2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Teacher Primary Schools Science Project
Project in partnership with the Institute of Education, DCU, Drumcondra and The Irish American Partnership (IAP)
In October 2016, a number of Primary schools came together in the Centre for a short information evening on the proposed Project for 2016-17. This was the first meeting of the school year for teachers involved in the Project. Teachers discussed the Project thus far, reflecting on the previous year and shared ideas with each other regarding certain curriculum areas. Following on from an electricity workshop teachers had attended the previous year, teachers looked at designing and making simple electric robots - Drawbots. This proved to be a hugely popular STEAM project with participating teachers. The teachers left with a robot kit to take back and implement in the classroom. Project facilitator, Michelle Maher, provided support for building robots in the classroom, both through school visits and email support to schools. Each class teacher and Michelle discussed some learning outcomes arising from this activity; critical thinking and problem-solving skills were particularly challenged.
The second workshop of the year took place in November 2016. Michelle continued with the STEAM theme with a focus on electrical circuits. On this occasion, the participating teachers looked at designing and making light up Christmas cards with LEDs and a paper circuit using copper tape. The schools left with a kit to implement this in the classroom.
The third workshop took place in March 2017 focusing on electromagnetism. Simple electromagnets were built by passing a current through copper coil. Some everyday applications of electromagnets were explored, from speakers to wind turbines. This workshop also explored building simple homopolar magnets. Again, Michelle provided support to participating schools through school visits and email support.
The final workshop reviewed the year's work, discussed the difficulties encountered and how to overcome them in the future. Energy and forces and how to implement in the Junior classes was explored.
The first workshop of the year examined living things; more specifically, life under the microscope. Teachers were supplied with a digital USB microscope for use in the classroom whereby images appeared on the Interactive Whiteboard, and, with a picture capture function, images could be saved for later use. Teachers looked at a variety of different leaves and fibers. It was particularly interesting to see the difference between living and non-living things under the microscope.
Students in Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Classes in Ballyragget N.S. using the digital USB microsope.
The second and third workshops of the year focused on coding with Crumble. The second workshop in February 2018 involved becoming familiar with Crumble and downloading software to get started. Participating teachers looked at some introductory code including coloured sparkles and colour-coded lighthouses. Crumble is an easy to use electronics controller. A few 'croc' leads and a USB cable are all that are needed to connect motors, LEDs and sensors to begin experimenting. No programming experience is required as the free software is a graphical, drag-and-drop system inspired by MIT Scratch. It plugs into a PC/laptop via USB and, once programmed, the USB no longer needs to be connected. Motors, buzzers and sparkles are powered by a battery pack connected to the board.
Students in Lisnafunchin N.S. using Crumble software.
Lighthouses constructed by students in Johnswell N.S. using Crumble software.
In the third workshop of the year, in March 2018, participating teachers continued with the recently introduced Coding project by looking at the Crumble BoxBot. The Crumble BoxBot is essentially a buggy or robot that has utilised motor functions and is easily coded using Crumble software. It is easy to construct without too much prior experience in either coding or robotics. It provides a ready-built platform to experiment safely and easily with analog and digital inputs and outputs. It moves, shines lights and reacts to its environment - but only if the coding tells it to!
The Crumble BoxBot can also be easily constructed using Lego as the building blocks or scaffolding. Above is an example of mixing Lego bricks and Crumble to build a coded Easter Egg decorating machine. The possibility of STEAM projects with the Crumble board are countless, sparking creativity and encouraging critical thinking and problem-solving.
For this academic year, teachers and schools continued working with Crumble software. In general, both teachers and schools involved gained enormously from the Project during this year. Teachers really enjoyed this CPD model as it provided support for their exact needs, with many reporting that the work done was influencing how they were teaching in other subject areas. STEAM is promoting a particular ‘way of working’; students are encouraged to be more active agents in their own learning and the teacher is being less prescriptive, with the students taking more ownership of their own learning. This approach is encouraging a more creative classroom. In addition, Crumble is providing a cross-curricular and engaging way to engineering, design, programming, electronics and other real world problem-solving exercises. Crumble has highlighted the need for teachers to feel confident with electronics and circuits in order to successfully implement a computer science program within their Primary school classroom. Teachers reported on the success of STEM based learning in their schools; they referred to it as having embedded a culture for science.
Can you imagine a world where batteries didn’t exist? We take these incredible energy storage systems for granted; mobile phones, tablets, laptops, drones, hearing aids and even the electric car are just a few everyday devices that use them! The list is impressive! The battery is an invention that transformed the modern world yet continues to have an equally exciting future. As we move towards a low carbon future and away from fossil fuels, the battery is an integral piece of this puzzle. As are young people - they are the engineers, innovators and scientists of tomorrow designing our future energy solutions.
In September 2019, the group met for the first time this academic year and this topic was high on their agenda. How do we actively engage students in the area of energy and electricity, yet make it a relevant but hands-on learning experience? Inquiry based STEM learning encourages students to develop an understanding of the world around them, as well as the ability to problem-solve and critically analyse in order to generate potential solutions through guided investigations. So, the group felt if they really wanted to talk about energy, electricity and low carbon technologies with students, they needed to start the story at the beginning and look at the history of electricity and its origins.
Teachers from the Project attending a workshop in the Centre.
Throughout the first Term, a range of tasks were designed for students to solve, the lessons were student-centred and students were fully involved in the experimental design process. Through a series of professional development sessions in the Centre, and supplying teachers with a classroom teaching kit, a range of hands-on activities in the area of electricity and renewable energy were carried out with ease and confidence.
The STEM teaching kits provided allowed teachers to engage with this subject through active and creative lessons as the equipment was available and easy to use. Students explored the science of atoms, electrons as energy carriers and really understood how clever energy conversions can produce electrical energy. The lemon battery was a great hit and triggered conversations around chemical reactions, energy conversions and electric flow. The chemical reaction between the zinc and copper produced electrons which were pushed into the external circuit and powered the LED or an electric buzzer.
Students exploring energy conversion and lemon powered batteries.
Students then went on to explore circuits further by making their own electricity kits from paper, copper tape and LED’s with wooden pegs – scrappy circuits! A relatively low cost resource for the classroom but an incredible learning and exploring opportunity. Energy, the flow of electrons and requirements of a circuit become easy to visualise and understand. In addition to an increased understanding of electricity, the group explored cross-curricular learning and created a light up art piece.
Students designing electric circuit kits and exploring solar powered circuits.
In the third session, the group started to explore renewable energy, in particular, solar energy. Building on previous knowledge and understanding of electricity, students were challenged to design solar powered circuits. Again, through guided investigation and problem-solving, students discovered the power of the sun and its ability to convert solar energy into electrical energy. The next problem to solve is an energy storage system for solar energy so we can keep power going when the sun isn’t shining!! Students were surprised by how well the solar panels worked, even in December - a solar powered Christmas tree was certainly a creative expression of STEM learning.