It should come as no surprise to anyone that there is a massive skills shortage in STEM. Unfortunately, another common issue that you often hear about is the lack of females studying and working in computing and technology. In fact, females working in some areas of technology, such as data science, are sometimes referred to as unicorns because of how rare they can be in that area.
Whilst we know that the skills associated with computational thinking are vital for today’s children to flourish in the 21st Century workplace, the practicalities of teaching coding during school hours can sometimes be perceived as a challenge. There is often a misconception that incorporating workshops and lessons that will instill the important skills associated with computational thinking will take a lot of work. But, with simple techniques, we know how easy this can actually be! Here are my top tips for breaking down barriers to coding and setting your pupils up with life-long skills...
Andrew Duffey, Head of Design Technology & Engineering and Computing at The Henrietta Barnett School for girls, talks about how VEX Robotics is preparing students for their future careers and the extraordinary demand for students to join the school robotics club.
Andrew has incorporated VEX IQ into the classroom using the free online curriculum, developed to meet national academic standards, to teach Year 8 pupils the key elements of STEM through robotics. He credits the practical and theoretical aspects of VEX as pivotal factors to ensuring students are engaged, as well as thinking creatively and critically throughout lessons.
“Whether it’s building or designing a robot or using the free programming software exploring coding languages where the transition to C++ is seamless, the girls’ knowledge of STEM is increasing every day," said Andrew. "I had a colleague at the school approach me about the benefits it has had on the pupils in his science class. As VEX teaches pupils about gears, linkages and ratios, they’re already familiar with lots of the theories introduced in Physics which their classmates are learning for the first time.”
Andrew’s implementation of VEX goes beyond the classroom. His school's teams engineer robots to take part in VEX competitions, which take place on a regional, national and international scale.
During the most recent VEX UK National Championships, which take place annually at Telford’s International Centre, The Henrietta Barnett School teams in attendance featured prominently during the awards ceremony, where accolades for the teams ranged from the Judges Award, to the Excellence Award, the top overall honour in the VEX competition. Andrew supports VEX events throughout the year and offers his support to local schools beginning their own journey with VEX was unanimously voted ‘Volunteer of the Year’ during the ceremony.
The measure of VEX Robotics’ success at HBS is evidenced by the sheer number of students attending the robotics club lead by Andrew and his colleague Sean Kelly, as well the rising number of students eager to get involved.
“We could easily treble the number of girls attending robotics club. If anything, that’s underestimating how many girls are keen to join, but unfortunately, we just don’t have the space for it. They have students queuing up at the door, sitting on the floor and even watching through the windows in awe of the robots being created by the teams. It’s just so wonderful to see them so excited by robotics!”
Not only is Andrew helping to capture the interest and imagination of girls through robotics, but he is helping to create an environment with phenomenal potential for moving into STEM careers. Since using VEX Robotics as a teaching tool four years ago, several girls from the school have gone on to study engineering courses that combine elements of robotics at university, including one at Oxford.
Visit the VEX website to learn more.
For schools, the question of which programming languages and tactics to focus is always difficult. To tackle this issue, VEX Robotics - the global leader in classroom and competition robotics - is kicking off the academic year with the introduction of two major edu-innovations. 2018/19 will be the year of VEX Coding Studio and STEM Labs. As well as getting students up to scratch in coding and computer science, both releases develop 21st-century skills like problem-solving, creativity and computational thinking. You’ll want to know about these resources - especially as they’re… free-of-charge - so let’s get acquainted.
VEX Coding Studio (VCS) is a one-stop software solution for the VEX IQ (Key Stage 2 and 3) and VEX EDR V5 (Key Stages 3, 4 and 5) robots. It seamlessly takes students from block-based to textual programming, walking learners through this notoriously difficult transition in a logical process. The software even opens up routes to advanced object-oriented concepts to stretch keen students.
VEX robots bring code to life and allow students to see the direct impact of programming on the real world. Getting hands-on with the EDR V5 and IQ robots actively involves students in the learning process and allows them to take ownership of their STEM learning; they’ll learn how individual maths and engineering elements come together to form solutions to practical problems.
The free VCS software is available on Windows and Mac, with Android, iOS and Chromebook support coming soon.
STEM Labs are a series of scaffolded, hands-on activities aligned with education standards that show real-world applications of concepts using the VEX EDR. Activities include diverse builds, games and competitions, all designed by a team of classroom teachers and cognitive scientists working closely with the world-renowned Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy.
STEM Labs offer hundreds of hours of free curriculum content across the STEM subjects and beyond. They implement concepts into Maths, Design & Technology, Engineering and Computer Science subjects, with minimal preparation time for teachers. Each STEM Lab can be used on multiple platforms and includes easy to follow build instructions. The activities give students multiple approaches to solving a problem, allowing them to communicate and collaborate with their classmates, experiment, and design creative solutions.
With these amazing free resources, VEX Robotics continues to lead the way in classroom robotics. Through the VEX IQ and VEX EDR robotic platforms, as well as the fastest growing robotics competitions in the UK, the VEX IQ Challenge and VEX Robotics Competition, the company aims to inspire the world’s next generation of innovators, thinkers and problem solvers.
During the course of the last few years, STEM fields have slowly moved towards the apex of academic desirability. Even employers not working directly within these areas highly value the skills associated with STEM, with 62% prizing programming skills and 71% valuing problem solving. This means that, for both today’s students and their teachers, there is a real onus when it comes to the acquisition of STEM. But how do you make these traditionally thorny subjects accessible to all pupils? How do you entice the reluctant scholar into the educational territory that they may once have been able to avoid?
Many schools struggle to get parent / community engagement right. The nature of teaching sees us thrown into a classroom with 20 or so students; when a bell goes, we move on to another class, and then to another. Our teaching is dictated by the bell. Unless collaborative time is factored into our busy days, we tend to work in isolation; sharing a few ideas as we pass by each other, or when we get a chance to meet at breaks over casual conversations. So if we find it difficult to find collaborative time with each other, how on earth can we find the time to get parents and the community engaged?
For schools looking to enhance teacher CPD, finding the right resources can be a tremendous hurdle. Therefore, knowing that an asset is both backed by in-depth research and popular with other schools is a real advantage. Enter Swivl, and their mission to create a culture of support in education.
As I write this, making my way back from this year’s Bett Show, my train journey is the perfect time to take stock, relax, and think about all of the things I’ve seen this weekend.