Learning about user oriented design, algorithms, psuedocode and building and coding robots is something that one would expect in an engineering degree, but that’s what Cycle 3 students at Melbourne Montessori, Caulfield Campus are learning in a new incursion program with the partnership of Young Engineers. Young Engineers use Lego as a teaching tool to teach STEM, engineering and technology skills to primary school students – skills that will help them prepare better for a rapidly changing world.
What is STEM?
When today’s primary school age children enter careers 15-20 years down the line, one can only imagine the professions that will exist. Flying car mechanic, robo cop technician – perhaps something completely different! With supercomputers in everyone’s pockets, Internet of Things, and smart devices that ‘talk’ to each other – society and workplaces are changing too. Children need different skills to succeed in this brave new world – skills that are grouped together under the umbrella of STEM.
STEM (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) refers to teaching of these subjects in an integrated manner, through authentic problem solving. There is no theoretical study – instead these subjects are taught in a hands-on, practical manner with a focus on developing critical thinking, data analysis and 3 dimensional design thinking. Children are taught to be innovators and creators, even as they explore existing technology in the world around them.
What happens in a Young Engineers session?
Once a week, for 90 minutes, our Cycle 3 students learn and implement seven steps of software engineering.
- They build a Lego prototype of a machine around them. For e.g. they build circus carousels, sand strainers, drummer robots and power plants.
- They analyse machine mechanics and purpose from end user perspective. For e.g. users would want the circus carousel to be fun but safe. They also explore mechanical principles like gear transmission, pulleys, belts, forces etc. in this step.
- By understanding human machine interaction – they identify programming objectives. For e.g. the circus carousel should flash a light sequence to indicate ride start. It should start spinning slowly, hit peak speed and then reduce speed gradually. It should have an emergency button.
- They then work through the algorithm needed to execute their objectives. They explore loops, branches and sequence patterns and understand how software design works.
- They are taught to convert the algorithm to a pseudo code – technical terms for precoding prep in the software industry. Pseudocode acts as a bridge between the machine’s language and human language.
- Finally they code the machine on tablets and test their creations – which have now become remote controlled intelligent devices!
- They extend their designs and code further – adding new functionality or modifying existing features.
The children are learning everything from design and technology to creative & critical thinking, scientific inquiry, maths and more – all in one session each week!
Engineering fun for every child
The best part about the course is that it is fully accessible to every child, irrespective of age and ability. The Young Engineers program aligns very closely to Montessori principles as the children learn by doing. It supports multi-age collaboration and idea sharing. Even children with special needs are easily accommodated and learning heaps during the sessions.
“Lego provides the perfect platform that is universally understood for learning STEM for all ages,” says Shweta Shetty, the director of Young Engineers in Melbourne South. “Every child loves Lego – when learning and play combine so naturally and authentically – magic happens!”
Magic indeed – as these Cycle 3 students reflections reveal –
“I wait for Young Engineers to come to school every day”
“This is my most favourite activity of the term”
“I love to make new machines, and learn to operate them remotely”