PESHASTIN - Last school year, Peshastin Dryden Elementary (PD) received a gift, a $5,000 grant from an anonymous family with the stipulation to use it for the greatest benefit. The grant was used to purchase STEM learning supplies to be shared by all teachers on a lending basis.
PD principal, Emily Ross, with help from a few other staff, researched options that were age- and classroom-appropriate and could enhance STEM learning in innovative ways.
“I wanted tools that were hands-on, that we did not already have access to, and items that teachers could use in either small groups or whole class,” said Ross.
The purchases included three microscopes that can be used in natural science lessons and two coding tools: two sets of nondigital Cubetto, and five Dash robots that interact with an iPad.
The three Tomlov HDMI microscopes have a zooming capability up to 1200x, which is good enough to see texture on a butterfly wing. Rather than having to peer through two eyepieces, which is challenging for young children, the image appears on a 10-inch screen with 24MP clarity. Many people can look at the screen at once, and it can be connected to the larger classroom’s screen as well.
Cubetto, made by Primo Toys, is a smiling, battery-powered wooden cube on wheels. It uniquely teaches coding without a screen. Children snap color-coded blocks, which prescribe rules such as forward, turn left, turn right, reverse, etc., into a wooden control board. The sequence of blocks, which forms a basic algorithm, dictates where Cubetto moves through a landscape mat that includes rivers, deserts and mountains.
Making a block sequence yields a near instantaneous result, embedding the notion of “if this, then that” logic and making it easy for young children to engage without adult help. This STEM activity helps students glimpse how coding is a tool for storytelling and game creation before they even know how to read. Worlds such as Outer Space and Ancient Egypt, provided by alternative mats and storybook guides, fuel students’ imagination through novel challenges.
Wonder Workshop’s Dash is a tetrahedron robot that students can program using apps on an iPad. Programming is done with Blockly, a visual coding language that is easy to build and change and observe the results in Dash’s behavior. In addition to movement, Dash has lights, sounds, and sensors that can be explored, and Blockly introduces computer science concepts like variables and conditionals through projects and puzzles.
First grade teacher Heidi Flake was familiar with Dash from having some on loan when she worked at Beaver Valley School. “Students learned a lot about coding using Dash,” Flake said. She explained how starting with concrete concepts like programming Dash to move around an object makes abstract coding concepts more accessible.
Ross added, “Once Dash and Cubetto are taught by a teacher, students will be able to use them independently.”
Teachers had an opportunity to check out Cubetto, Dash, and the microscopes after school recently to discover how these STEM teaching tools can enhance lessons or can be a basis for new lessons. Each item was set up in a different spot in the library. Enthusiasm was apparent over the ease of learning Cubetto, the crisp details of the microscopes’ images of a feather and a natural sponge, and Dash’s many options to innovate or complete challenges.
These teaching tools will be available on a lending basis to each classroom. This has been a successful model for lending out outdoor backpacks—the result of a $3,000 outdoor learning grant. Each backpack comes equipped with supplies for exploration around a theme: water, rocks and minerals, nature, insects, play or art. Teacher usage of these new STEM learning supplies will be exploratory and optional, but as successes are shared amongst staff, they may become more integrated into the learning expectations.
“I was floored when this generous donation was offered by a family in our school,” said Ross. “As educators, we want to open up doors of possibility for our students. These items will allow us to introduce students to worlds they may never have seen and excite curiosity and intrigue in ways that will hopefully lead them on the path to continued exploration!
“We are very grateful for this gift, and recognize that the generosity of this gift, as well as the others that we have received throughout the years, helps us reach students in a way we could not do by ourselves.”
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