TUFTS University is located in Medford, near Boston. The Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) runs a number of research and outreach programs for students and teachers at the local and international level. A long association with LEGO means that the center has a well developed and broad understanding of LEGO robotics as a engineering tool for education. The Associate Director Merredith Portsmore and her team took time to share with me some of the programs with strong STEM connections.
STOMP – (Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program) is an opportunity for undergraduate, graduate, high school, and industry employees to promote engineering education in K-12 settings. STOMP fellows provide expert engineering knowledge to K-12 classrooms to assist/mentor K-12 teachers and students. Simultaneously, STOMP fellows learn about K-12 learning from the teachers and students.
Currently, the STOMP program engages 59 Tufts students from a variety of academic disciplines. Undergraduate and graduate student employees work between 5 and 10 hours each week, including classroom time, preparation, and weekly development meetings.
InterLACE (Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment) project aims to support high school students in carrying out collaborative inquiry-based lessons. The InterLACE toolkit provides both features and teacher-customizable content that encourage discussion, debate, self-assessment, reflection, and collective sense-making. It very much makes use of the flipped classroom model and encourages openness, sharing and collaboration in a supportive visual manner.
DrEschallenges is a web platform providing users anywhere in the world with a virtual community exploring LEGO WeDo. Monthly challenges are set and users can upload media of their project for others to view. As Dr Ethan Danahy writes, The goal for this site is to create a set of challenges to promote science, math, and engineering education in classrooms. We hope that the site provides opportunities for kids to help and learn from each other, and for teachers to find a valuable support community for trying engineering in the classroom.
LEGO Engineering is a site dedicated to LEGO robotics and offers support at many levels from beginner to expert. A variety of tutorials, demonstrations, code and articles are available.
An exciting initiative is the five year nationally funded Integration Engineering and Literacy project. Using an interdisciplinary model the goal is to support classroom teachers to merge literacy comprehension through novel studies with a STEM engineering component.
Rationale for the project can be found at http://ceeo.tufts.edu/research/projectsIEL.htm while a new website for teachers has recently been launched at novelengineering.org. Students identify a problem or challenge in a text and set about designing and building a solution to that problem. Examples of texts and the challenges the characters face can be found at http://novelengineering.org/what-is-novel-engineering/get-started/book-ideas/
I see great value in the project. It offers teachers who are not confident with the designing and make process a way in through using texts that they are familiar and at ease with. By combining both literacy and STEM, an integrated project learning experience is accessible and students have an engaging and challenging environment in which to succeed.
I was keen to hear more about 21st century learning spaces and the term ‘Makerspace’ is one we hear increasingly. A makerspace is a space for students to create and make, there is no one set model and each school would design and grow its makerspace around student and teacher input. Examples might include books as needed, teacher lead experiences or student choice. Core elements might include modular and adjustable furniture, few horizontal surfaces and tools should facilitate expression of ideas. These could include LEGO bricks, SAM animation, squishy circuits, curated content and wall storage. The CEEO is working with a local school to design its own makerspace that will benefit not only the school but surrounding schools through a community outreach program.
In the near future the CEEO aims to grow educational influence and translate its research findings into effective teacher practice. It aims to increase its online STEM graduate engineering courses while acknowledging that it can take 3-4 years to change teacher styles and practice.
From a research perspective Merrideth is keen to pursue research that offers a construct of what kids can and cannot do while breaking down stereotype of what child can and cannot do, At the same time considering what do we value in learning and how do we measure it. It is also important to get students to push back through questioning and challenges rather than spoon feeding content. We need to ask students, Why is it fun? What do you like? How do you interact?
Thanks to Merredith Portsmore, Ethan Danahy, Elissa Milto and Riley Meehan for hosting the visit.