Real World Data: 3 Strategies for Cultivating STEAM Engagement

3 ways to increase student engagement:

  1. Use real world data.
  2. Maintain 1:1 student-to-technology ratio.
  3. Keep learning fun and casual.

Before knowledge comes curiosity. Every expert was once just curious. To stimulate and nurture students’ natural inquisitiveness, successful STEAM education experiences must be engaging.

The Tech Monsters have been turning our gears for a while, developing riveting STEAM content. We have found using real world data, one to one hands-on learning, and maintaining a fun, casual environment similar to a summer camp are keys to creating such an experience.

Look into a typing class, where often students are asked to reproduce documents about as interesting as pages from a phonebook. (If they can even imagine a phonebook.) Understandably, such materials fail to keep students’ attention and they disengage, which denies them a skill-building opportunity.

The same disengagement can be witnessed when students are learning Mathematica, which we use to plot and visualize data. Students can be understandably unenthusiastic about plotting and discussing data when they feel no connection. A solution to this problem is to have the students develop their own data sets for their work with Mathematica.

When students feel ownership of their data and tools, they naturally engage with them.

Before students ever touch a keyboard in our lab, they each build a small aquarium. This provides each student with a tiny world to probe and measure while creating their individualized data sets. When students feel ownership of their data and tools, they naturally engage with them. Fostering a sense of ownership provides an opportunity to solve unique problems and to assist other students.

In this peer-to-peer environment, helping each other provides a positive outlet for otherwise distracting socializing. Students troubleshoot issues ranging from matching correct cables and video inputs, to making changes to their microcontroller sketch. Peer-to-peer environments are low-risk and supportive of students who may have already begun to think they might not like STEAM in general. In this comfortable setting, students’ curiosity is rewarded and encouraged.

Peer-to-peer environments are low-risk and supportive of students who may have already begun to think they might not like STEAM in general.+

Engagement is a product of addressing students’ needs both individually and as a group. To support this, 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 individual questions or concerns while keeping the group focused. While we are able to cover a lot of ground, we are only able to do so by keeping it light and fun.

As facilitators for The Tech Monsters, we are always enthusiastic, passionate, and excited about the cool STEAM activities that we are leading. Like summer camp, there are no grades and learning is a side effect of fun. Students create memories and positive first experiences that shape their lifelong interest in STEAM.

For decades, educators have been trying to get students interested in STEAM. While the specific focus and skills have changed, the overall goals have not. Success in STEAM education has and will continue to require stimulating students’ engagement.

About the bloggers:

Michael

Michael, Co-Founder of The Tech Monsters

Michael develops curriculum and facilitates educational experiences with an emphasis on biology. His green thumb and love for invertebrates have been encouraged by his family. Michel grew up dreaming of being a genetic engineer, but instead studied brains in college. While pursuing his degree, Michael was fortunate enough to take a few elective courses in programming. These experiences made one thing abundantly clear: in the modern world, not being able to read or write code is to be illiterate. In the words of sci-fi visionary Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Michael sees The Tech Monsters as a way to increase technological literacy and embolden kids to create things that work like magic.
Miles

Miles, Co-Founder of The Tech Monsters

Miles develops curriculum and facilitates educational experiences with an emphasis on technology. Thanks to the support of his family, Miles grew up attached to a keyboard and mouse. Thanks to gaming, at a young age he became fascinated with computers. Miles enjoys continuing to develop new skills and sharing them with students. He believes that early positive experiences with technology build comfort and curiosity in kids’ minds. Curious people learn for fun and enjoy solving problems. They become leaders in their communities and seek to make the world a better place by working to understand problems and applying the right technology to find solutions. Miles believes that technology is a tool in building a more deeply connected and curious community.