I have a strong bias: I think every child in America should receive a K12 education that includes both technology and engineering - in the regular classroom. K12 education provides the foundational skills from which students choose their careers and in today’s world, a foundational education must include all the ingredients of STEAM, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics.
I have visited with many teachers who say their school district provides STEAM education, only to find that the school offers technology and engineering as optional high school classes or there is an optional after-school competitive robotics team. Most K12 schools in my area provide computers to all students, but are not providing technology and engineering education for all students. Does your local school say they teach STEAM, but instead they provide S(science) A(arts) M(mathematics) education for all students and T(technology) and E(engineering) for some (or none)?
Did you know that there are high quality technology and engineering educational materials readily available for students of all ages? Take a look at the reusable robotics competition kits from FIRST LEGO®️ League (FLL). Each year a new competition is released. Teams not only design and build a sensor based, programmable robot, but they also complete a science based research and design project. FLL competitions include engineering, technology, creativity, reading, writing, science, mathematics, problem-solving, presentations and team-work. Each year, FLL provides a well-developed, 100% reusable, project-based STEAM education, in a kit. Past FLL competition kits are often sitting on a shelf or in storage. These kits could be directly incorporated into project based classrooms or traditional schools that don’t have project based classes, could include a STEAM class (with robotics) in the rotation for art, music and gym.
Another option for STEAM is reuse of FIRST or VEX IQ competition kits. These competition kits are partially reusable, partially consumable. The base robots, the competition field and themed challenge can be reused, but modifications to the robots will result in additional supply budget each time the class is run. A required section of STEAM shop class is often feasible for eighth graders. During competition season, students might not learn both technology and engineering, but when FIRST and VEX IQ are taught in the classroom, all of the technology and engineering components become required for all students.
Not interested in classrooms with FLL, FIRST or VEX? Pick another quality robotics program. Be careful in your selection: inclusion of robots does not mean inclusion of technology and engineering. Look for robots that include a strong engineering component and also have a requirement for every student to learn programming with interactive sensors. A quality STEAM robotics curriculum will also embed strong educational components for reading, writing, math and science. Finances can be a concern for schools, so I recommend intentional selection of robots that can be reused.
Problems to overcome to see STEAM in the K12 classroom:
Can K12 SAM (Science, Arts and Mathematics) education be upgraded to K12 STEAM education? We already provide K12 students with competitive robotics, but until public schools teach STEAM for all, we have technology and engineering for some. Schools need to provide all kids with a foundational STEAM education. Share what you know. Get involved. Together we can move our educational system from: SAM for all and STEAM for some--->STEAM for all.
This blog was written by Christine, a volunteer and judge at FIRST events. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule!
A decision to become a mentor, is a decision to change lives. By looking back, it is clear that a couple of small decisions changed the course of my life and the lives of those around me. A simple decision to take a programming class in high school, started a chain of events that led me to become the robotics mentor I am today.
I grew up in a large family and it was difficult for my parents to juggle their myriad of responsibilities with our many requests for afterschool and weekend activities. It was impossible for all of us to go in different directions at the same time; as a result, our opportunities primarily came through “extra” classes offered at school or things we could with family or friends. The school made a small decision to have a math teacher offer computer programming. In tenth grade, I took that class and found that programming was a challenging and fun way to combine two things that came naturally to me: math and art. The school’s decision + my decision = I pursued a career as a computer programmer.
Fast forward a few years, I realized that the school my children attended had a lot of technology: computers for typing, drawing and learning Excel: but, no technology or engineering classes! I looked for something that would provide the missing T and E from my kids STEM education and found it: competitive robotics. There was one small problem: there were funds for after school robotics, but no robotics teacher. I made a decision: I volunteered.
Many years have passed and I have continued to be involved in robotics. As a woman, I have noticed that many robotics teams are missing a valuable asset: girls! Robotics is amazing, creative, fun and enjoyable: why would any girl choose to miss out? The more I observe, the more I wonder if girls are consciously choosing to miss out or if they simply lack the right opportunities….
It has been my observation that robotics teams with good female involvement are a direct result of one or more of these decisions:
Until K12 schools provide technology and engineering education to all students, women can make some small decisions that will have a huge impact. One way is to become involved in a quality robotics program. A word of caution, not all robotics are created equal and a decision to purchase robots doesn’t automatically result in STEM education any more than a school that purchases a lot of technology is guaranteed to provide quality technology education! I have mentored five different robotics programs and highly recommend FRC, FLL, FIRST and VEX: all of them have quality robots and excellent educational curriculum.
If you want a change at your school, it will take some work. Although a well-rounded robotics program is very educational and includes technology, engineering, problem solving, reading, writing and mathematics, many schools don't know what they are missing. If you can influence your school to include robotics for all, I recommend they consider using FIRST robots and educational curriculum, it starts as young as preschool. Another quality robotics education is available through VEX IQ.
Whether you work in a school or in a club: share your experiences with others. Encourage other women to become mentors alongside you. Choose to become actively involved in making tomorrow better for ALL of our kids - girls included!
This blog was written by Christine a volunteer and judge at FIRST events. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule!
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