Samantha Cantell, a middle school science teacher at the Folsom School in South Hero, is doing some great things with the STEM Challenge Grant she received in 2017. Sam used the Challenge Grant to support the purchase of Sphero Education SPRK+ packs for her STEM In the Classroom project. Sphero is an app-enabled sphere-shaped robot that connects to a computer via Bluetooth.
The app allows the user to program and teach the Sphero to do things like navigate obstacles courses, play arcade-style games, and many other things, limited only by the user’s creativity and imagination. The Sphero system is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and invention through connected play and coding, and is an ideal choice for STEM educational opportunities.
Sam’s STEM in the Classroom program takes place in the Folsom School Science Room. Students use the Spheros to learn basic computer coding skills by employing block coding methods. This coding style is very visual, and it allows students to learn trial-and-error techniques. The objective of Sam’s Coding project is to teach kids computer programming skills, and the hope is that students will reach Beginner and Intermediate stages. Sphero provides an outline curriculum that teachers can use to help students progress through these various stages of learning. So far, Sam is finding that students are spreading out in various ability levels. She notes that most students master the Basic commands associated with the Beginner stage within two sessions. Of the more than 50 students participating so far, approximately 15-20 are in the Beginner Stage, and these are the students that typically need some extra help and guidance. Roughly 25-30 students have reached the Intermediate Level of coding, and the remaining 5 or so students are just absorbing any challenge that comes their way.
Regardless of ability level, Sam says that one thing is common among all the students… “They simply cannot get enough Spheros!” Her students are really enjoying their work with Spheros, so much so that they keep asking questions like, “Can we work with Spheros today? How about tomorrow?” They are also motivated to take their learning to another level, and they make comments like, “I don’t like how this turned out, maybe we should try it a different way.” This way of thinking about how they can improve their work based on prior experience was a big paradigm shift in her students’ learning styles. Sam noted that at the beginning of the project, it was common for students to get frustrated when things didn’t work out the way they expected. She thinks this attitude is rooted in typical learning styles that reinforce the idea that something must be “right” in order to pass. However, in computer programming, as in many STEM fields, mistakes and mishaps when things don’t go as expected are very common occurrences. The Spheros project is helping students to learn this approach. The most significant success in Sam’s mind so far, is when her students have the “I got it, come check it out!” moment, because this indicates that the student is learning how to apply knowledge gained from past trials to make improvements on future outcomes. Sam notes that at these times, she sees the students acting, talking, and building like real scientists and engineers without the stress of getting a passing grade looming over their every move.
Going forward, Sam says that she wants to expand the Sphero Program that is part of STEM in the Classroom at the Folsom Educational Center. She sees this program expanding into the lower grade levels at her school, and hopes that there is also district support to get a collaborative expansion going to other middle schools in the District. The District is a large one, covering Alburgh, Grand Isle, North Hero, South Hero, and Isle La Motte, and this geographic challenge is one of the most significant barriers to expansion. However, Sam is working with her Curriculum Coordinator to get Professional Development time with other educators in the district to help expand this program.
The STEM Challenge Initiative wishes Samantha Cantell much success with her STEM Education Efforts!