Building Resilience in STEM Labs

We know that making mistakes and iterating to solve problems are an important part of STEM and Computer Science learning. However, students respond to errors and challenges in a variety of ways, so fostering a culture of resilience and persistence in your classroom can help students gain the perspective they need to be successful in STEM Labs, and other learning. Giving effective feedback is central to building this resilience in students. 

This article will cover:

  • What is Feedback?
  • Giving Effective Feedback
  • How Effective Feedback Builds Student Resilience

What is Feedback?

Feedback is information provided to help close the gap between where a student is in their learning, and where they need to be.1

While providing high-quality feedback is important, there are other factors that influence the efficacy of feedback received by students. Students need to be taught how to receive, interpret, and use the feedback provided.2 If students do not understand the feedback or how to action the feedback, there is little to nothing they can do to improve moving forward.

Some feedback in STEM Labs is provided to students through the coding method and the behaviors of the robot. Students can test their VEXcode or Coder projects and receive immediate feedback on whether their project works as intended. With this feedback, students are able to self-assess their progress in a STEM Lab.

During a STEM Lab, students may require feedback from the teacher who is facilitating the lesson. Students may become stuck on a particular challenge. The goal of the teacher would be to provide feedback that allows the students to move forward while not giving out any solutions.


Giving Effective Feedback

Feedback is a part of the formative assessment framework and one way to address a student’s understanding of the material. These two concepts go hand in hand to create greater student success by providing targeted feedback at the appropriate time in each lesson. Effective feedback should help students examine their thinking, and guide them to finding the correct answers, not just inform students of what is wrong and give the solution of how to fix it. As such, feedback may include questions designed to help students see their errors, instead of statements of those errors made for the students.

Here are some guidelines to remember when giving feedback:

  • Be specific and target feedback at the project, not at the student.3
    • Example: I see you have the [Repeat] block here at the bottom of your project. Why did you make that choice? Look at the Help or at this image in the slideshow for reminders about how the [Repeat] block works.
  • Feedback should happen after students have time to attempt to solve their own problems.4 Give them a chance to go through the strategies that help them get unstuck.
  • Ask students one or two reflection questions after each Lab. These questions can be used to provide the teacher with information on their students’ thinking.
    • Examples: What questions do you still have about this topic? How is this concept similar or different from this other concept? Describe a problem you dealt with today. What did you learn from the approach you took to solve the problem?
  • Feedback in all forms should avoid comparisons between students. Focus on the projects and on how to help each student improve.

Helping Students Without Giving the Solution

Making errors while working through a challenge or activity in a STEM Lab is expected and encouraged. However, students have varied feelings and reactions to making mistakes. While errors can be disruptive or frustrating at times, “errors in learning can create opportunities, [and] can help [students] realize connections.”5 When framed as an opportunity, errors are not punitive, but positive. Creating a familiar process for problem solving with your students can help them to know how to identify the problem and move forward when they make an error, thereby minimizing disruption and frustration.

This strategy specifically mentions the projects and challenges related to coding, but a similar approach can be used for other errors students may encounter.

Student_Problem_Solving_Cycle.png

Describe the Problem

Ask the student to explain what is wrong.

  • How is the robot moving in their project?
  • How should the robot be moving?

Because these Units are built around a shared goal, students should be able to relate the error back to the shared goal or the challenge at hand.

Identify When and Where the Problem Began

Ask the student when they first noticed the problem.

  • What part of the project were they working on?
  • When did they last test the project?

If students are having difficulty determining where in the project the error is, encourage them to use the Step feature in VEXcode or on the Coder. Once students have an understanding of where the error might be, the teacher can point them back to the appropriate lesson.

Make & Test Edits

As students review the direct instruction relating to the error, they should work on their project and make edits. With each edit made, the student can test the project. If the project is successful, then they can move onto the next step. If the project is not successful, they can go back to the beginning of the process and try again.

Reflect

Ask students to think about the error they made and overcame during the process. Encourage them to recognize their mistakes and what they learned from the process to help encourage a growth mindset. A strong emphasis on a growth mindset can help students to learn when and how to persist, and also when to ask for help.6

If students can see their process as a precursor to new learning, then they can use the steps here to further their own learning, as well as the learning of their classmates. As students come across these issues and reflect upon their errors, encourage them to share their errors and process with fellow students. In this way, students can become “learning resources for one another.”7


How Effective Feedback Builds Student Resilience

The process of giving effective feedback, like using the strategy outlined above helps students to build on their growth mindset and resilience. Students with this mindset are “more likely to interpret academic challenges or mistakes as opportunities to learn.”8 This engagement by students is cited as a crucial factor in promoting perseverance by students in their learning.9

Four student beliefs that contribute to a successful learning mindset have been identified as:

  1. I belong in this academic community.
  2. I can succeed in this.
  3. My ability and competence grow with my effort.
  4. This work has value for me.10

Numbers two and three directly relate to that growth mindset of students. If your feedback to students is effective, then students know they can succeed. STEM Labs provide a framework so students can experience immediate success before receiving a challenge to help the students grow in their understanding. That feedback gives students the tools they need to succeed independently or with a group and learn from their efforts in an activity.

Once students have experienced that success, they then can make positive connections with the content and look for value in the work. When students place value on an academic task, there is a strong association between the persistence and resilience of students and their performance on the challenge.11 STEM Labs look to help students understand the value of the activities through connections in the content. In GO and 123 STEM Lab Units, students are introduced to the concepts with a “Hook" in the Engage portion, to allow the students to make a personal connection to the concepts that will be introduced in each Lab. IQ and V5 STEM Labs relate activities to real-world scenarios, allowing students to understand the scope and nature of the challenges in the Lab.

It is important to remember that there is no single best teaching strategy for all students or all classrooms. This pedagogy needs to be adapted to fit the context of the students and the subject. However, with a cycle of effective feedback and assessment, students can grow their mindsets and become resilient in the face of learning challenges.