TTM Collaborative

The Importance of Real World Data to Drive Student Engagement

Before knowledge comes curiosity.

 

Every expert was once just curious. A successful STEAM education experience must first and foremost be engaging. The Tech Monsters have been turning our gears for a while, developing engaging STEAM content. We would like to share some of our strategies we have found useful for getting and keeping students engaged. We have found that using real world data, one to one hands on learning, and keeping a fun, campy environment to be key for creating an engaging experience.

 

Look into a typing class and you will see students using keyboards, as well as students off task and disengaged. The students are asked to reproduce documents about as interesting as pages from a phone book. (If they can even imagine what a phone book is.) Understandably, such materials fail to keep their attention. Their lack of engagement denies them the opportunity to build a skill. Engagement is necessary for skill building.

 

In our experience, the same holds true when learning to use Mathematica, an analytical tool, that we use to plot and visualize data. Students can be understandably unenthusiastic about plotting and discussing data to which they feel no connection. A solution to this problem is to have the students develop their own data sets with which to work. Before students ever touch a keyboard in our lab, materials are provided to build a small aquarium, that we like to call, a Monstrarium. This provides each student with a tiny world that they can probe and measure to create their own individualized data-sets. A data set they created and which they can take home at the end of their engaging STEAM experience. When students feel ownership of their data, they naturally engage with it. Similarly when students feel ownership of their tools they are more eager to learn to use them. In a perfect world students would literally take ownership of all the tools they are learning to use. Given our resource restrictions we strive to do the next best thing; foster a sense of ownership by giving each student their own set of tools for the session.

Tech Monsters

Getting Students engaged starts with preparation, and some really cool looking equipment.

Providing each student with their own set of tools gives them a sense of ownership over their lab station. There are a multitude of advantages to this, it allows all students an opportunity to solve their own problems and also opportunities for students to help each other. Giving students an opportunity to assist each other also provides a positive outlet for otherwise distracting socializing. Early on students help each other troubleshoot issues ranging from matching correct cables to video input issues. Later, students aid each other in making changes to to their micro-controller sketch that interacts with their light and temperature circuits. These one to one environments also provide for a low risk environment for otherwise shy students who may have already begun to think they might not like STEAM in general. In a comfortable, fun, one to one environment students curiosity is rewarded, encouraged, and sustained as they engage with the content presented to them. Engagement is more than using real data sets and one to one technology ratios. It is a product of addressing students needs as a group and individually. To do it, we have limited our lab sizes to ten students, led by a minimum of two facilitators. This allows us to keep our sessions streamlined and address individuals questions or concerns while the group remains focused. While we are able to cover a lot of ground, we are only able to do so by keeping it light, fun and campy.

 

Campy is a perspective. Campy means that we as facilitators are always enthusiastic, passionate, and excited about the cool STEAM activities that we are leading. Campy means that there are no grades and learning is a side effect of fun. Campy means creating memories and positive first experiences that shape a student’s lifelong interest in the sciences. Not all engaging experiences are campy, but all campy experiences are engaging. As facilitators, our attitudes are as important for the students engagement as any other piece of the puzzle. The tools and topics presented in a STEAM experience have serious applications but if we are going to establish and maintain student engagement we must make it fun.

 

For decades educators and facilitators have been trying to get students interested in STEAM, the specific focus and skills have changed quite a bit, but the overall goals have not. Succeeding in this goal has and will continue to require student engagement.

The Feel Spiel