STEAM a Common Theme at TCEA Conference

How to engage students in problem solving, design thinking, computer coding and other aspects of STEAM education is a question on many educators' minds these days, and it was also a common refrain among exhibitors at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) annual conference.

During the convention, which was expected to draw about 8,000 educators and administrators to Austin Feb. 5–9, many companies exhibited new products designed to support STEAM education.

Makerspace Solutions

Makerspaces were an especially popular theme on the exhibit floor. In one creative approach, Discovery Maker demonstrated its Mobile STEM Cart, which takes the idea of a laptop cart and applies it to makerspaces. This mobile cart includes bins for storing supplies such as glue guns and electronic kits, and it can be wheeled from classroom to classroom as needed — creating a "makerspace on the go." What's more, its front can be used as a 55-inch interactive touch screen or magnetic whiteboard for teaching.

MackinMaker, a division of Mackin Educational Resources that focuses on makerspaces for education, demonstrated its hands-on, age-appropriate maker kits for students in grades PK–2, 3–5, 6–8 and 9–12. Maker Maven promoted two kits priced at $299 each: an Innovator Kit with 10 makerspace activities and a Discovery Kit with seven activities. Each activity comes with materials, instructions, focus questions and extension activities to help teachers implement it in their classroom.

Pearson has partnered with littleBits to bring hands-on invention to its Elevate Science curriculum for grades 3–8. The Pearson littleBits STEM Invention Toolbox is a grade-specific kit that includesa set of littleBits electronic building blocks and invention accessories, craft materials, student instructions, a teacher's guide and digital lessons.

LEGO Education's WeDo 2.0 curriculum set for promoting scientific discovery in grades 2–4.

LEGO Education's WeDo 2.0 curriculum set for promoting scientific discovery in grades 2–4.

LEGO Education highlighted two maker curriculum packs for schools: One for grades 3–5, focused on using LEGO blocks to build simple machines, and a second for grades 6–8, focused on building both simple and powered machines. The company offers free downloadable activities from its website.

In addition, LEGO Education demonstrated its WeDo 2.0 curriculum set for promoting scientific discovery in grades 2–4. The sets include programmable, motorized LEGO models and standards-based projects, such as investigating the factors that make a car go faster or designing an automatic floodgate to control the water level of a stream according to various rain patterns.

Teaching Engineering and Computer Science

One of the challenges to teaching subjects such as engineering and computer science — especially in rural areas — is finding educators who are qualified to teach them. During the TCEA conference, many exhibitors highlighted services aimed at building schools' capacity to offer these courses to students.

TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), a nonprofit organization supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, helps high schools grow their computer science programs with the support of industry professionals. Educators who are new to teaching the subject are paired with industry volunteers who co-teach the class with them, and TEALS also supplies the curriculum. More than 350 high schools in 29 states and the District of Columbia are taking advantage of the program, TEALS says.

With support from the National Science Foundation, the University of Texas at Austin and its Cockrell School of Engineering developed a year-long high school engineering curriculum and teacher support program called Engineer Your World. Students complete a series of socially relevant design challenges using the same processes as professional engineers.

Kano STEM kits for classrooms and clubs

Kano STEM kits for classrooms and clubs

Following its success in consumer markets worldwide, do-it-yourself computer company Kano is bringing its computer coding kits to U.S. classrooms with a range of education packages available online. Each package comes with lesson plans, design challenges, implementation guides, video training tutorials, "how-to" coding lessons, professional development webinars, support from the Kano staff, and access to an educator community.

GameSalad demonstrated a computer science curriculum for students in grades 4-10 that teaches programming in the context of game design. The platform's drag-and-drop functionality lowers the barrier to computer science entry by focusing on logic first before progressing to coding syntax, and the company also offers online and on-site professional development and teacher support.

Other STEAM News

Boxlight Mimio demonstrated its Labdisc portable data logger, which fits in the palm of a student's hand and includes 15 built-in sensors for collecting data and doing field experiments on a wide range of topics, from plant growth to weather change and pollution. The company also promoted a free, 30-page "Big Guide to STEM," a resource that includes recommended apps, websites and strategies for incorporating hands-on STEM learning in the classroom.

About the Author

Dennis Pierce is a freelance writer with 17 years of experience covering education and technology. He can be reached at