August 17, 2016

Coding, engineering emerge as latest STEM teaching trends

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —Teaching computer coding in K-12 classrooms and integrating engineering into science education are two of the biggest trends in STEM (science, technology, education and math).

Selcen Guzey, assistant professor in the College of Education at Purdue University, said the intent of both trends is to change students' thinking. 

"The whole idea is helping students to learn computational thinking, problem-solving," she said.

Guzey said both trends are a result of education standards adopted in Indiana in April, making them requirements from kindergarten through high school.

Integrating engineering into science education stresses STEM as interdisciplinary, rather than four independent areas of study. Science represents another vehicle students can use to solve engineering problems.

"Abstract science concepts, like force and motion, are hard for students to understand conceptually," she said. "But you can explain it by creating an engineering problem, like asking students to move something from here to here. Those challenges are part of everyday life and make them create something to solve it."

Engineering a solution reaches out to students who adapt to more hands-on learning compared to traditional textbooks. It also teaches students a valuable lesson about dealing with failure.

"For many students, when the first design doesn't work, they shut down and don't want to work anymore," Guzey said. "You have to explain that it's good the first design didn't work. Now the student can improve it. They learn this idea of learning from failure. It can really help them."

The strategy also gives students a better idea of what is engineering. Guzey said many middle school students, when asked, say engineers are the people that drive trains.

"We are not trying to make every student become an engineer; that's not the purpose," Guzey said. "But this helps them to learn that the problems we have today require them to use a lot of knowledge from different disciplines."

Knowledge is part of the reason computer coding is becoming part of the curriculum for students in kindergarten. From drag and drop coding apps to writing programs at a basic level in later grades, the idea is to expand students' view of technology.

"In classrooms right now, kids have either tablets or laptops," Guzey said. "But there is more than that. This is for students to learn a little bit more about effective uses of technology."

About the College of Education

Purdue's College of Education meets the challenges of educating 21st century learners by discovering what works in education. The college prepares highly qualified educators and conducts research that informs how teachers teach and students learn. With a focus on integrated P-12 STEM education and a commitment to social justice and diversity, graduates are prepared to be leaders in education, business and society.  

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu

Sources: Selcen Guzey, 765-494-9749, sguzey@purdue.edu

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