use a “clawbot” to maneuver through a maze, pick up a ball, and then dunk it.This program lets the students see whether they are programming correctly and they can quickly check to see if it is correct. It can also be used when we come back to school. Choosing to buy the perpetual Classroom License allows us to use it every year for the entire class. So the students can use this to quickly check if their coding is correct in the classroom before uploading it to the real robot they build in person. To make sure it is effectively teaching the students, I will assign them objectives in this virtual world and they can complete the tasks. I can also give them a pre and post assessment on whether they would be interested in a career in computer science to gauge whether or not the students grew to enjoy the experience.
In my physics class, this virtual learning can be particularly tricky. This is because without a lab or discussions about misconceptions, the class is essentially stripped to notes and math. This will most likely not spark any interest in the field. With the IPad and the applications I would buy with it, it will allow me to change that narrative. With the Vernier Physics app, I will be able to take videos and analyze them. We can use it to analyze a ball dropping, obtain displacement vs time graphs and velocity vs. time graphs, and use those graphs to identify the acceleration due to gravity. This is just one of the many labs we could actually do with that app. It allows the students to send me videos and I can transform them into data so we can essentially do labs at home! I can easily assess whether or not the student enjoyed the labs or if they would rather have just done a simple simulation. The Explain Everything app is an app that will allow me to create a “virtual whiteboard.” The app gives me access to create an infinite canvas for a whiteboard that I can work through problems, animate the problem, and even record and upload them easily and quickly. I can use this in any of my classes, physics or engineering, with great success. These apps will update much like many apps of an IPhone or IPad do. The IPad can last for years so I can continue to use it in my class by hooking it up to my smartboard in my room and working through problems that way, so it will not become quickly outdated.