Digital Learning Environments STEM Skills Teaching and Learning

Our children don’t just ask “Why”… They show us the solutions too!

I am delighted to post this article to support the Teach Middle East’s 2021 STEM MENA conference. This article is part of my workshop, “Every Day is a Design Thinking Day and explains how the Design Thinking process can help teachers incorporate the skills that students need to succeed in their future STEM roles. After defining Design Thinking and STEM, this article will link to the resources I’ve made to help you create and adapt lessons to incorporate the Design Thinking process into your students learning diet.

The Workshop

The past 18 months have taught us that we can deliver content to our students effectively “live” as well as “on demand”. So, why not PD as well?! This workshop has been created entirely as an “on-demand” walk through, to guide you through each of the Design thinking steps, giving a deeper explanation and links to platforms so you can create something tangible to use for your lessons immediately. Please click below for the video introduction to the workshop, as well as the PowerPoint, with the embedded video links.

The videos have also been linked to each chapter of this article, and can be found on my YouTube channel. I look forward to hearing your take on how the Design Thinking process helps your students develop their STEM skills. But first, an explanation of STEM and Design Thinking.

STEM Vs Design Thinking Process

STEM Skills (STEAM in MEA) is the set of skills attributed to graduates in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths.

British Secondary Schools traditionally teach secular subjects, with cross curricular completed as activity days or awareness weeks.

This lends the teaching of STEM skills to be done in more isolation that we really intend.

Is STEM thinking only for these subjects?

Do our students only really use certain skills in certain subjects?

Of course not! However, students tend to struggle to see the creativity in Mathematics and the critical analysis in Art.

Design Thinking is the use of interdependent skills in a repeatable process that encourages creative problem solving.

By focusing on this process, students can readily link the valuable skills into any subject to problem solve in a way that boost STEM thinking in every subject.

For each of the elements of Design Thinking, I have picked a platform to showcase how it could be used during class to promote the chosen element of Design Thinking.

The blue boxes at the bottom of each slide (PowerPoint link above) links to the part you might want to choose.

This video shows you how I made this PowerPoint. Our school currently uses the A5 Office 365 package.

Step One: Empathise

Most of my STEM days when I was at school started with the teacher giving us a task (bridge building, anyone?), then the students madly rushing to magpie all the best resources to build a solution with absolutely no regard for the target audience. Your student’s will have a much better STEM thinking experience…. by starting at the beginning. Empathising with a real target audience, to find a real solution.

The Design Thinking process begins with your students identifying and connecting with their target audience, which will provide them with the information to clarify the problem they are trying to solve. This learning process to connect with their audience must come before they begin to draft their ideas to ensure that they fully understand their challenge.

Your students can use many platforms to create and distribute questions to their audience. It is not the platform that is important, it is the quality of the questioning! They do need to use a platform that collects the appropriate data so they can “Define” the problem they are tasked with solving. I find Microsoft Forms ideal for this, as it is so student and teacher friendly, but these skills are transferable to other Form creations apps such as Google Forms and SurveyMonkey.

Using Forms to help students Empathise with their audience

Now they have their data… onwards to “Defining” their problem. A crucial step so they have direction for their ideas.

Step two: Define

Now your students have collected their data, they need to decide upon a vision to ensure clarity in their team. The key questions for this stage is: “What do the audience want?” and “What is my role in the team?”.

A teacher’s nightmare in a groupwork situation is that one poor child goes home and completes the entire project whilst the other 4 get a chilled evening of Netflix and snacks. In comes the apps that show exactly what each team member has agreed to do and when they should be doing it by, which helps achieve true collaborative groupwork. I have chosen Microsoft Planner to demonstrate how this can be easily done with your students, but you can also use other planning techniques…. or simply an excel sheet that has the roles and team members on it.

Other platforms to help students clarify roles and responsibilities in the “Define” stage:

  • Collaborative Jamboard
  • Microsoft Teams
  • OneNote Collaboration Space

Using Microsoft Planner to help students “define” their problem and role in their team

Step three: Ideate

Unleash your students creativity on the project by providing them with a place to curate content and collaborate on their wild ideas!

A number of platforms and apps can help your students through this stage, I have focused on the Collaboration Space in OneNote. It’s multi-modal way of curating information ad ideas makes it ideal for team brainstorming.

You can also use:

  • Wakelet
  • Jamboard
  • Microsoft Whiteboard
  • Google slides of Microsoft PowerPoint online

Using Collaboration Space to help students “ideate” to problem solve

Step four: Prototype

This is my favorite stage to watch because the students think big and create and break fast… to reform into a better model. An exciting time!

The “Prototype” and the “Test” stage really go hand in hand. Particularly if you have a group that is in many different locations, it is helpful to have a platform that supports creation within a virtual simulation. Creating storyboards to appeal to the target audience too, especially if the project idea is huge can also be helpful. I once saw a STEM project centered around creating an entirely sustainable school, where the students created modelled prototypes, but also a storyboard of what the students would experience within the school. So there is something for everyone at this stage, wherever you are in the world.

I will focus on the great platform MakeCode: A free Microsoft platform that helps students test out their coding and robotics solutions in a virtual environment. Other apps that would be useful for this stage are:

  • PowerPoint Storyboards (this is the reason I made the above PowerPoint!)
  • Paint 3D
  • Minecraft Edu

Using MakeCode to Prototype student solutions

Step five: Test

If your students are into creating and breaking fast to come to the best solution, they will probably be completing Step 4 and 5 at the same time. What they might also find is that their target audience would find additional revisions to the solution, which means your students may need to revisit “Empathising”, “Defining” and “Ideating” again. This is part of the Design Process, which should be celebrated as a win for that team, because they are displaying their innovative thinking as they work through this process.

I focus on the fantastic app Flipgrid for your students to show and demonstrate their products via video. This app provides a platform for viewers to give their feedback and comments, which creates a real conversation around any subject.

Other apps that can be used are:

  • Adobe Spark
  • Sway
  • PowerPoint or Slides

Using Flipgrid to give your product to your audience in the “Test” phase

By Linda Scaife

Author of Digilin Learning.
Follower of Educational Technology enthusiasts, of all subjects. I am an MIE Fellow, Apple teacher and Google Educator. If it can be used as a learning tool, I will be keen for it. Currently a science teacher in the UAE.

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