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It’s a new school year and many school districts are implementing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) initiatives within their programs and classes. I won’t go into details about STEM/STEAM, but here’s a great article from Beneylu about STEM in the Classroom.
While some teachers will be reinstating their traditional classroom routines, others will be handed a black-box of new technology: Chromebooks, Code-a-Pillars, Lego Mindstorms EV3, and VEX iQ, to name a few. It’s this shift in pencil-paper learning to log-in screens that gets everyone asking, “how do we incorporate these technologies seamlessly into the classroom”? And while some teachers are naturally technical, others have issues just opening the Chromebook cart. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, this article is for you.
In this article we will explore:
- 3 Methods to overcome technical hurdles;
- How to incorporate technology in any classroom;
- A list of free software for programming and robotics; and
- Next steps for having a tech-savvy learning environment.
#1. Three Methods to overcome technical hurdles
Conduct brief online research
Oftentimes you can find answers to technology questions online. If you’re reading this article now, chances are you’re doing some research! Awesome! We’re glad you’re here! 🙂
If you’re looking for robotics tutorials, the Learn Robotics blog has step-by-step guides to get started in robotics. While being a beginner isn’t easy, we simplify the learning curve by limiting jargon and highly-technical terms. Check out our Simple Guide to Arduino Programming and Breadboard Fundamentals!
Whether you want to find a book, an article, or a video on a certain subject, the Internet is the best place to start. If you’re more of a hands-on learner, the next steps are to try out technologies and connect with others who have the skills you want to learn.
Try out the technology first and learn from your mistakes
While practice doesn’t make perfect, you will only be as knowledgeable about a technology if you have practiced with it. Pick up an Arduino. Learn to program in Python. Unfortunately, overcoming the learning curve of new technology, programming, and robotics takes time. However, with diligence and patience, you will be able to absorb these new skills and find ways to incorporate this learning into your lesson plans.
Connect with other educators through online forums and in-person meet-ups
As they say, the real way to learn something is to be able to teach it. After reading some articles, trying out a few tutorials, and watching some videos, bring your skills to a local class, meetup, or seminar. A lot of times these forums–both in-person and online–are beneficial for everyone. You can help someone else learn a new skill while improving your own.
Also, if you really want to become engaged with tech and the people who make it fun, check out a MakerSpace or a Hackathon. A hackathon is an event where makers and hackers come together for a short period of time (12-hours, 24-hours, 36-hours) to solve a problem or challenge using technology. You can learn more about hackathons on Hackster.io.
#2. How to incorporate technology in any classroom
The easiest way to incorporate technology in any classroom is to utilize existing curriculum topics and enhance the lesson plans with technological adaptations.
For example, if your students are learning the average formula in their math class, you could incorporate a computer science lesson on how to program the average formula using Python.You don’t have to have computers for every student either. Psuedocoding and handwritten logic such as flowcharts and maps can be very simple ways to incorporate the same methodology without the equipment requirements.
If you consistently practice using technology in lesson plans – even for just an hour a day – it’ll become routine enough that the students will request it. Students enjoy lessons that are interactive and hands-on. A lot of times technology closes gaps between what’s written on paper and what happens in the real world. Leverage technology in this manner to promote STEM learning and improve those test scores.
A lot of times technology closes gaps between what’s written on paper and what happens in the real world.
For those of you with classroom carts of Chromebooks, determine which software and apps are free to use. As trivial as this sounds, it’s the difference between going through the software purchasing process and starting programming in your classroom tomorrow. Because of this, I’ve compiled a list of free software specifically for learning to code and programming robots.
#3. Utilize free software for learning to code & robotics
Programming, coding, robotics are three areas that are often overlooked because they’re too difficult to teach or the software and equipment is too expensive.
It’s really unfortunate, too, because a lot of times you can get free apps and software to learn programming and robotics.
Luckily, I’ve compiled a list of the best (and free) software for coding and robotics. Check them out, and drop a comment below if you use any of these tools in your classroom.
- Arduino IDE: online and downloadable for MacOS, Windows, and Linux
- Scratch: drag-and-drop online programmer. Best for students 2nd/3rd grade through 6th grade
- Kodable: programming app for students pre-K through 1st
- Code.org: Guided programming lessons best suited for students 5th grade and up
- Circuits.io: Online simulator for learning and programming circuits, microcontrollers, and measurement devices
- RobotC: free development environment with user account for robots programmed in C. Arduino & VEX compatible
- Robot Mesh: free online development environment for VEX robots programmed in Python
Now that you have a variety of free software and apps and your class is in session, examine your lesson plans. Highlight areas where technology is currently used and where it could be added. Can you utilize any of the free apps above in your lesson plans? How about incorporating 30-minutes of computer programming after lunch? Regardless of how you decide to incorporate technology, what matters most is that the technology is utilized.
#4. Start the conversation. Be part of the movement.
Lastly, if you’re still feeling hesitant to work with new technology or you have requests for the school to support a more interactive and tech-savvy learning environment, it’s important to have conversations with the administration. Work with your school to incorporate new technologies, equipment, or training into your budget. Sometimes all it takes is an email to your supervisor or administration to approve funds for professional development classes.
Once you align your school’s curriculum goals with a little bit of research, support from administrators, and professional training, you’ll be on your way to improving the next generation of classroom learning.
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Below is a checklist of steps to take now that you’ve concluded this article. Feel free to copy it, print it out, and use it to integrate technology in your classroom.
- Identify areas where technology could be beneficial in your lesson plans
- Learn more about these technologies by conducting brief online research
- Attend a local class or educators forum to share your findings and learn from others
- Download “freeware” software for programming and productivity apps
- Utilize resources you already have: dust off old laptops, robotics kits, and tech toys
- Plan, plan, plan. Work with the administration to ensure your technology equipment and training budget is robust and competitive for years to come.
Lastly, if you need help developing your robotics curriculum and offering professional development classes for faculty and staff, check out our RoboEd Certificate program. We’ll visit your school and host courses specifically for onboarding teachers and launching successful robotics programs.