As ACER’s director of research development and quality assurance, Dr Michael Timms, recently pointed out, Australia’s “unbalanced and fragmented” STEM curriculum is leading to declining interest among students.
And this presents a significant challenge to the 21st century economy. STEM industries are facing a shortage of qualified younger students who will fulfil the roles of the current employees once they move on and get older.
One educator who recognises this is Sanjin Dedic, a teacher and robotics engineer renowned for creating cutting edge teacher professional development programs in platforms like Scratch, Arduino, Python and VEX Robotics.
Below, he shares his top 10 tips for teachers in coding and robotics who want to do their part in making sure students are equipped with the cutting-edge skills required in these industries.
- Set a very small number of clearly articulated learning goals that you plan to assess after a defined period of time. Focus on the understanding and mastery of fundamental concepts because students will use these in subsequent year levels.
- Remember that some of the best learning opportunities are unplanned. When students come up with wonderful ideas that you have never thought of, pursue them straight away.
- You are not alone. Go to conferences where you can meet others who are venturing into the world of technology, are keen to share their experiences, and gather advice.
- Every project should have a defined minimum viable product. This is a simplest possible working version of the final product which can be improved iteratively. So, for instance if you want to build a robot that responds to a variety of hand clapping start with a simple led or servo that responds to a single clap and then start adding improvements.
- Every once in a while, a student will know a lot more than you on a topic. Use this knowledge as a learning tool; give these advanced students the challenge of explaining and presenting their work to the rest of the class in a clear and simple way
- Theory should always follow practice, not the other way around. So, for instance once your students write a working program then they are primed to discuss ‘what if’ questions and theoretical concepts related to their program.
- Do your research on the available resources. You will probably need to be able to tailor lessons and activities to suit a five-year age and ability range. There are many resources on the market, but I recommend technologies such as scratch or micro-bit which are appropriate for a wide developmental range; two good examples are Boson Kit from DFRobot and the Hummingbird Robotics Kit.
- Connect student learning to the real world as much as possible. Knowing that technologies found in STEM kits such as microphones and Passive Infrared Sensors (PIR) are used in mobile phones and house alarms, makes the learning real and in turn, more engaging.
- Research YouTube for the most advanced robots created by companies including Hanson Robotics and Boston Dynamics. Ask your students to speculate how these advanced robots work. It’s a fun exercise that provides students with more opportunities to make educated guesses; this is exactly the type of thinking that helps engineers dream up new possibilities.
- When it comes to coding, students either excel or struggle. You rarely see students achieving ‘average’ results. From experience the key to maximising the success of your students is to ensure they are comfortable with the initial concepts of coding. Once the foundations are laid, their learning flourishes.
Dedic says teachers should not worry about their limited knowledge.
“You are all experiencing the same challenges and fears,” Dedic told The Educator.
“Take each of these steps and recognise that it’s acceptable to be exploring and learning with the students.”