Tag Archives: stem

Computational Thinking and Scratch

In my last blog about computer science learning standards, I wrote about the benefits of students learning to program. Coding was once thought to be a mysterious, obscure skill restricted to a few masterminds. But in light of the STEM demands of the future job world, it’s now considered the ‘new literacy’. Learning to code prepares students for the challenges of the careers of tomorrow. Not only are computers an integral part of daily life but learning how to engage with and control them is a powerful leverage that we can give our young people.

Additionally, programming teaches skills that apply to all jobs: logical or computational thinking, flexibility, persistence, problem-solving, confidence, creativity, and collaboration. Best of all, it’s challenging and it’s fun!

What is computational thinking?

computational thinking like a programmer

Teach students to think in sequential steps like a programmer

Computational thinking is the ability to break down a big problem into smaller sub-problems and to arrange them in an appropriate sequence. It’s a step-by-step procedure that is the foundation of science hypotheses and experiments, diagnoses such as medical evaluations and mechanical problems, and even tying up shoelaces. This cognitive, methodical approach to problem solving is the basis of algorithmic thinking: define the steps to complete the task.

How can computational thinking be taught?

computational thinking

Now that there are graphical programming tools such as Scratch and ScratchJr to teach coding to very young students, we should prepare them to think in a sequential, logical way. Before turning to the computer, break down some simple daily tasks into steps.

Here are some offline activities to try. Have students list all the ‘baby steps’, in the correct order, to complete a task. Then you may want to put their lists to the test by having one student instruct another to follow the steps literally as directed!

  • drink from a juice box
  • go out the door
  • put toothpaste on a toothbrush
  • make a peanut butter sandwich
  • get on a bicycle
  • add 2 two-digit numbers
  • shuffle playing cards
  • take out the garbage
  • get out of bed
  • blow up a balloon

They will soon find that ‘Get a balloon and blow’ might have the tester holding a balloon in his hand but blowing into the air. The steps should be broken down into something like this:

  1. Pick up a balloon.
  2. Place the open end of the balloon between your thumb and index finger.
  3. Put the open end of the balloon into your mouth.
  4. Blow into the balloon.
  5. Squeeze the open end of the balloon shut.
  6. Continue to blow until the balloon is full of air.
  7. Squeeze the open end of the balloon shut.
  8. Tie the open end of the balloon into a knot.

Use natural language first

Scratch cat

Before using the blocks in Scratch have students explain, in their own words, what steps are needed to perform a task.

For example, to make Scratch the cat walk and talk to the viewer, use natural language to list the instructions to the cat:

  1. Begin.
  2. Then take 10 steps forward.
  3. Say “Hello!”

After the steps have been explained verbally or written in natural language sentences, then go to the Scratch program and find the coding blocks that will perform those steps.

computational thinking

Preparing students to think logically and plan their ideas using their own words offline first will ensure success as they begin to construct code.

Computer Science Learning Standards

As educators, we agree that STEM education matters. The focus on science, technology, engineering, and math not only prepares young people for the jobs of tomorrow, but also builds the vital skills of design, logical thinking, problem solving, and trouble shooting. We recognize the need for students to develop computer literacy but more than just being confident users of technology, we want to encourage a culture of innovation. This has in turn generated a specific interest in computer science and programming as an essential component of the technology curriculum.

computer science scratch

Schools have recognized the need for students in all grades to develop a foundation in programming. The appearance of robotics in classrooms, coding clubs, and graphical, block-based programming languages such as Scratch, ScratchJr, and Blockly allow even primary students to develop an interest in being builders and creators of technology.

So now we’re committed to the value of computer science in our classrooms. But what exactly are the fundamental and critical skills that we should be teaching? A set of core guidelines can help teachers to develop computer science curriculum that introduces the fundamental concepts, engages students to develop an interest in coding, and fosters computational thinking, creativity, perseverance, collaboration, and all the other valuable skills that programming provides. Some schools, school boards, and states have written their own standards but if teachers don’t have a required set of learning standards, there are many resources available.

Here’s a list of sites with computer science standards. Is there one that works for you? Or, combine ideas and create your own.

Computer Science Teachers Association

  • clear, user-friendly set of learning standards
  • 3 levels: k-6, 6-9, 9-12
  • Strands: Computational Thinking, Collaboration, Computing Practice and Programming, Computer and Communications Devices, Community, Global, and Ethical Impacts

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

  • includes all areas of technology
  • recently edited to include Innovative Designer and Computational Thinker as two of seven strands, reflecting the significance of process, logical thinking, and breaking a problem into a sequence of steps

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

  • divided into elementary K-2 and 3-5, middle 6, 7, 8, and high school levels
  • programming and designing solutions first mentioned in K-2
  • high school includes specific standards for Computer Science, Game Programming and Design, Robotics Programming and Design, and many more

Next Generation Science Standards

  • search and download by level or topic
  • science-based, but includes Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science citing the importance of computational thinking, breaking down problems into smaller parts, and real-world applications
  • international; referenced by robotics kits manufacturers such as Lego (Click on Educational Standards to see Common Core and NGSS correlation in this sample) and VEX IQ (VEX IQ Curriculum Education Standards lists learning objectives for its online units)

Prince Edward Island Career and Technical Education: Robotics

  • specific to robotics in Grades 10-12
  • samples of rubrics, rating scales, reflection logbooks, and learning journals

Of course there are many more computer science standards documents online. If you have one to add to the list, please let me know!

Microsoft Office Proficiency and Career Readiness

In a recent post about STEM education and career preparation, I searched online to find jobs related to science, technology, engineering, and math. In the search box of popular job site listings such as Indeed or Monster.com, previously I had put job titles. Instead, this time I entered the keywords Microsoft Office. I was shocked to see the number of jobs in which Microsoft Office proficiency was listed in the Skills/Knowledge or Key Competencies requirements.

Microsoft Office

Skills in Microsoft Office programs is a common requirement in job postings

What does this mean for the students of today? As teachers, one of our main areas of focus is career preparation. It’s apparent that employers value technology skills in addition to the qualifications related to the specific job. Regardless of the career, whether it is as an environmental scientist, software developer, civil engineer, financial analyst, or any of the countless possibilities for the future, a foundation in the basic Microsoft Office programs is a benefit. A well-rounded proficiency in general word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, database, and desktop publishing skills is often expected. Once students acquire a balanced foundation, they are well prepared to branch out and learn more complex, job-specific software.

microsoft office proficiency

A wide variety of STEM jobs require a basic knowledge of Microsoft programs

Microsoft Office, STEM, and an Integrated Curriculum

STEM education advocates a blending of disciplines. Also, students should be given meaningful, real-world tasks. A typical challenge may require resources from a variety of curricular areas. Technology tools should be used as they are needed. To pick an application to complete a task, students need a well-balanced background in a suite of programs. Once they have a sound understanding of Microsoft Office, students can tackle an inquiry project and make an informed decision about which apps they need to use. If they need to write a report, they should already know how to use the main tools of Word. If they want to create a graph, a fundamental understanding of Excel is needed. If project results should be displayed as a visual presentation, previous experience with PowerPoint is indispensable. The skills to use the right tools empower students to solve problems effectively.

Microsoft Office and Interpersonal Skills

As students build Microsoft Office proficiency, the confidence they gain inspires them to confront new challenges and further inquiry. Their critical thinking skills, flexibility, and troubleshooting expertise help them to adapt to other computer applications that they may encounter in upcoming years at school or in the workplace.

Microsoft Office Proficiency and TechnoKids Technology Projects

As teachers, one of our essential goals is to equip students with technology and professional skills while offering an interdisciplinary curriculum in order to prepare students for the workplace of the future. This task can seem formidable for sure! Project based learning can achieve all of these goals.

TechnoKids technology projects are integrated activities that pose real-world problems. Students complete assignments such as publishing a newsletter, launching a new business venture, preparing a budget, collaborating to debate a controversial issue, or promoting a weekend getaway. As students solve these challenges, they learn the key computer skills that they need. TechnoKids Microsoft Extra Package is a collection of ICT and STEM technology projects for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more.

microsoft office proficiency

TechnoKids Microsoft Extra Package builds critical career readiness

Using a project-based framework, students build fundamental skills in word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, desktop publishing, and databases. In addition, the technology skills are blended with professional skills such as time management, communication, and teamwork. These are all critical elements for career readiness. Presented in a real-world, meaningful setting, each TechnoKids project engages students, fosters computer literacy, and inspires innovative thinking. By developing a sound basis in Microsoft Office today, students can be better prepared for STEM job opportunities in the workplace of the future.

STEM Lesson Plans for Career Readiness

Current emphasis on STEM education and the preparation of students for the workplace of tomorrow prompted me to research job opportunities recently. I found lists of the best STEM jobs and articles about essential skills we should teach our students. There is a consistent agreement that to promote career readiness, we should focus on:

  • Technology competence in a broad variety of apps
  • Professional skills such as flexibility, time management, and communication
  • Critical and innovative thinking
stem career readiness

TechnoKids technology projects support STEM education

In this post, I’m picking one particular job and exploring how we can engage students with career readiness skills training. If we can spark kids’ interest with a fun activity and then build valuable STEM proficiencies, the knowledge, attitudes, and skills gained will transfer to other areas. Developing an awareness and interest in STEM related careers is the first step to preparing students for the workplace of tomorrow. Trying on one job can encourage young people to reflect on future goals and choices.

Project-Based Learning and STEM Education

career readiness

TechnoTravel is a technology project in which students take on the role of a travel agent. They research a travel destination and then use presentation software to construct an advertisement that promotes a weekend getaway. The project-based activities correspond to STEM education guidelines:

TechnoTravel Builds Workplace Skills

What does a travel agent do?

A travel agent needs to listen to clients to understand their needs and interests. They must research information and prepare a proposal. They must schedule an itinerary, calculate costs to fit a budget, and attend to details. Finally, they need to promote the trip to the customer in an attractive and persuasive presentation. In TechnoTravel, students practice all of these skills as they plan a trip considering a target audience and then prepare a presentation as an advertisement.

Completing this project develops effective work habits such as time management, problem-solving skills, communication, perseverance, and productivity.

A travel agent’s responsibilities are similar to many other careers. The work ethic and skills learned, both professional and technological, can be transferred to other jobs.

TechnoTravel is Interdisciplinary

Integrating technology into other curriculum teaches multiple learning objectives in one activity. The teacher guide for TechnoTravel offers a great variety of suggestions for integrating technology into curriculum. Language Arts, Social Science, Science, History, or Geography learning objectives can be combined in a single project. Here are just a few of the many ideas listed in the guide:

  • Ecotour – Promote environmental stewardship by taking tourists into a natural or wilderness area.
  • Follow the Footsteps – Visit places of historical importance by following the route of a famous explorer.
  • Celebrate Cultural Differences – Feature the festivals, folklore, and cuisine of a unique culture.
  • Transport Back in Time – Travel to an ancient civilization with a time machine and experience the values, beliefs, and daily life of the time period.
  • Explore the Undiscovered – Visit other parts of the solar system or the ocean depths using futuristic technology.
  • Indulge a Hobby – Design a trip that caters to a specific sport, hobby, or interest.

TechnoTravel Develops Technology Skills

Students master a variety of learning objectives in an integrated project: online research, word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet skills, including:

Research Skills – apply search strategies, organize facts in a planner, gather websites with travel advice, pictures, and maps
Word Processing Skills – format text and paragraphs, copy formatting, select paste options
Presentation Skills – customize the slide master, insert and format picture files and objects, organize information in tables, insert links and videos, apply transitions and animation, customize the handout master, configure output options for presentations
Spreadsheet Skills – enter and format data into a workbook, modify columns and rows, apply currency format, calculate data using the Sum feature, apply fills and borderlines

TechnoTravel Engages Students

Learning is enhanced when students are interested and find a project personally meaningful. Planning a weekend getaway is a sure way to spark student interest and make connections using a relevant, real-world activity.

STEM lesson plans

TechnoTravel Builds Creativity

As each student designs a unique travel promotion, they generate original ideas, solutions, and final projects. STEM education stresses the importance of creative thinking in the jobs of the future. We don’t know exactly what the careers will require, but the ability to develop innovative insights and concepts will be essential.

STEM lessons

TechnoTravel Supports Personalized Learning

As students choose the destinations of their travel ads, they design unique promotions. Differentiation is a key part of the project. Students build on their individual strengths, needs, and interests. They gain ownership over their learning as they develop technology and interpersonal skills. TechnoKids step-by-step student workbooks allow for flexible pacing. Performance-based assessment is achieved through testing of the slide master, checklists throughout the project, and an itemized final marking sheet. Teachers play the role of mentor as students take the responsibility for their projects. An inquiry-based, student-centered approach is the foundation of personalized learning.

TechnoTravel Adds the “A” to STEM

steam career readiness

Educators frequently propose adding art and design to STEM education to change it to STEAM. TechnoTravel builds creative arts skills along with technology, curricular, and personal skills. Students are challenged to design a promotional tool enticing clients to take a travel vacation. They discover the value of a unique slide master design, attractive presentation appearance, eye-catching formatting decisions, and an easy to read and balanced layout.

STEM Career Readiness with TechnoTravel Technology Project

Visit TechnoTravel to learn more about this technology project. View a short video of a sample student project, examine the learning objectives, and read teacher reviews of TechnoKids projects. Teach STEM and STEAM career readiness skills in a fun, engaging activity for middle school students.