How SAM Labs prepares students for long-term learning

Niall Sheedy

I’m an edtech writer eager to spread the word about STEM and coding. Having previously taught as an ESL Teacher and experiencing the same workload stress, I am passionate about creating opportunities for teachers to have the resources, whether at home or in the classroom, to create the best learning experiences for young learners.

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What educators and employers alike have learned from lockdown is that you can underestimate how productive people can be when working or studying from home. With a comfortable workspace, the right tools, and a clear goal in mind, people are capable of accomplishing just as much without a physical place of work. When things were normal, distractions were inevitable, whether it’s the sound of heavy traffic outside the window, or taking a tense daily commute to work. And I say that at home right now while listening to construction work outside my window. Although a little background noise can help to restore that sense of normality we’ve lost, right? 

According to a YouGov poll, only 9% of Britons want life to return to 'normal' once lockdown is over. So clearly there are aspects of lockdown which work better for Britons. An important exercise will be to take a look back and to focus on what aspects of lockdown life they want to keep, what they could do without, and to use what they have learnt to improve their day to day lives. Virtual learning is no different, and a rising trend of edtech tools being used during lockdown should find a permanent place in the future normality of everyday learning. 

At SAM Labs the unique value of its STEM and Coding products is in the physical, hands-on aspect of learning which engages students in a way that traditional classroom learning is limited. So when students were unable to take their classroom kits home, we had to consider how we would support learner continuity in the education industry, not just through a lack of physical tools, but by encouraging the right philosophy to foster learning practices that students can use in their future careers. 

Inquiry based learning in STEM and coding

Inquiry based learning in science and technology is fueled by a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to investigate the origins of things, whether it’s how a plane stays in the air so long, or how data is transferred from one end of the world to the other. Children have boundless levels of curiosity about the world around them, and ensuring they are provided a space at home to fulfill their curiosity that’s structured, like they have at school, is fundamental to inquiry based learning. 

Where opportunities for students to work with their peers were lacking at home, SAM Labs felt that a bit of healthy competition could provide a structured setting to challenge their learning, as well as develop long term soft skills, like collaboration, critical thinking and leadership.

Competitions to facilitate learning

Competitions set rules, boundaries and structure to learning in the same way as preparing for school exams, whether it’s for students just getting started in STEM and coding, or those further along and can use it as a skill-building opportunity. 

That’s why SAM Labs launched the Global Creators Competition. The competition was held virtually, meaning students were able to submit their designs and projects online. To ensure students were not limited by their home school environment, they were given the option of submitting their entry in one of two formats: one which required a STEAM or coding kit, and one that did not. Each had to be relevant to the theme of COVID-19. Students could use household materials and be creative while competitive. The fact that they could apply their personal strengths, whether mathematical, communicative or creative, incentivised more students to submit an entry. Moreover, with a deadline for completion and an understanding of the examination criteria, they were given the boundaries and structure to complete their projects and to overcome the drawbacks of submitting their entries virtually.

The competition organisers had the pleasure of deliberating over some remarkable competition entries from 13 countries participating across the globe, including the UK. You can check out the competition video entries below:


Summer Camps create new learning opportunities

Summer camps are hugely popular in the UK and the US because they help children grow to be more independent, build character and try new things, all within a structured environment supervised by parents and educators. Like competitions, there is no denying that allowing students to collaborate, and interact with one another in person, is an integral part of the experience. But continued school closures doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from camp activities that can be conducted virtually. 

SAM Labs Virtual Summer Camps, starting this July 2020, will aim to teach students the fundamentals of computing systems through camp-themed lessons. Here are some example activities, you probably didn’t think were possible online: 

  • Virtual bonfire to roast marshmallows
  • Interactive scary campfire stories
  • Solar oven for your favorite camp food
  • Camping tent to withstand extreme weather conditions
  • Virtual compass rose

Each camp-themed lesson gets students to analyze patterns and algorithms, develop systems with sequences and simple loops, and use their computational thinking skills to evaluate the functionality of their systems. 

What does the future of edtech hold?

It’s funny how a couple of months can change the course of everyday life. Indeed edtech has been sharply on the rise over the last few years, but the embracing of technology during school closures, and indeed office closures, has demystified the limitations about productivity at home and forced technophobes to adapt or as a consequence, fall behind. Edtech tools and resources will need to be more versatile and flexible to a changing learning environment, whether it’s in the classroom, at home, or a mixture of the two. With this evolution, the education industry must consider the importance of learner equity and affordability of edtech tools, in order to give everybody fair access to a changing learning landscape.

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