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C-STEM Studio — A Great Way to Blend Math and Robotics

Posted by on August 10, 2016

C-STEM Studio is a California A-G approved curriculum and turn-key solution for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics through computing and robotics.  This web-based scalable program is available for elementary through high school students and can last anywhere from four weeks to a year. As Professor Harry Cheng, Director of the UC Davis Center for Computing and STEM Education who offers this program, states simply: “Our goal is to get kids interested in math and robotics through hands-on computing and robotics.” In fact, the C-STEM Studio algebra curriculum is fully aligned with Common Core state standards in mathematics.

Programs that run through the Studio are:linkbot labs

  • Linkbot–students write a simple program to complete a function that is then uploaded to a robot–in this case, a Linkbot. One feature I found in this program which I rarely saw in others: It’ll point out syntax errors in programming. This is well-suited to younger students.
  • RoboSim–students program a virtual robot of their choice (by picking from among Lego Mindstorm and others) in a virtual environment.
  • RoboBlockly–a web-based robot simulation using a drag-and-drop interface to program virtual Linkbot and Lego robots. The RoboBlockly curriculum includes a student self-guided Hour of Code activity as well as teacher-led math activities that meet Common Core state standards for fourth to ninth grade.
  • ChArduino–students use Ch programming (kind of a simplified, easier-to-learn C+) and an Arduino board.

To assist teachers, UC Davis offers professional development  that lasts between two days and a week on how to roll out the lessons and/or curriculum in their classrooms as well as a C-STEM Conference to share ideas and stories with other educators.  For students, there are CSTEM camps and competitions to showcase the robot wizardry of programmers from elementary through high school.roboblocky

To evaluate C-STEM Studio, let’s look at three questions:

  • so what
  • who cares
  • why bother

So What

One of the most pressing and timely issues facing the education community nationally is how we can address teaching math, science, and engineering concepts to the K-12 population. C-STEM Studio does that with a compelling and thorough software program which trains both students and teachers to use robotics as a superior vehicle for learning math.

roboblockyWho Cares

Who cares? Anyone concerned about the US placing only in the top thirty internationally (depends upon the poll referenced–here’s a thorough summary) in math skills. Anyone who believes math skills inform the student ability to solve the problems they will face throughout their lives–arguably, much more than making change at the grocery store. How about the parents who worry that their children won’t be prepared for the world after high school, knowing that 50% of those jobs require computer skills (expected to increase to 77% by 2020). How about teachers who want an authentic way to plug into student interests (robots) to teach critical math skills and life skills.

Why Bother

Common Core and national science standards like Next General Science Standards, as well as thinking matrices like Habits of Mind and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, rely on a student’s competence in math and science.

The C-STEM Studio software is stimulating and scalable for all grade levels. If you’re looking for a granular way to kick off a STEM or robotics program, or are tired of using the robotics unit in your grade level as a one-and-done lesson, you’ve found the solution. Oh, by the way: It’s free. A fully-functioning, comprehensive robotics-to-math program that costs you and your school nothing. Good news.

c-stem studioHere’s how you get started:

  • download the free software
  • browse the robotics offerings
  • watch the available videos
  • engage in UC Davis’ professional development programs. This is important whether you’re new to robotics or experienced. It’s a well-spent week that will prepare you to teach robotics as an arm of your school’s math studies.
  • subscribe to the program for more materials and comprehensive technical support
  • involve students in the competitions
  • attend the yearly conference to learn what other educators are doing with C-STEM Studio and share your own ideas

Pros

When I select software, here’s what I look for:

  • can be installed easily and quickly
  • includes documentation and technical support
  • is cost-efficient
  • works with existing hardware and infrastructure (or can be easily adapted)
  • meets needs not currently addressed by digital tools already available

C-STEM Studio met all of these requirements:

  • Software was quick and easy to install and ran well off of a typical computer set-up.
  • Robust documentation is available on the website with clear, easy-to-understand videos that take you step-by-step through the processes.
  • Price: $0.00 for software (though funds are required for other materials like the Linkbots and subscription services)
  • Materials include differentiated options to support math instruction with robotics. While many web-based, software, and hardware tools address programming, none offers such a wide variety of methods to achieve the goal of teaching math with robotics in a C-STEM environment.

I like that the teacher professional development week is for both new and advanced teachers, with no prior robotics or programming required. I also like that the UC Davis folks will Train the Trainer–teach a selected school educator all they need to know to teach their colleagues to use C-STEM Studio.

Though only in their sixth year, C-STEM Studio already has an impressive track record of success. For example, when Hillcrest High School in Riverside California adopted C-STEM Integrated Math II in 2014, 94 percent of students earned a passing grade, compared to 61 percent of students in the conventionally-taught Integrated Math II.

c-stem studioCons

The software only runs on PCs and Macs right now.

Not really a ‘con’, more of a notice: Though the software is free, there are pieces most teachers will want that require a fee (like training and the LinkBots). Most often, this is covered by the school district.

Education Applications

There are many. I’ll start with four:

  • use as a 4-week unit of study to support math
  • offer a semester- or year-long study of robotics as part of a school mission to teach critical thinking and problem-solving
  • include in an afterschool robotics program that includes pre-arranged challenges and yearly competitions
  • use one of the included programs to multiply fractions, calculate class mean, or find ratios and percent change–all excellent tie-ins to math.

If you’re looking for a solution to your math class angst, a way to teach math-phobic students, you’ve found it in the robotics- and programming-driven C-STEM Studio.

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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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