University of Calgary

Students, teachers learn spatial reasoning side-by-side during Summer Academy

UToday HomeJuly 3, 2013

By Betty Rice

Spatial reasoningStudents learn about spatial reasoning at the Imperial Oil Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (IOSTEM) Summer Academy.If you were to put your mind to building a robot, what knowledge or subject areas do you think would be required to successfully create a working machine?

You’d definitely use technology, combined perhaps with a little science? Some engineering, or maybe some math?

How about all of the above?

That’s what a group of 21 Grade 4 and 5 students are picking up on campus this week, as they take part in the Imperial Oil Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (IOSTEM) Summer Academy. The focus of this year’s academy, the first, is on how best to develop spatial reasoning in students.

Yesterday, the first day of the academy, the children were given instructions on how to build and then program their first robots.

“Our robotics challenge combines all the STEM disciplines to address one problem,” explains Krista Francis Poscente, the IOSTEM director. “Engineering and science are required to understand the mechanics necessary to build the robot, and programming the robot for various tasks requires logical and mathematical thinking.”

While the activities are certainly fun for the children, there’s serious learning going on as well.

Spatial reasoningKrista Francis Poscente, IOSTEM director, and teacher Heather Lai work with Grade 4 and 5 students during the Summer Academy at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, July 2. Photos by Betty RiceAlong with researchers, five teachers from Calgary schools will work with the children, and they’ll learn how to build their own robots. They’ll also discover how to teach robotics and spacial reasoning in the classroom.

According to Heather Lai, a teacher participant in the academy, the program will help her to bring new skills to her classroom. “I would love to provide opportunities for the students to develop their abilities,” she says. “I hope to find ways to encourage students who have less confidence in these skills to find the value of learning these skills and using them for day to day life.”

The children take part in activities throughout the morning, with the teachers and researchers working alongside them to support their learning and to observe their spatial thinking. In the afternoon, the teachers and researchers debrief, discuss their observations, develop curriculum, and plan for the implementation of robotics into classrooms in the fall.

“We’ve set several goals for this summer academy,” says Francis Poscente, who is also an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education. “We want the children to learn how to design, build and program a robot; we want them to become passionate about the STEM subjects; and we want them to learn to collaborate and work as part of a team to solve a challenge.”

As for the teachers, “we hope they will become passionate about STEM education, and that this academy will serve as a catalyst in building a network of colleagues and researchers for future classroom planning and research in STEM.”