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STEAM Academy students use day out of school to sample new technology program


Teams from host Bryan Station High, the STEAM Academy and The Learning Center at Linlee (TLC) tackled the “solar roller” and “wind commander” kits in a pilot of FUSE, an interest-driven learning experience developed by researchers at Northwestern University (FCPS Photo)

Teams from host Bryan Station High, the STEAM Academy and The Learning Center at Linlee (TLC) tackled the “solar roller” and “wind commander” kits in a pilot of FUSE, an interest-driven learning experience developed by researchers at Northwestern University (FCPS Photo)

 

For about three dozen students, this particular day out of school meant fun and games of a whole new variety. Teams from host Bryan Station High, the STEAM Academy and The Learning Center at Linlee (TLC) tackled the “solar roller” and “wind commander” kits in a pilot of FUSE, an interest-driven learning experience developed by researchers at Northwestern University and supported by Siemens Corp., a global energy company.
 

“For students to get this kind of technology and just dive right in, it’s true inspiration in learning,” said Bryan Station physics teacher Tommy Warner. “It opens up different opportunities for students with a loose structure, and it gives them the freedom to tinker.”
 

Superintendent Tom Shelton saw immediate results, including adaptive problem-solving, creativity and persistence.
 

“When a student is learning and they don’t even realize it, that’s when you know you’ve hit the sweet spot,” he said.
 

FUSE provides tools for pressing ahead in the STEAM areas – science, technology, engineering, arts/design and math – through a series of challenges that engage students much like video games, with each level increasingly difficult to master. FUSE offers modules in robotics, electronics, biotechnology, graphic design, 3D printing and Android app development. The kits can be reused and shared.
 

In Fayette County Public Schools, the goal is to expand the Chicago-based initiative in high schools districtwide.
 

“This is a never-tried-before approach to STEAM,” said Tresine Logsdon, the energy and sustainability curriculum coordinator for FCPS. “It is carefully designed to appeal to students who are already engaged by the leveling up, video-game interface. It’s an environment they’re comfortable in and accustomed to. It’s orchestrating a ‘geek-out’ moment while they’re actively learning engineering concepts.”
 

With the solar roller kit, for instance, students advanced three levels – from designing the car’s basic functionality to storing battery power for traveling through a tunnel to directing their model’s movement with a hand-held light source. With the wind experiment, students encountered two separate challenges. In one, they determined larger fan vents would generate the power needed to lift a weighted cup; in the other, smaller vents resulted in more speed as they charged a light board.
 

“It forces you to think differently and figure out real-world problems,” said Bryan Station senior John Rhodes. “If every class were like this, there’d probably be a lot more engineers.”
 

Maggie Pool, a junior, agreed. “It was a lot of fun to create a project and work past those ‘ah-ha’ moments,” she said. “We really learned more by figuring it out for ourselves.”
 

To advance through each challenge sequence in the custom online learning platform (www.fusestudio.net), students upload digital artifacts such as photos, videos or 3D design files to document their completion and “level up.” Along the way, they can access video tutorials that answer the most commonly asked questions, which enables the teachers/facilitators to serve as coaches.
 

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“I get to teach the content, rather than troubleshoot the technology,” Warner said, adding, “I can teach them based off their designs and interests.” Logsdon said FUSE certainly breaks the mold of traditional instruction. “In this learning environment, trial and error is what leads to success,” she noted.
 

Students from the pilot sites seemed enthused by the prospects.
 

“I learned some really cool stuff,” said Ryan Moore, a sophomore at the STEAM Academy. “They have so many projects on the website. If all are as creative and educational and fun as the two today, this program is going to be great.”
 

From Fayette Co. Schools


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