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​RWU Students Instill Early STEAM Skills In Fourth Graders

Four RWU education majors work with students at a Pawtucket Elementary School to teach them concepts of engineering, programming and robotics
Annamarie Kohlman '19 watches as fourth graders at the Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Pawtucket adjust their programing code-block to correct the steps their LEGO EV3 robot takes.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – RWU Education Professor Associate Professor LiLing Yang is a firm believer in exposing K-12 students to STEAM – which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math – early on. It’s one of the reasons her Engineering for Teachers course focuses on teaching fourth graders engineering principles using LEGO robots.

"The younger they [the K-12 students] get exposed to this kind of engaging, hands-on STEAM program, the more likely they will consider their future study or future career in the STEAM field," Yang said.

Early exposure is increasingly important since the science and technology sector continue to boom. As a result of that, a major need for the nation’s schools is having enough highly skilled, certified STEAM teachers to develop those skills in students from a young age. With its STEAM certificate program, RWU is providing its aspiring teachers with the STEAM skill set they will need to differentiate themselves in the job market while helping fill the critical need for STEAM teachers.

The STEAM certificate program is open to all elementary, secondary and educational studies majors. Along with the required courses they take, students are able to have classroom-based experiences to put into practice what they learn.

The first course in the program is Yang's Engineering for Teachers course. In it, aspiring teachers are introduced to methods for teaching engineering principles to K-12 students using LEGO robotics. As part of the course, RWU students learn core programming concepts along with basic engineering practices to learn to build and program LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 robots using the “Introduction to Programming EV3 Curriculum” produced by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy. Students then have to implement their learnings by designing and teaching robotics engineering lessons to children in upper elementary grades or middle school students.

This year, in partnership with RWU's Community Partnerships Center, Yang and the three undergraduates enrolled in the course – Meghan Curran '17, Annamarie Kohlman '19 and Amanda O'Brien '18 – worked with around 20 fourth grade students and their teachers at the Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Pawtucket.

Here are photos and reflections from their final lesson:

A photo of one of the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 robots that used for the project. With Yang's help, the RWU students taught themselves basic and intermediate concepts of programming, such as inputting command sequences and decision making structures like whether the robot stays within black-taped areas or chooses to cross into red-taped areas.

O'Brien, a math and secondary education double major, said the fourth graders learned the same thing her and her classmates learned. "It's just a little bit more basic for them," she said. Here, O'Brien works with the elementary students on their final challenge, where they have to program the EV3 to pick up a series of LEGO boxes and put them into a taped-off square in the center while staying inside a larger taped square.

Kohlman watches as her students adjust their programing code-block to correct the steps their EV3 takes. "They don't have to get it exactly right, but as long as they understand it and are able to think of different ways of how to fix problems that might come up as they are programming, I think that's pretty successful," she said.

Curran took the course to challenge herself and broaden her skill set. "I'm always looking to better myself and try new things. If I don't open myself up to new ideas, my students aren't going to be able to learn them from me." Here, she uses the STEAM skills she learned to help her students.

From their interaction with the RWU students, the fourth graders learned more than just robotics and engineering. They made connections regarding postsecondary education and were able to see themselves as future college students, said Kathleen Maher, one of the fourth grade teachers at Greene. "One the kids said, 'I want to go to college. I want to go to Roger Williams University,' because now they have a connection."

Along with Maher, the fourth grade teachers that worked with Yang’s class were Keri Fournier, Lisa Garcia and Tracey Kareemo.

The RWU Community Partnerships Center provides project-based assistance to nonprofit organizations, municipalities, government agencies and low and moderate income communities in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. To learn more about how to get involved visit http://rwu.edu/about/partnerships-initiatives/cpc.