Fifth graders sketched designs for “Rube Goldberg machines” that would turn on and off lights or feed a pet fish. Each team member “spent a few minutes sketching out how one part — a marble run, say, or a Lego Robotics kicking foot — would operate within the machine,” then handed it off to the next person, who’d design the next step, writes Chris Berdik for the Hechinger Report.
In the affluent Pittsburgh suburb of South Fayette, “computational thinking” is integrated into every grade and class.
In the past five years, South Fayette has created STEAM (science, technology, engineering art and math) labs where K-12 students can work on coding, 3-D printing, computer-aided design and robotics.
“Computational thinking means breaking complex challenges into smaller questions that can be solved with a computer’s number crunching, data compiling and sorting capabilities,” writes Berdik. That problem-solving approach can be “used in everything from textual analysis to medical research and environmental protection.”
The elementary school STEAM lab is filled with “markers, clay, straws, motors, pipe cleaners, bottle caps, sensors, felt and wires,” writes Berdik.
. . . one class of second-graders recently learned how to use simple circuits to make a game in which the correct answer to a double-digit math problem would light up a little bulb.
“Last year, we did a digital storytelling project in here using stop-motion photography,” (STEAM teacher Melissa) Unger said. “It was spring, and the kids were learning about the life cycle of a butterfly in their regular classroom. So the teachers took that technology piece out of here and back to their classrooms, where students created animations of the life cycle.”
In Anthony Mannarino’s seventh-grade technology education class, “students have created everything from model planes to gears to more ergonomic handles for pots and pans.” Their designs are printed on 3-D printers. Students learn “habits of mind,” such as persistence.
“Whatever you design, there’s a lot of math,” one student said. And there’s plenty of trial and error. “I printed a case for my phone, and the first time, it was a couple millimeters off,” the student explained. “So I had to fix it and print it again. You have to keep trying until you get the result that you want.”
In middle school, a STEAM coordinator helps teachers weave the technologies into their lesson plans.
Students have made apps to help learn foreign languages. They have parlayed a science lesson on energy into the building of tiny, electrified, energy-efficient houses. They’ve used Scratch to animate their writings from English class and mixed music lessons with coding to build digital bands.
High school students can take technology entrepreneurship and human-centered design, as well as Advanced Placement programming. South Fayette students have won awards for their designs, such as a “geriatric walker that deploys an extra stabilizer when helping someone get up from a chair and sounds an alarm when the walker is tipped beyond its center of gravity.”