Kim Bass’s presentation at Cotsen’s first-ever Playground Challenge was literally garbage. But as regularly happens in innovative classrooms, a pile of trash can yield pedagogical treasures to facilitate collaborative STEM/STEAM teaching and learning.
Bass, a third grade teacher at Robert C. Fisler School in Fullerton, stood in front of a table covered with a maze made out of torn cardboard boxes and masking tape. She described how her students saved discarded materials from home to build a mock disaster scenario, complete with Lego and Fisher-Price figures as “victims.” More significantly, she told of how the teams of students addressed her “Urban Search & Rescue Challenge” with perseverance, coding and re-coding a variety of robotic devices including Drones, Sphero, and Jumping Sumo, until they could successfully find and “rescue” the toy figures. In addition, Bass invites the battalion chief of the Orange County Fire Authority to visit her class to explain to her students the facts behind search and rescue situations in Southern California.
“The biggest hope I have for any project in my classroom is to have something that deals with real world issues where I can bring in experts that can share their knowledge and experiences with my students,” said Bass, a current Cotsen Fellow.
The Cotsen Playground Challenge took place on April 29 at Andrews School in Whittier City School District, featuring a dozen challenge stations that addressed hands-on STEM/STEAM learning for Pre K-6. Presentations by challenge facilitators included a “National Parks Challenge” using HyperDuino and Chromebooks (4th-6th); a “Parking at Disneyland Challenge” (K-2nd); and “Full Green Screens & Pizza Box Green Screens” (K- 6th). Attendees were encouraged to use the day’s challenges to their specific advantage and decide what to see and how long to engage in the challenges that suited their instructional needs and interests.
Participants enjoyed and appreciated the structure of the Playground Challenge event, said Sharon Sutton, who is a Cotsen Consultant and coordinates Cotsen’s Principals’ Technology Network (PTN). The feedback she received from participants included their appreciation for the ability to explore, play, and collaborate with other teachers; ways to provide hands-on learning for their students; and the ability to choose their own topics and methods of professional development.
“We tried very hard to model Personalized Learning, which is a big buzz word in educational professional development,” said Sutton. “As one participant noted, ‘Teachers are willing to share the love of learning, even on a Saturday, when they know there will be exciting options, cross-school/district collaboration and fantastic take-aways.’ Another participant pointed out that as adults we need to be risk takers and not wait to incorporate STEM/STEAM in our teaching classroom until we feel we are experts. We can learn with the students.”
Jerry Harris, executive director of the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING, said that the half-day conference was based on teacher feedback from prior Cotsen events and the vision of PTN.
“Our PTN facilitators are always looking for ways to not only push the envelope, but to also have us at the cutting edge of education,” said Harris in his opening remarks. “We see in our lives just how much, and how fast things are changing. This group works diligently to make sure that what we offer is relevant and… is what we need in classrooms to maximize learning for all children.”
Bass, who is an Apple Distinguished Educator, says that a shortage of time and resources has been a challenge in the past for integrating technology for teachers and classrooms, as well as communicating the importance of STEM/STEAM to students. She said that being a Cotsen Fellow has given her the opportunity to “encourage colleagues to bring ‘real world’ relevance into their classrooms… through sharing and presenting” at district level conferences, the CUE National Conference, and other Cotsen professional development events.
“Being a Cotsen Fellow has been a wonderful journey,” Bass said. “I have been an educator for 28 years and I have never experienced such a strong, positive influence on my teaching practice. Cotsen has helped me grow my Professional Learning Network and provided connections to amazing teachers that want to collaborate and share with me. I am able to promote the wonderful learning that my students are having and share that with a huge group of other teachers. Twitter and Instagram teachers are willing to share and support each other and connect our classes across the world. That process is reciprocated a thousand times over, by the professionals that I follow.”
Bass created “Urban Search & Rescue Challenge” originally to teach the principles of perimeter and area. While the project achieved just that, it ultimately had added value in that it taught her students coding, collaborative problem solving, and digital responsibility in regard to photographic documentation of its “victims.” She says that such a project is worth the time it takes as “an in-depth learning opportunity.”
“This was an in-depth learning opportunity, with layers of math, cooperation, and group work,” she noted. “Learning so many layers has the essence of Common Core. I’m not giving up time.”
Check out our photo album on Flickr:
Watch video clips from the Playground Challenge: