EdTech, education, Media Tools, Technology, Virtual Learning

STEM, Robots, Codes, and Maker’s Spaces

STEM, Robots, Codes, and Maker’s Spaces

Marilynn A. Andrews, M.A.

Technology within education continues to expand as the demand and interest levels of students and prospective students steadily increases.  Within various educational environments, the concepts evolving around STEAM, Robots, Codes, and Maker’s Spaces are integrated into curriculum as a means of technical exposure, proactive training, and differentiated instruction.  Present day, students are at an advantage, given that these concepts are already built within the curriculum.  Children as young as 3 years old are introduced to the basic concepts of technology education within preschool classrooms.  Each year, the concepts grow from hands-on, device free STEAM experiences to much more complex, technical instruction involving new and innovative technical equipment and software programs. 

While students travel from grade to grade acquiring technical knowledge, there are still pitfalls present within technology education. One of the most relevant pitfalls includes teachers not receiving adequate training in order to properly facilitate the technical content to students. To further understand the implications of educational technology, this article will explore the topics of STEAM, Robots, Codes, and Maker’s Spaces as a means of providing developments within the field.

STEM (STEAM)

The topic of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) within the field of early childhood education continues to expand as new discoveries are being made.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) seeks to provide resources for educators and parents with interests in working with children ages 0-5 with STEAM.  According to NAEYC, STEAM within early childhood education is considered as a part of inquiry education.  “Inquiry instruction encourages active (often hands-on) experiences that support building understanding and vocabulary, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and reflection. Educators and parents can facilitate inquiry experiences by creating opportunities for children to learn about the world through STEAM lenses and by asking high-quality, open-ended questions” (Eckhoff, 2020).  The processes of STEAM in early childhood education include ‘what’ to learn and ‘how’ to learn. 

Why is it significant?

As mentioned, the concepts of STEAM within early childhood education teach children to ask questions at a young age.  As children continue to acquire language and knowledge, the complexity of the questions should increase within context.  As an example, a teacher might ask students to locate where butterflies live? With this question, children ages 2 and 3 might point outside or at a tree nearby.  When asked this same question, students ages 4 and 5 might respond with a supplementary question relating to the weather and its impact on a butterfly’s home.  The educator would then explain the metamorphosis process of a butterfly and the climate best suited for the insect.

The significance of STEAM is in teaching children how to ask relevant questions as a means of problem solving.  While the butterfly’s climate and habitat are a more complex problem, young children can also learn how to solve simple day-to-day problems with inquiry based learning.  As an example, a Pre-K student may be assigned to pass out paper napkins to classmates during snack time.  The student will need to know how many students are at each table and how many napkins to organize to pass out to his peers.  The teacher can use this as a teaching moment and inquire how many paper napkins are left on the counter or how many students are in the classroom.  “This is a STEAM experience because the children use reasoning to decide on solutions and reflect on those solutions to settle on an overall strategy for passing out paper napkins during snack time” (Eckhoff, 2020). 

What are the downsides and/or barriers and how might these be overcome?

            The concept of STEAM within early childhood education faces many barriers relating to developmentally practices and appropriateness of the integrations.  Teachers new to the early childhood education field benefit from learning about developmentally appropriate practices as the content and materials issued to young children may not be suitable for development.  This topic has been on the forefront for many years, however, the COVID-19 pandemic brought light to this area with the increased use of remote learning with mobile devices.  One of the major concerns centers around screentime with young children and the long-term health implications.  Research suggests that children to which participate in too much screen time are more likely to suffer from educational problems, obesity, social anxiety, sleep issues, and violence (Korhonen, 2021). 

            The Academy of Pediatrics provides recommendations for screen time for children 0 through 12 years of age.  It is recommended that a young child ages 0 to18 months participate in 42 minutes maximum a day while a child aged 6 to 8 years of age can participate in almost 3 hours daily (Morin, 2020).  Parents and educators can monitor, and limit screen time based on the individual needs of the child.

Where is it going in the future?

            According to research, STEAM within early childhood education has been historically focused on building foundation numeracy skills and on understanding natural sciences. Over the years, the concepts have expanded to integrate and promote creativity and expression through technology and science (Cohrssen and Garvis, 2020).  Present day, STEAM allows for integrations into all subject areas in the form of “hands-on projects, books, discussions, experiments, art explorations, collaboration, games, and physical play” (Cohrssen and Garvis, 2020). 

Robotics

            STEM or STEAM have been a big deal in the education field.  However, according Schrum and Sumerfield (2018), there is more focus placed on robotics and coding in education during recent years.  Educational Robotics (ER) is a new learning approach that is known mainly for its effects on scientific academic subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Recent studies suggests that ER can also affect cognitive development by improving critical reasoning and planning skills” (Di Lieto, Pecini, et al, 2020).  Research further suggests that ER can control the executive functioning of young children and results in positive long-term benefits.  

Why is it significant?

As mentioned, ER can enhance and control the executive functioning of the brain in children ages 5 and 6.  This discovery is significant as this is during foundational years of child development.  Research further shows that children engaged in activities to which incorporate robotics show enhanced skills in “reasoning, decision making, sequential thinking, memory functioning, problem-solving, and all of the executive functioning in the cognitive domains” (Di Lieto, Pecini, et al, 2020).  Since the executive functioning matures during the early teen years, it is suggested that young children engage in activities that enhances these abilities during their early stages of brain development.  Robotics have been viewed as a means of teaching basic life skills to children and adults.  Since robotics include many complex systems, students to which are engaged in these types of assignments will learn skills relating to personal development, team working, and cognitive development (Schrum and Sumerfield, 2018). It is suggested that all students participate in robotic activities and exercises, rather than a particular group of students.  Schools are seeking to integrate robotics into the curriculum, as a proactive means of training students. 

Within some school districts, entire schools have shifted to a STEM based curriculum, offering students the opportunity to learn hands-on technology lessons every day.  The largest school district within Tennessee, Memphis-Shelby County School District, seek to promote and enhance STEM education for students through varying programming.  One school, East High School, operates as a STEM and magnet school and seeks to grow the economic health of the city of Memphis through providing an enhanced curriculum in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.  There is a focus in students becoming college and career ready post-graduation. 

What are the downsides and/or barriers and how might these be overcome?

            There are always barriers when seeking to integrate complex topics into curriculum.  One of the primary barriers is the lack of teacher training in the area of robotics.  While some schools are equipped with technology education teachers on staff, other districts may not be as fortunate.  In retrospect, the research is suggesting that robotics be taught within every subject area.  This poses another kind of downfall, as teachers of general education backgrounds may not be able to fully deliver the content. 

            Another pitfall relates to the underrepresentation of students with disabilities within robotic and coding courses.  “Children with disabilities are pervasively under-represented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education” (Kolne and Lindsay, 2019).  Children with disabilities face barriers within STEM classrooms, as teachers are not comfortable with providing accommodations to meet the student’s needs.  “Research shows that teacher interactions with children in a robotics course are important for supporting children in the building process, and for helping them to identify and solve problems” (Kolne and Lindsay, 2019).

Where is it going in the future?

            Robotics in education will continue present day and in the future. As mentioned, when integrated properly, the benefits of ER can have a profound effect on all students.  “During the last decade, robotics has attracted the highest interests of teachers and researchers as a valuable tool to develop cognitive and social skills for students from preschool to high school and to support learning in science, mathematics, technology, and informatics, and interdisciplinary learning” (Schrum and Sumerfield, 2018). 

Hour of Code (Coding in Education)

Coding in education has grown to become a fundamental skill for children from kindergarten to high school.  The coding industry has grown over the years and organizations have sought to provide training and supplementary support to school districts.  One program, The Knowledge House, located in the Bronx New York seeks to provide high schools students and beyond with the opportunity to gain technical skills relating to progressive web development, cyber security, web design, and computer programming.  While this is just one program, there are numerous non-profits and organizations to which have made it their mission to provide technical training to people within underserved communities. 

Another organization to which seeks to serve the community, more specifically women is Girls Who Code.  The mission of this organization is to close the gender gap present within the technology sector and provide coding opportunities to women.

Why is it significant?

Integrating coding into curriculum is significant for workforce development, starting with the youngest students.  “Robotics and coding instruction has provided statistically significant contributions to preschoolers’ problem-solving skills compared to the pen and paper activities” (Cakir, Korkmaz, and Idil, 2021).  Robotics and coding activities add much to problem-solving and creativity thinking skills as well as digital citizenship and ICT skills included as twenty-first century skills. These kinds of activities can contribute to preschoolers, as well. This is because coding itself is a problem-solving process” (Cakir, Korkmaz, and Idil, 2021).  Preschoolers can design and build robotics using manipulatives in their classroom.  When a piece does not fit into the manipulative, the preschooler will then use problem solving skills to rearrange the design or select a new piece to fit into the puzzle. 

What are the downsides and/or barriers and how might these be overcome?

            “Coding is about thinking and putting those thought processes into a particular code” (Schrum and Sumerfield, 2018).  However, with everything there are downsides.  Research shows that students engaged within coding courses are more likely to experience disconnection in their day-to-day lives relating to in-person social interaction.  While technology usage aids to the overall motivation of student learning, there needs to be a focused placed on both synchronous and asynchronous learning to further enhance the interpersonal skills of students (Tugun, Uzunboylu, & Ozdamli, 2017).

Where is it going in the future?

            Coding within education will continue to evolve the way students receive content.  Teachers are integrating this concept into their learning environments and creating more opportunities for students to be fully engaged in the curriculum.  Teachers are resulting to flipped classrooms as a means of reaching and teaching students coding curriculum. “It has been observed that the application of the flipped classroom education method increased the motivation of students. Programmers should develop a model related the integration of the flipped classroom education model by collaborating with the academics working in education technologies” (Tugun, Uzunboylu, & Ozdamli, 2017).

Maker’s Spaces

            Many schools are resulting in maker spaces in the area of STEM.  These spaces give children the opportunity to learn and grow in a ‘safe’ learning environment.  As an example, students may visit their school library during lunch time to play with Lego’s along with a computer programmed tutorial (Fasso & Knight, 2020).  Students within the gifted program benefit greatly from this opportunity to recharge their brains and feed their imaginations.  “Makerspace’ is a term that refers to a physical space in which individuals engage for the creative purpose of making artifacts.” (Fasso & Knight, 2020).  Research suggests that makerspaces enhance problem-solving skills and give way for students to engage in a meaningful project. 

Why is it significant?

Maker spaces can vary based on their environment.  Whether the space is in a museum, library, college, or after-school program, students have the opportunity to engage in their interests as a means of connection to self.  Research shows an increase in individual identity with the presence of maker spaces. “On a common day, people operate like professionals in the field, and through this genuine enterprise, gain a personal identity situated within the domain such as a STEM-identity, an engineering-identity, or a technology design-identity” (Fasso & Knight, 2020).  Rather than building a ‘one-size fits all’ model of students, the presence of maker spaces allows for individuality to take place. 

What are the downsides and/or barriers and how might these be overcome?

            There is controversy centering around whether maker spaces are the next fad in education. Also, there are also challenges relating to technology and teacher expertise along with how to effectively integrate maker spaces into teaching when the curriculum and daily schedule is full.  “There are concerns around creating and managing the school makerspace which requires expertise that ranges from being a technical expert, a programmer, a creative problem solver, and pedagogy and STEM expert” (Fasso and Knight, 2020). Educators are also seeking ways to locate the interests of students through providing a student-centered environment rather than a teacher centered one. Lastly, one of the primary downside’s centers around the costs of maker spaces, especially within underserved populations (Fasso and Knight, 2020). 

            While the potential pitfalls are not easy to solve, teachers are still urged to create simplified forms of maker spaces within their classrooms or schools.  This can be done using a quiet space within the classroom or school library.

Where is it going in the future?

            In previous years, maker spaces were equipped with non-technical materials such as sewing and crafting materials.  However, research is showing maker spaces heading into the direction of mobile technical devices and 3D printers within local libraries (Maceli, 2019).  Libraries are seeking to use this space as an innovative method to promote new technologies, enhance digital literacy skills, and provide technical access for all (Maceli, 2019). 

References

Cakir, R., Korkmaz, O., & Ugar Erdogmus, F. (2021). The effect of robotic coding

education on preschoolers’ problem solving and creative thinking skills. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 40, 100812.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2021.100812

Cohrssen, C., & Garvis , S. (2021). Embedding Steam Into Early Childhood Education

              and Care. Palgrave MacMillian.

Eckhoff, A. (2020, March). Breaking down steam for young children. NAEYC. Retrieved

January 29, 2022, from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/feb2020/breaking-down-steam

Fasso, W., & Knight, B. A. (2020). Identity development in school makerspaces:

intentional design. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 30(2), 275-294. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10798-019-09501-z

Kolne, K., & Lindsay, S. (2019). Exploring Gender Differences in Teacher–Student

Interactions during an Adapted Robotics Program for Children with Disabilities. Social Sciences, 8(10), 285. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/socsci8100285

Korhonen, L. (2021). The good, the bad and the ugly of children´s screen time during the

COVID‐19 pandemic. Acta Paediatrica, 110(10), 2671–2672. https://doi.org/10.1111/apa.16012

Maceli, M. G. (2019). Making the future makers: Makerspace curriculum in library and

information science graduate programs and continuing education. Library Hi Tech, 37(4), 781-793.

https://doi.org/10.1108/LHT-01-2019-0005

Morin, A. (2020, September 17). How too much screen time can hurt kids and their

families. Verywell Family. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/the-negative-effects-of-too-much-screen-time-1094877

Schrum, L., & Sumerfield, S. (2018). Learning supercharged: Digital age strategies and

insights from the edtech frontier. Ingram Publisher Services. ISBN: 9781564846860.

Singh, S., & Balhara, Y. (2021). “Screen-time” for children and adolescents in COVID-

19 times: needs to have contextually informed perspective. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 63(2), 198-195.

https://doi.org/10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_646_20

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