Sunday, May 14, 2017

STEAM Education – Accenting the “T” for Television

STEAM Education – Accenting the “T” for Television
By Dr. Rose Reissman

As a  twentieth century child, I frustrated my print book loving mother by refusing to sit at the lovely desk she gave me and instead, lay down in front of the television to do my homework. There, I watched a wide variety of pop culture entertainment shows.  When she tried to force me to return to my desk, I showed her I had not only completed the homework, but had gotten writing ideas from my television viewing.
Fast forward to today, when STEAM, ELA, Social Studies and other teachers can tap into ongoing television shows to inspire students with real world learning brought to the classroom courtesy of television.

The Toy Box, a new TV show, invites students to watch a reality game show in which young people are the judges of prototypes of new toys submitted by adults and children.  Talk about making the idea of prototypes to solve or address a real world challenge coming real.  The show is modeled after the adult Shark Tank where adults pitch business ideas to adult business luminaries.  But here, adult mentors such as Dylan Lauren and Jim Silver prequalify the toy prototype by judging its market applications, safety for kids, diverse appeal and design.  All of these criteria are part of the standard rubric for prototypes in engineering design, or perhaps the inventions themes in STEM, SS or even cross content ELA units, grade 3 up.  Even better, the kids who judge in the final round of Toy Box actually “field test” – that is, play with the toy and question the adult and child inventors and judge the entries for the final round.  The grand prize is actual production of a toy that selected by the kid judges to be sold at ToysRus; totally an authentic real world goal for a toy inventor.

While Angus MacGyver was not a child in either the original 1990s series nor is he in the 2016 reboot on CBS, his skill of improvising from available materials to solve up the minute and quickly shifting crises is childlike and inventive to the hilt.  In the current series MacGyver, who was raised by his grandfather and is loyal to his childhood best friend, is critiqued by his boss for “improvising.”  But these skills, which include a broad knowledge of science principles, technology applications, and constructing mechanical devices from available, ordinary objects, make him a fabulous model of how use of the engineering - design process,  in tandem with team play, can literally save his colleagues and sometimes the free world.  Even better, in this reboot, he explains procedurally each design he engineers and its basis in science principles in spilt screen steps through a voiceover.  These split screen steps are digital diagrams and informational/functional documents.  Kids won’t be that conscious of that, but teachers will!!

Although MacGyver’s fans, those from the 1990’s as well as his new ones,  may want to believe he is an actual personality, Scorpion,  another show about a team of geniuses who work together to help homeland security with innovative science, mechanical, technological and crisis based interventions is actually based on real Irish born genius, Walter O’Brien.  O’Brien is a producer on the show who regularly offers technical ideas and storylines that involve science-centered think tank teamwork that saves individuals, exposes fraud, and uses science knowledge for rescue from the like of sinkholes, infectious diseases, and more.  The characters, including a behavioral specialist, a tech genius, and a mechanical wizard, work as a team combining their skills.  They are also outsiders in the regular world because their social skills are far less advanced than their intellectual ones. They have a female team member who helps with necessary social skills and has a gifted child.  Of course that child has contributed as well. In this series, as in MacGyver, the science procedures and facts are explicitly explained as the characters use this to neatly tie up situations by the end of the episode.  Is running through a complete design process cycle in order to produce a tenable solution to an important problem in just 48 minutes  (what’s left of the show’s hour after accounting for time to run commercials) possible?  Perhaps not, but there’s much science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics in action, here, as well as and fun, car chases, and relationships evolving; all PG rated.  What’s not to love by students and teachers, as well?

Students can connect the toy prototypes and issues to their own ideas and inventions.  They can explicate and diagram MacGyver-type procedures and relate them to their science content or create new challenges and episodes for MacGyver to solve using the science knowledge, and engineering/ design principles, or LEGO robotics approaches they’ve learned and experienced.  They can write back stories for the child in Scorpion or the other characters and research the “truth” behind the very real Walter O’Brien.  They can also consider how the values of resiliency, leaning from failure, grit, integrity and team work foster engineering design success and why.

Teachers need not assign these currently broadcast STEAM offerings to students for home viewing, but can download the episodes; select those that align to topics, challenges or themes used in their classes and invite the Toy Box kid judges, Angus MacGyver, and Walter O’Brien to drop by anytime that fits in the curriculum map.  Not to worry, just as I proved to my mother long ago, the kids will have fun with these digital learning tools and take away fundamental STEAM and engineering/design process skills and knowledge.  Perhaps they will create the next generation reality kid invention show, MacGyver 21st century character or Scorpion spinoff.  The accent on the “T” (TV) will inform all the other aspects of STEAM!!
Walter O’Brien:

Dr. Rose Reissman is the co-author of Project Based Literacy:
Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning
(Information Age Publishers, 2015). She is the founder of the Writing Institute, which has served 134 schools. Dr. Reissman developed the projects cited in this article in collaboration with Ditmas Middle School teachers Angelo Carideo, Michael Downes, David Liotta, and Amanda Xavier.

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