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Category: STEM

Top Tips for Great Cross-Curricular Coding

Originally Published:

How and where our students learn has radically changed over the last 10 months. Students are in a multitude of educational environments that have challenged the entire school community. As educators, we cannot predict what the future holds, but we understand the importance of developing core skills such as collaboration, effective communication, and problem-solving in our students today.

In a recent edWebinar sponsored by Unruly Splats, Lauren Watkins, Marketing Director, and Christine Danhoff, Technology Integration Specialist at Genoa Area Local Schools in Ohio, advocate integrating coding and computer science into core subjects such as math, music, art, world language, English, and physical education.

When working in tandem with core curriculum standards, computational strategies inherent in coding build meaningful, essential critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in students.

A common misconception about coding is that teachers need a degree or certificate in computer science to incorporate coding into their curriculum. The presenters debunk this myth by conveying that teachers who have an open mindset and learn along with students can generate excitement, energy, and motivation for the entire class.

More than traditional paper and pencil activities, coding activities can connect learning for students, introduce multistep processes, and develop computational thinking skills. Danhoff describes how a preschool teacher integrates coding and algorithms using Bee-Bot programmable robots to teach math and basic reading skills to three- and four-year-olds. In another classroom, second-grade students use coding sequences to develop story creation strategies, make connections, feel empowered, and learn how to fail forward and never give up.

One of the benefits of coding, according to the presenters, is collaborative opportunities for students using a pair programming method.

Students often struggle with the desire to do independent work and can be resistant to team or group work. By identifying students’ skill sets, teachers can advantageously pair students together for hands-on activities tied to the curriculum. Whether virtual or face to face, students are assigned roles that allow them to communicate, problem-solve, and work as a team.

What stands out to Danhoff and Watkins is that coding and programming are not once-a-year events such as the Hour of Code, afterschool activities such as robotics club, or stand-alone courses such as AP computer science.

When teachers co-teach with technology integration specialists on projects that use both coding and content area standards, students have the opportunity to shine and realize that they are good at something they didn’t even know existed. The presenters reflect that it is gratifying for educators and students to discover that future computer scientists or computer engineers emerge through cross-curricular activities. The excitement, engagement, and empowerment have the potential to open doors to new learning experiences for all students.


Transforming your Library into a Makerspace

In a recent edWebinar, hosted by, Michelle Luhtala, library department chair, and Donna Burns, technology integrator, both from New Canaan High School (NCHS) in Connecticut, showcased the transformation of the NCHS library from a collection of used reference and biography books into a living, breathing makerspace. Using mostly recyclable materials, equipment, and furniture, these educators provide learning opportunities for students and teachers that have changed the school climate and culture. “Making learning more real for students allows them to learn better in a much more energized school,” said Luhtala.

A multi-year redesign

Through a five-year radical book-weeding process from 2011- 2016, the NCHS library had eliminated all of the library’s free-standing bookshelves. This process created both an opportunity and a challenge for Luhtala and Burns to convert this newly created space into a makerspace. With minimal funding in the early stages of the makerspace, the duo salvaged discarded lab tables and art stools and recycled material from all areas of the school.

Related content: 5 ways STEAM is used in storytelling

Although this space was optimal for student making, organization and storage issues became the prime concern in the second year of the makerspace. Luhtala and Burns rescued much-needed shelving from the elementary school. They clamped the refurbished shelves to create an 80-bin storage system that provided teachers and students easy access to the makerspace materials.

The third-year was the most significant when the makerspace moved into a new area in the library. Windows and doors were removed to open up the entire space, teacher offices converted into soundproof video booths/virtual reality rooms, and the lower library furnished with flexible caster seating for double classrooms.

Collaboration is key to a better makerspace design.

However, the most significant changes happened when the school district began allocating funds previously earmarked for library books to the NCHS makerspace. Luhtala and Burns collaborated with the NCHS CTE interior design class on a design challenge project that focused on the makerspace overall area, materials, signage, and work stations while keeping spatial planning and traffic flow in mind. The students’ simple design became the inspiration for profound changes in the makerspace, including rolling carts, foldable tables, whiteboard walls, and reorganizing materials and supplies.

During the first year, the makerspace was stocked with basic craft and recycled materials such as butcher-block paper, markers, and LEGOs. By the second year, when the types of makerspace materials increased to 80, Luhtala and Burns painstakingly organized, labeled, and categorized them into alphabetized bins. However, they began to think about the organizational part of these materials and how to get students to plan their projects before they come to the makerspace.

By creating a worksheet template, students spend less time deciding on materials and more time on making.

They also wanted to encourage students to take ownership of the space and put elements back in an organized manner. Larger labels were put on material bins, supply carts got wheels, and installed pegboards were hung with frequently used materials such as pencils, erasers, scissors, and paper. By organizing the materials by workflows, such as coding, circuitry, and electronics; needlecraft; and 2D and 3D elements, Luhtala and Burns discovered that the materials used the least amount of time were the most expensive.

Impact of transformation

The NCHS library is used every period as classroom space, and students with free periods stop by to create in the makerspace. In the first year, the makerspace became a popular location for students to build dioramas, monster trucks, and child development sensory boards. However, it did not get much attention from teachers until that summer when NPR posted the NCHS makerspace edWebinar about a year in the life of a makerspace on its Facebook page. NCHS teachers began to explore the makerspace and the second year’s start brought more teachers and classes to the makerspace for whole-class making.

At the end of year three, when Luhtala and Burns saw that coding, robotics, and circuitry workshops were a little bit elusive, they started experimenting with augmented and virtual reality and robotics. With a new “techxperts” one-credit course, students are empowered with leadership through independent projects and are running well-attended lunchtime workshops. One techxpert created a website that demonstrates coding and robotics resources for the classroom. This student-designed website communicates to the school community how the makerspace resources can be integrated into their curriculum.

Luhtala said teachers are now bringing their classes to the makerspace with very intentional goals and revamping and redesigning classroom projects with high- and low-tech options. She emphasized that if a student or teacher is attracted to a makerspace idea, it is critical to feed that interest because it is usually a minimum investment and may spark other makerspace enthusiasts’ attention.

Originally Published: eSchoolNews

FETC 2020: Stem, Safety, and Students

Student engagement and empowerment were evident at FETC 2020 in Miami, FL. Topics ran the gamut from the latest tech tools and personalized learning strategies to funding, supporting, and sustaining district technology initiatives.

FETC 2020 offered sessions and workshops, interactive spaces, an extensive expo hall, and purposefully-chosen dynamic, energizing, and inspiring keynote presentations. More than 20,000 attendees from around the world experienced unlimited opportunities to network, learn effective teaching strategies, share resources, and be inspired. Even though the Miami sunshine was enticing, attendees moved excitedly from session to session, eager to soak up all that the conference had to offer.


In the early years of STEM and STEAM adoption, students’ hands-on experiences were limited to isolated classroom activities and computer labs. This stand-alone model did not engage the entire school community, nor was it transferrable to content areas instruction.

With sessions at FETC 2020 such as “Coding, Robotics, Project-Based Learning and Mathematics” and “Cross-Curricular STEAM Integration for Every Classroom,” attendees learned how innovative educators are integrating STEM STEAM projects to connect students to real-world situations.

In the Expo Hall, companies such as Ozobot created “classrooms of today” to demonstrate how empowering teachers with a strong curriculum and products designed to engage students can help them incorporate coding and STEAM into social studies, ELA, math, and science courses. Even more inspiring was the STEM Theater, where throughout the conference, K-12 schools recognized as FETC STEM Excellence Award finalists showcased innovation, commitment, and visionary paths for their students.

Social and emotional learning

Empathy, self-regulation, responsibility, and relationship-building skills are human skills that are critical to the development of digital citizens. It can be challenging for education leaders to measure SEL programming’s success and impact on their students.

Edtech professionals at FETC were on hand to discuss how they’ve developed programming, strategies, and personalized options to allow classroom teachers, support staff, and building administrators to do just that.

Ed Tech Library Media Specialist and Future of Ed Tech Educator tracks highlighted sessions such as “Social and Emotional Learning in the Library” and “Social-Emotional Skill Building Through Coding and Robotics” that demonstrated how project-based learning increases student engagement and reduces behavioral management issues.

Software companies such as Everyday Speech were resources for school-based professionals and educators to use tools such as video, modeling, worksheets, and games to help students with social learning challenges. With new SEL content, Brainpop offered multiple sessions at FETC to incorporate social and emotional learning skills through modeling and classroom strategies.

Student safety

Student safety and student data privacy were on every CTO, IT professional, and district administrator at FETC 2020. Sessions including “What Every District Leader Needs to Know about Cyber Security” and “Cyber Security Measures and Assessments,” highlighted critical strategies that every district should implement to combat cyber-attacks. The “How to Find Technology That Improves School Safety” panel focused on the do’s and don’ts when it comes to safety solutions.

Software companies such as Impero, Securly, Gaggle, GoGuardian, Mimecast, and Managed Methods offered district tech leaders optimal student safety options ranging from protecting student data to protect students from self-harm, inappropriate content, and potential violence.


With the advent of esports in schools across the country, FETC offered conference attendees a not-to-be-missed interactive experience. Encompassing a significant space in the Expo Hall, the Esports Gaming Arena, and the North America Scholastic Esports Federation staged an esports environment easily replicated in any school setting. Middle and high school age students invited attendees to experience and learn about how this program positively supports, impacts, and engage a population of students eager for this educational environment.

Underlining all the sessions, workshops, keynotes, sandboxes, and learning spaces at FETC 2020 was the commitment of every edtech company, classroom educator, IT professional, district leader, and CTO to ensure that students have the tools and skills to own their learning and to grow and develop into the curators of our future.

FETC will be back in Orlando, January 26-29, 2021, for its 41st year.

Source: eSchoolNews

Bridging the Gap Between Science and Coding

Students exposed to coding and programming at an early age are well equipped to take on higher-level computer science courses in high school—and they also build essential skills for future opportunities in the technology world.

When Rob van Nood was hired as the educational technology specialist for Catlin Gabel School in Oregon, coding and computer science courses were only offered in grades 9-12, and not to students in the younger grades.

This lack of coding education in earlier grades left a significant teaching gap in 21st century skills such as problem solving, designing, and computational thinking.

In a recent edWebinar, van Nood explained that it is his mission to mentor and facilitate computer science learning in a manner that integrates coding in every aspect of his students’ education.

Engaging students with coding and computer science must extend past the walls of the computer science lab.

Hence, while it is great to see students on the ground, learning from coding tutorials and programming robots, students must be able to make a connection between coding and the physical world.

“I didn’t feel great that I spent all this time building these relationships with kids and getting them to understand a little bit about coding. Then, after those days, they didn’t have any other use for the technology or use for coding outside of robotics that they might do at a camp,” said van Nood.

Integrating coding and programming into K-8 core curricula takes a special relationship and commitment between classroom teachers and instructional technology specialists.

When applied properly, coding and programming can have a positive impact on core curricula. van Nood sees not only more engagement of students but examples of problem-solving skills like conditional thinking and trial and error that are enriching classroom instructions.

Middle school science projects such as the environmental aspects of sustainability and the Copernican Revolution are great opportunities for students to use products such as mBots and SAM Lab tools to apply to their learning. The familiar Goldilocks story becomes a project when students are the designers and prototype builders of the perfect “tea” temperature using tools such as SAM Labs, Microbits, Vernier probes, and LEGOs.

Science courses are not the only way to connect students to coding. Middle school social studies curricula on Feudal Asia/Medieval Europe and the Hillary Steps are perfect avenues for incorporating STEM tools. When students develop, analyze, and interpret data and artifacts, they are challenged to explain their thoughts in writing as well as show their ideas in strong metaphorically visual models.

van Nood emphasizes that students need to be creators of their learning. It is critical to establish best practices for engaging students with data collection technology.

Recognizing that girls are excellent coders, both curriculum leaders and classroom teachers must develop inclusion strategies to overcome the prevalent gender stereotypes of coding and robotics.

Originally Published: eSchoolNews

FETC 2020: A Focus on Stem and Underrepresented Students

FETC recognizes the challenges and roadblocks school districts and educators face when providing equitable access to STEM education for all students.

According to the National Science Foundation, students need in-depth, high-quality educational STEM experiences to succeed in the “information-based and highly technological society.” Across the country, districts recognize STEM education as a priority and implement programming that provides K12 students with hands-on, project-based STEM lessons. Based on a 2018 report, STEM education is not an equitable experience for all school districts or all students. In the case of the haves and have nots, school districts in low-income areas with limited funding resources struggle to provide students with access to computer science classes, comprehensive STEM programs, and adequately equipped science labs. Even more disturbing is that underrepresented students, such as girls, students of color, students with learning disabilities, and students in low socioeconomic backgrounds, are not regularly presented with learning opportunities that would expose them to challenging STEM. 

FETC (Future of Educational Technology Conference) recognizes the challenges and roadblocks school districts and educators face when trying to provide equitable access to STEM education for all students. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in Miami, Florida, on January 14- 17, 2020, FETC once again will prove itself as one of the top edtech conferences to attend this year. With a wealth of STEM sessions, workshops, learning labs, and school tours, attendees will experience proven strategies and solutions to combat the growing numbers of students with little or no exposure to STEM projects.

STEM Keynote

No one is more in tune with the urgency of ensuring that all students, especially those in the underrepresented categories, have an abundance of STEM educational opportunities than Justin Shaifer. Shaifer, aka Mr. Fascinate, is the founder and executive director of Fascinate, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides culturally responsive lesson plans and experiences to students across the US. During FETC 2020, this high energy 24-year-old will engage attendees with his STEM Keynote presentation, “Bring STEM to Class: A Practical Guide to Education.” Shaifer’s goal “to be for STEM what ESPN is for sports” and to inspire young people to “embrace their inner nerd despite their surroundings.”

STEM Sessions

Echoing Shaifer’s mission to bring STEM education to every classroom and every student are the courageous, committed, and visionary edtech leaders, educators, and support staff presenting at FETC 2020. Within the six edtech strands that have become synonymous with FETC, numerous sessions focus on innovative practices and solutions to ensure students are positioned well for the yet to be created STEM positions available when they graduate. 

Sessions such as Coding in K-8 Classrooms: Empowering Creativity and Content CreationCross-Curricular STEAM Integration for Every Classroom, and Collaborating Across Curriculums Using Digital Tools and Maker Space highlight the importance of ensuring that makerspaces are not the only place students learn science, technology, engineering, and real-world math applications.

These sessions reflect the belief that coding exposes more students to STEM education when integrated across curriculum areas, resulting in students who are more engaged, energized, and active participants in their learning. 

Educators recognize but don’t always have the skillset to connect and engage underrepresented students in STEM areas. Encouraging Underrepresented Populations to Engage and Stay in STEMEngaging Students in 21st Century Skills Through an Engineering Mindset and Hero Elementary: Designing Accessible Digital Experiences to Promote STEM Equity sessions showcase how classroom teachers can champion inclusion by connecting students to content-rich STEM experiences while supporting their needs and learning struggles. 

When school districts have the necessary funding and educators have the tools, skills, and resources to provide students with multiple opportunities to have hands-on STEM learning opportunities, the playing field becomes leveled for underrepresented students. Attending FETC 2020 is an opportunity for edtech leaders and educators to learn about the struggles of underrepresented students, interact with colleagues on common issues and leave with strategies and solutions to the barriers many of our students experience in STEM education. 

Source: FETC 2020: A Focus on STEM and Underrepresented Students Tech & Learning January 2020

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Getting Started with AR in the Classroom

Jaime Donally describes augmented reality (AR) in a recent edWebinar as a “digital layer in our real world that gives an illusion that it exists in our space.”

As she highlights, it is exciting, as emerging technologies associated with AR are feeling much more realistic. AR software such as Google Maps allows the viewer to have guidance as they walk in a new area, and AR-embedded browsers can display 3D animated objects in real-life environments.

The key to giving students opportunities to use AR begins with supporting teachers to enhance learning experiences for students. Using AR software and tools such as 3DBear and MERGE, teachers have access to an abundance of activities and lesson plans that offer more in-depth content, provide opportunities for collaboration and exploration, and expand students learning experiences outside of classroom walls.


For kindergarten students, Augmented Alphabet is a lesson that is effective for teaching letter-sound relationships. Using mobile devices such as tablets and iPads, students use AR to demonstrate the letter-sound connection with reflection sheets and interactive activities. Teachers can evaluate students through their ability to respond, react, and explain what they have completed and accomplished.

The AR lesson The Mars Pioneer creates scenarios where students investigate and analyze what is needed to build a colony that can survive on Mars. Students compare both the Earth’s and Mars’ environmental offerings, such as air, food, water, energy, supply, transportation, and communication. Students can capture their images and videos within 3DBear to share and describe the space to other students and their teachers.


Students explore Earth as a system through a standards-based AR lesson called Terraforming Earth. Students traverse the Earth layers as they hold and interact with each layer, toggling the layers on and off to get a closer view. They answer questions such as tectonic plates and how the plates move, and what happens when they move. This interactive experience with augmented reality expands learning beyond just hearing, reading, and viewing to exploratory opportunities to make learning connections to Earth as a system.

The Egyptian History lesson takes creating and building 3D objects to the next level. Building an AR museum collection, students locate 3D Egyptian objects and collaborate with other students to research and understand their historical significance. Using the MERGE Object Viewer, surreal learning experiences are possible as the 3D Egyptian artifacts students create come to life in their hands.

Source: eSchoolNews

How STEAM Prepares Students for the Global Economy

“We have students who are passionate, engaged, and comfortable with technology, yet students are living in silos and not equipped with the 21st-century skills which they genuinely need to be part of the global workforce of tomorrow.”

This statement by Amy McCooe, CEO of Level Up Village, during a recent edWebinar hit home with her two co-presenters, Esra Murray, a fifth-grade teacher at International School Dundee (CT), and Fran Kompar, director of instructional technology and digital learning at Wilton Public Schools (CT).

Kompar expressed her frustration: “We are now 20 years into the 21st century, and we should be preparing our students for the work of their time, not the future–because the future is now.”

The presenters emphasized that the global skill most vital to students is learnability: the desire, passion, and capacity to learn, the ability to synthesize and evaluate information, and the willingness to take on new challenges.

The impact of developing learnability skills will ensure that our young learners apply their knowledge and skills to the global economy and become lifelong learners.

The Four As

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, and it is critical to prepare our students to navigate this world and the global economy.

Kompar identifies trans-disciplinary learning as learning that can provide students with navigational tools embedded into the school curriculum and involve everyone in the school.

Four “A” elements should be part of any trans-disciplinary learning: authenticity where students explore essential and relevant questions that are meaningful to them; the agency that empowers students to have a choice, whether it be the topic, how they solve a problem, or how they express themselves; action where students are allowed to take action to solve the problem; and authentic audiences—both locally and globally—where solutions are shared broadly.

Global STEAM education

The question is how to prepare students for the global economy? The good news is that students are way ahead of us. Today’s young citizens have a greater awareness of global issues, such as water scarcity and pollution than any other generation.

To create a generation of problem-solvers for the global economy, Murray identifies steps for incorporating global STEAM into classrooms:

  1. Ask students to define the problem and give them time to synthesize and evaluate. Please provide them with global collaborative opportunities.
  2. Using the ISTE standard for Global Collaborator, plan how students can use digital tools to broaden their perspectives.
  3. Enrich their learning with skills on working effectively in teams locally and globally and teaching them to solve global problems through STEM.
  4. Support and develop critical skills such as collaboration, communication, and critical thinking to help young global inventors gain agency over their learning and find solutions to global issues that will be wide-reaching and impactful.
Source: eSchoolNews


Here’s How to Put Coding and Robotics Programs in K-8 Classrooms

Coding and robotics programs in classrooms reflect how integral technology is in our lives.

Educators like Angie Kalthoff, a technology integrationist in St. Cloud, MN, and Ann Bartel, an instructional technology specialist in Chilton, WI, teach K-8 students about technology through coding and computer science programs that incorporate the 4Cs of learning: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication.

In a recent edWebinar, Kalthoff and Bartel explain that they want to coach students and not just tell them what button to push or the correct sequences to move a robot across a mat. By being challenged to take ownership of their learning through design thinking, students grow to understand that it is okay not to get the right answer the first time and that failing is part of the learning process.

Start small

The best approach to introducing coding and robotics to K-8 students is as an exploratory program that will evolve into coding programs that challenge students with more complex projects.

Designing activities such as missions, during which students create simple coding programs that move robots along a course, can be useful with younger students.

Interactive activities like “call and response” and a question of the week can engage students as a whole class or as a small group, while reinforcing coding terminology and concepts.

When pairing students for programming activities, ensure that all students have the same learning experiences by intentionally assigning and rotating jobs such as who holds the iPad or handles the robot.

A place for everything

Classroom organization is essential for introducing coding and robotics programs into classrooms.

Kalthoff emphasizes that the storage and efficient labeling of robots and coding materials are especially important to ensure that students spend less time getting robots and more time using robots.

Kalthoff and Bartel recommend that all materials needed are on hand and categorized to hold students accountable and keep the classroom organized. Collaborating with other educators in the school building can help determine whether coding and robotics programming is a separate activity during the day or is incorporated into the core subject areas.

Because there are times when the entire class may not be involved in coding activities, designate a flexible learning space where stations and rotation activities take place. Set classroom rules by creating a classroom chart that identifies expectations on everything from taking turns to respecting the robot and being a good partner.

Money trouble

Kalthoff and Bartel both realize there may be funding concerns when trying to initiate coding and robotics programs in schools. They recommend seeking out funding sources such as, GoFundMe, and Google that can support and sustain coding and robotics programs in classrooms and school districts.

There are also professional learning funding options for professional development, curriculum writing, and robot programs from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Source: eSchoolNews
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