VEX GO and 123 STEM Labs focus on three foundational components to help provide meaningful STEM learning experiences to all students. Every STEM Lab features the following:
- Active learning
- An emphasis on student understanding
- Research-supported pedagogy
Active learning is an instructional approach1 where students participate in the learning process through the building of their knowledge and understanding. Active learning helps to boost student’s self-confidence and improve academic performance.2
Each VEX GO and 123 STEM Lab begins with the students making a personal connection to the primary learning outcome theme of the STEM Lab. Then, students immediately start creating! Students will use their VEX GO robot or their VEX 123 code to actively investigate and explore the learning outcomes. Throughout the STEM Labs, students are encouraged to participate in reflective discussions or demonstrate their projects.
All STEM Labs contain a choice board, which can be used to help differentiate instruction while also fostering student voice and choice in their learning, leading to higher student engagement.3 Choice Board activities can be done at any point. Students are able to become active participants in their learning through the use of the choice board
An Emphasis on Student Understanding
Each VEX GO and 123 STEM Lab Unit is designed around Essential Questions and Unit Understandings.
Essential Questions are designed4 to stimulate thought, provoke inquiry, and guide student learning. Unit Understandings connect to the Essential Questions and to help explain the main theme of the STEM Lab unit.
The Unit Understandings are then used to create learning objectives for each STEM Lab. These learning objectives are all specific, measurable, and observable. Moreover, the learning objectives are clearly connected to the student activities within the lab; and to the assessments that allow the students to demonstrate their understanding. Having the objectives, activities, and assessments all aligned helps to foster both student motivation and learning.5
In every STEM Lab, student inquiry drives the lesson, allowing teachers to be a coach of understanding, not a supplier of facts.
Research supported pedagogy
Each STEM Lab provides students with the opportunity to improve their spatial reasoning skills. Spatial reasoning6 involves the capacity to relate to and navigate the world and the ability to create and mentally manipulate representations of imagined and real shapes, objects, and structures. Spatial reasoning is an umbrella term that encompasses many cognitive processes, including understanding the characteristics of a particular object, recognizing the similarities and differences between objects, and being able to mentally compose/decompose an object based on seeing its pieces or parts. A study7 in 2013 confirmed that spatial reasoning is not a fixed skill and that it can be improved.
This emphasis on spatial reasoning helps to provide a foundation to future Math and STEM success. Spatial reasoning is connected to Math -- gains from the ages of 4-7 set the stage for math success all the way to the age 15. In fact, research shows that spatial reasoning is linked to performance within many strands of mathematics including: basic magnitude and counting skills8, mental arithmetic9, and word problems.10 Spatial reasoning is an important predictor of achievement in STEM careers. STEM competencies are rooted11 in spatial knowledge. Recent research12 indicates that early attention to developing children’s spatial thinking increases achievement in math and science and can promote interest in future careers in STEM disciplines.
If students feel that they cannot be successful with an activity, they will withdraw. People, students included, enjoy solving13 problems. People do not enjoy working on a problem that seems unattainable. For teachers, this means utilizing lessons that allow students to experience immediate success and providing students with feedback on their successes. VEX GO and 123 STEM Labs are designed to allow students to experience immediate success and additionally contain directions for teachers on how to provide effective feedback.
Teachers can sometimes feel as if they are always trying to get the attention of their students. There is a good reason for this: At any moment, students are constantly being barraged with information. However, only a small14 portion of that information gets stored into long-term memory where it can be retrieved for later use. In order for information to be stored into long-term memory, students need to be actively engaged15 with the information. As cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham has noted, “Memory is the residue of thought.”16 How do teachers get students to focus and think about the information that is in the lesson or activity? Encourage students to make a personal connection. VEX GO and 123 STEM Labs provide students with a personal connection at the beginning of each lesson.
Educational Terms Discussed in the Article
Choice Board - a graphic organizer or classroom bulletin board that allows students to investigate or learn more about a particular topic. Further reading can be found here.
Differentiate Instruction - the tailoring of instruction to meet the individual needs of students. Further reading can be found here.
Essential Questions - a question that frames a unit of study. Further reading can be found here.
Pedagogy - the method and practice of teaching. Further reading can be found here.