For quite a few years’ people have been talking about STEM. If you have not heard of it yet STEM stands for the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Then the A was added a few years ago to make it STEAM with the “A” being the Arts. There has been a lot of talk about how to make this work in the classroom as well as finding ways it can be integrated into the curriculum. For some teachers the hard part is finding a project, unit or material that has all those elements in a unit. You might do well to have two or three of the STEAM components touching on a project but not them all. The search to find that right project is daunting If you Google STEAM units you will will come up with many. Where to start you might ask? Well I am here to tell you that I have one solution. I have a little electronics board that might hold the key to a STEAM program that could be used not with one unit, project or PBL but one that might follow with a student from mid elementary school right up to high school.
What am I talking about is an electronics board called an Arduino. A silly name yes but an extremely powerful electronic device that can be used in an infinite number of projects. A basic Arduino board has 14 inputs and outputs that you can connect hundreds of things to it. Your choice of add-ons ranges from many different kinds of motors to move things like robots. you can also add sensors that can detect motion, lights, sound, or a button to name just a few of the many sensors you could choose from. As well you can connect your computer to an Arduino that will accept input from your computer to the Arduino and from the Arduino back to the computer. The simple Arduino can even connect to the internet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Allowing your control your Arduino with many portable devices. I can even control my Arduino from my computer without having to be in the same room with it.
But wait how do you get it to understand all of this? Built into the Arduino is a programming language that would do us all good to learn. You write the program on your computer and then send it to the Arduino to run. I know I said that even elementary students could build things using the Arduino and they can. The folks at Scratch have created easy to use block type programming that makes programming the Arduino simple and quick. Others have picked up on the block type programing language and now there is about 4 easy to use programing environments for young students to use.
The best part about an Arduino is the cost. A basic board can cost as little as 50 RMB and a kit with ten or so parts including sensors electronics parts wires and more. This kit will get you going and the price is about 250 RMB. That is cheep enough that every student in your class could have one of there very own. As well that basic kit could get any willing teacher or team a start at looking at ways to build a new STEAM unit or using it to integrate into an existing unit.
The Arduino is all about programming, building circuits, learning about electronics, building the things that go with or around the Arduino and its components, sensors, motors and much more. That looks like all a great STEAM program needs I would say. Wait what about that A in STEAM how does it fit into this? Well believe it or not the Arduino got it start by and for artists. As a mater of fact when you write a program for the Arduino it is called a sketch. The are now whole programs in University teaching art students how to use the Arduino. The courses are called Physical Computing and artists all over the world are using them in amazing art shows. Look up Physical Computing and you will be amazing what this little board can do in the hands of a talented artist.
The Arduino can be made to control many different things. I myself have used them in my robotics projects in Grade 4 unit on systems. Besides that, I have made many other personal projects using sensors, LEDs, making noise, and telling me when my plants needed watering. I have used them in projects that interfaced with my iPad and Android Phone as well. The possibilities are endless where you could use an Arduino. I myself have just scratched the surface of the many projects available. Some of the first personal 3D printers used an Arduino to control it.
Ok by now your thinking you might try this thing out but wait what about the common core standards or the new Science Standard. I will admit there is not much out there as of yet but I know you are a teacher that likes to be on the cutting edge and this is just the place for you. I am happy to sit down with teachers and talk where this mighty device will fit in. I am happy to tell you all I know about the many different ways an Arduino can be used in the classroom.
If this has perked your interest in STEAM integration Let’s Talk!
Main Arduino web site
Different ways to program using Block code:
Tutorials on YouTube