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Learning from MIT on STEAM Education

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About the Entity

MIT Edgerton Center’s mission is to provide the necessary resources, encouragement, and support for students to gain an education in engineering both in the conventional classroom and particularly outside of it.

The Center educates students through student-led clubs and teams, courses in engineering and high-speed photography, and machine shops and a makerspace where students design, fabricate and test their out-of-the-classroom projects. The Center also has a K-12 science and engineering program that includes daily and weekly activities, and intensive summer camps.

 

We interviewed Kim Vandiver, Founder of Edgerton Center to distill more insights about the work at Edgerton Center and its implications for the K-12 space:

 

Setting the Vision

Learning Principles

 

Edgerton Center is a strong advocate of hands-on learning, and that education should be fun and effective for students. “I never go into a classroom without bringing with me something fun, say a cool demo,” commented Kim. That perhaps is the mentality that the Center embraces in everything they do.

 

When it comes to the benefits of such a learning approach, Kim believes that a hands-on learning approach does not discriminate a good or bad “book learner”. It also means that students would be able to learn key concepts without a ton of vocabulary, (thereby helping English Language Learners, in the US context).

 

“Making” is a creative process that Edgerton Center actively promotes. The Center believes that rich learning experiences that are hard to measure on tests but essential for real-world experiences can be promoted through Making. In a Making culture, students can:

  • Direct their own projects to follow their natural curiosity and personal needs

  • Creating with their hands is a joyful form of play

  • Playing as they create naturally drives them to design - and redesign - better creations

  • Work together with others on projects, building both in-person and virtual communities in the process

  • Learn and build knowledge as part of a learning community, not just as individuals

  • Make things that are worthy of being exhibited, celebrated, and shared​

 
 

Enabling Cross-disciplinary Learning

Curriculum & Instruction

 

Seeking to deepen middle schools’ understanding of STEM concepts, Edgerton Center has designed STEM Enrichment Modules, which are project-based learning opportunities that can be adapted in the classroom environment and beyond. For topics like “3D Printing”, “App Inventor”, “Digital Game Design” and many more, the Center has designed relevant teacher guides, learning objects, lesson plans, assessments and resource guides (all free to copy and distribute at their website).

Quick Win for K-12 Educators:
Check out the STEM Enrichment Modules to see if you can bring them into your classroom, or modify it as after-school activities!

One common pushback that educators have against project-based learning is that it is time-consuming. In response to this, Kim believes that projects can actually be designed in a way that teachers can ensure that the learning objectives are covered. In a well thought-out project where different content can be embedded, he believes that it actually saves educators' time.


Within MIT, the Edgerton Center offers a wide variety of for-credit subjects and short programs that includes building a microcontroller, developing a strobe-photography experiment, or designing for the developing world. The Undergraduate Resource Opportunities Program (UROP) is another initiative supported by the Center to provide experiential learning opportunities. With the belief that learning outside the classroom is oftentimes just as valuable than what happens inside the classroom, the Center’s clubs and teams program also actively supports students with the resources, expertise and encouragement to take on engineering challenges for fun and competition around the world.

 

 

 

Learning Space

 

The Edgerton Center has long been a home for Makers at MIT, and over the years, had grown to support the wider community including the K-12 educators who are looking for access to tools, activities and collaborators.

 

To support K-12 educators in joining the community of Makers, the Center created a K12 maker website that provides useful resource to set up, operate and enjoy Makerspaces. It also periodically offers workshops for K-12 educators on how best to integrate a makerspace into the classroom.

 

When thinking of establishing a makerspace in the community, the Center believes that it is important to clarify the goals of the Makerspace. Here are some common uses:

  • Academic class support: Serves as a resource for enriching, engaging activities that serve many students and teachers

  • Student projects (for classes, clubs, teams, personal, etc.): Opportunity for students to work together in a space on projects that they likely could not do outside of school.  

  • Competitions: Allows students, teachers, and parents and community members to work together in a shared space

  • Camps: Can bring in funds and makes use of the space at times other than regular programming

  • Hanging-out space: Provides a safe, inspiring space for students to be during free periods or after school

  • Special projects: Provides a place for collaborative school projects

  • Community space for various gatherings: Provides a valuable space for community gatherings of all types; Increases visibility of the space; Can bring in sponsors and ideas for more community events

 

The Makerspace in itself can also come in different shapes and forms, as long as it fits the community and allows makers to engage in creative, empowering activities and projects. A makerspace can be a corner within a classroom, a portable cart, a room that’s part of a school library or computer lab, or a stand-alone shop or facility.

Quick Win for K-12 Educators:
Sign up for K12 Maker Workshops provided by Edgerton Center to learn how to design and operate a Makerspace, use maker tools, and build a stronger curriculum that facilitates active learning.
Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
How can your school leverage makerspaces to help students apply knowledge learned in classroom by doing STEAM related projects in makerspaces, thus inspiring creativity, collaboration and the community? What are the specific goals that should be set?

It is important to note that the design and implementation of a makerspace are critical to its success. The Edgerton Center believes that while exciting digital tools may draw students in, it's the facility for empowered learning that keeps them engaged. Activities, training, and academic integration to be just as important as tools and materials themselves.

 

(Visit the K12 maker website for more guidelines around the operations of a makerspace, ways to make, Maker Project methodology and maker project examples in the K-12 space.)

 

 
 
 

Enabling Active Learning Within Each Discipline

Curriculum & Instruction

 

Beyond STEM Enrichment Activities, Edgerton Center has developed two sets of curriculum for K-12 students -- the DNA & Protein Sets (most applicable to Biology), and the Molecule Set (most applicable to Chemistry). The curriculum and teaching material are widely popular and adopted in middle school classrooms.

 

Quick Win for K-12 Educators:
If you are a Chemistry/ Biology teacher, consider purchasing the DNA & Protein Set/ Molecule Set to play around and adapt them in your classrooms!

With the goal of making science learning hands-on, fun and effective, Kim Vandiver, Kathleen Vandiver and other staff at Edgerton Center started developing the teaching curriculum 20+ years ago. In the earlier years, Grade 6-8 students and teachers in the Cambridge area where invited to the Center to experience a new way of learning, and the curriculum continued to evolve since then.


When asked why the Center chose to develop the DNA & Protein Sets and the Molecule Set, Kim responded in saying that they wanted to focus on important concepts in science that are abstract and difficult to learn (hence DNA & Protein for Biology, and Molecule for Chemistry). A hands-on approach to teaching such concepts ensure that students fully understand these fundamentals. “You either get it right, or you can see it when it’s wrong,” said Kim.

Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
What are the fundamental concepts of your subject? How to aid students to make abstract concepts more concrete? Are there any ways in which you create a hands-on learning experience for it?
 
 
Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:

Building Capacity

Professional Development

 

Kim acknowledged that a learning-by-doing teaching/learning approach does not come naturally for some teachers. Hence right from the start, the Center ensured that the teachers themselves have to participate in the learning experience so that they are exposed over time to such a method of teaching. “Teachers shouldn’t be afraid of the chaos,” Kim said. “They have to understand that it’s noisy, but it’s (what students are doing) are really on task.”

The Center offers Atoms & Molecules Workshops and DNA Workshops that enables educators to transform the teaching of these concepts through hands-on methods. Maker Workshops are also offered periodically for K-12 educators on how best to integrate a makerspace into the classroom.

How do you make yourself comfortable with a hands-on approach which often seems more chaotic and difficult to control?
Quick Win for K-12 Educators:
Consider registering for the Maker Workshops offered by the Edgerton Center!
 

References:

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