While most middle school teachers look for ways to keep distractions like technology out of the classroom, there’s a new trend to use technology IN the classroom as a learning tool. A recent study found that students need hands-on learning to build confidence and improve educational outcomes, prepare them for the future with the skills needed to work in today’s (and tomorrow’s) digital world.
There are shelves full of tech toys like Lego, Sphero, Ozobot, and more designed to teach STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) skills like coding and robotics. But STEAM isn’t just about learning the basics of coding, it’s also about understanding how to apply that learning and logic to big picture issues and working to find solutions.
Companies like Lego, Sphero and others are designing products specifically for the classroom to teach kids the skills they’ll need for the jobs of tomorrow; to help middle schoolers build the confidence to try new things, not worry about failure and most importantly, to collaborate.
For instance, Sphero, an app-enabled robot, has the Sphero Edu app which is filled with thousands of activities and lesson plans teachers can use to teach coding. They just announced CS Foundations, their first-ever computer science curriculum for teachers with three different courses targeted at 3rd-8th grade.
Lego SPIKE Prime is Lego’s new classroom robotics and coding system for middle school. It combines hundreds of colorful LEGO building elements, easy-to-use hardware, and a drag-and-drop coding language based on Scratch. I recently got a chance to play with it, as well as the opportunity to chat with Marianne Nytoft Bach, LEGO Education’s product lead on SPIKE Prime.
Why did Lego design SPIKE Prime?
We wanted to develop something that was really easy and uncomplicated for the teachers because we know that teachers are really talented today. There are a lot of requirements, especially in middle school, because they have to take their students to the exams and they really only have 45-minute sessions to do that. We wanted to make something that would set them up for success.
What kinds of projects do kids work on as they learn to code?
It’s not just about coding, it’s about coding with a purpose. And a meaningful purpose for that age group. So, for instance we have the creation called Rain or Shine. It reacts to weather data. So, if it’s sunny, it puts on sunglasses and if it’s raining, it opens up the umbrella. This is about making it personally relevant, building something they can relate to. Not everybody wants to go to the moon and build a spaceship, some students want to build something that is closer to them. We wanted to make sure the coding part is integrated into their everyday lives.
What’s unique about your approach?
Our approach to learning is there’s not one right answer, there are many right answers. We post a challenge, you come up with an answer. There could be good answers coming from all sides and that is what creates confidence. It stimulates the students’ confidence in themselves; “I can do this!” And then they start challenging themselves even more.
How are you using this to teach kids the skills they’ll need for the jobs of the future?
By combining the physical and the digital, they’re getting a hands-on STEAM learning experience. All our lessons are built for working groups, so they also develop their 21st century skills like communication, creativity and critical thinking. Critical thinking is the most important part of middle school today.
Lego has a site dedicated to lesson plans for teachers using not only the new Lego Spike Prime but Lego Mindstorms as well.