Online tools help engage students in STEM learning and physical activity

10 online tools for STEM and movement

As students and teachers adjust to learning at home, these online tools help engage students in STEM learning and physical activity

If circumstances call for social distancing (think COVID-19!), distance learning comes into play. It has its benefits, wearing PJs among them.

It also has its challenges: lots of screen and seat time; virtual tools that might not fully engage learners; and programs that may not be a good fit with the curriculum. In short, they don’t always measure up to the “real thing” that is school.

Related content: 3 coaching tips to support newly-virtual teachers

But, vetted virtual programs can match the depth and impact of in-school learning experiences. The edWebinar “Distance Learning: How to Support STEM and Physical Activity at Home,” models this alignment showcasing web-based programs and apps that offer stay-at-home learners with opportunities to strengthen STEM skills, remain physically active, and manage screen time.

The mix: STEM and movement

Kristin Harrington, edtech coach for Flagler County School District in Palm Coast, FL, knows what it’s like to shift from a live, on-site classroom, where she and her learners are always moving and interacting with each, other to sitting in front of a screen teaching students from afar.

Limited physical activity, lots of time interfacing with a device–well, it can be a bit much. And it can turn students off from learning that they see as less than engaging and even stagnant, especially without the opportunity to move around.

Harrington shared several digital tools she uses to boost virtual learning, with a focus on STEM activities that also get at-home students out of their seats. Harrington underscored how growth mindset skills—such as collaboration, perseverance, and resilience—that STEM builds are also evident in physical activity, making the combination logical.

1. Goose Chase is a scavenger hunt app. Students can participate in activities like
Area and Perimeter, which gets them up and about as they measure the area of a physical space or the perimeter of a desk, for example. They can also participate in photo scavenger hunts; they take photos of theme-based items (how about STEM?) and then post the pictures online as part of a class challenge.
2. Unruly Splats invites learners to design, write the rules for, and create physical games by programming “Splats” with a coding app. They tell the “Splats” when to light up and make sounds once stomped on. Harrington said students get creative, designing relay races, dance games, whack-a-mole, race-in-place, and obstacle courses.
3. STEM Trash to Treasure Challenge is an activity that integrates art with STEM. Learners find an object (water bottle, paper towel tube, broken jewelry, among others) in the house or outside that they can turn into usable item, like a mini-animal shelter. A checklist, described during the presentation, guides their design, from conceptualization to a final product that they can market on social tools like Flipgrid, which allows learners to create and post videos to share with peers.
4. Getting Loopy (of Code.org) introduces the programming concept of loops (repeated instructions) through a dance activity. Students, explained Harrington, perform a dance move, and then indicate by code how many repetitions are required so that their peers, who see the video on Flipgrid, perform the programmed dance.
5. My Robotic Friends is a programming tool that invites learners to design algorithms to show a peer (a “robot”) how to stack cups in different patterns. “Robots” respond to the algorithm defined by their peers. For greater movement, they can explain the stacking steps to someone (guardian, parent, sibling) with whom they are back-to-back or who is blindfolded.

Movement and mindfulness, too

And when there is just a need for physical activity, Harrington shared fun and creative virtual tools that teachers use to get learners moving and even just chilling when they need to. Harrington emphasized that these methods help young people ultimately build socio-emotional mindsets and practices that will benefit them in years to come.

6. The Flipgrid Activity Challenge, which several of Harrington’s colleagues launched, gets learners participating in physical challenges teachers create. The students record themselves doing the challenge and then post to Flipgrid.
7. GoNoodle is a mix of gaming and musical video that helps learners stay active and maintain balanced social-emotional health. Its Good Energy at Home section shares activities like yoga and deep breathing to that end.
8. Move to Learn features a range of videos that integrate academics into movement exercises and recently added dance videos targeting high school students.
9. Calm and Headspace are mindfulness apps that introduce meditation and other exercises that can help learners reduce anxiety, relax and even improve academic performance.
10. Brain Breaks are planned activities that allow learners to reenergize their brains and focus.

Studying STEM from afar is totally possible. While students are doing that, they can also stay active. Quality virtual tools and creative teachers can help learners do both and make distant learning as engaging as the physical classroom.

About the presenter

Kristin Harrington is an edTech coach for Flagler County School District in Palm Coast, FL, as well as an adjunct professor for Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL. She has a master’s degree in educational technology and instructional design from the University of Florida. Kristin is a PLN leader for the ISTE Learning Spaces Network and guest writer for ISTE Empowered Learner magazine and blog. She is also the co-founder of Edcamp St. Augustine and Edcamp Flagler, as well as a current board member for the Florida Council of Instructional Technology Leaders (FCITL).

About the host

Lauren Watkins is the marketing lead at Unruly Studios. Before coming to Unruly, she worked in the 3D printing industry at Pinshape and Formlabs for three years and helped bring 3D printing to schools across the globe. A passionate techy, she loves working with educators to make STEM and technology more fun and physically active for kids!

Join the community

STEM Learning: Full STEAM Ahead is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net that provides educators, curriculum leaders, and industry members with a place to collaborate on bringing more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into the classroom.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Unruly Splats. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

About the Author:

Michele Israel writes about the ideas and best practices that are shared in edWeb’s edWebinars so they can spread innovative and best practices to the education community. Michele owns Michele Israel Consulting, LLC, which serves large and small educational, nonprofit, media, corporate, eLearning, and blended-learning organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans over 25 years of successfully developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals, and assisting in organizational and program development. In addition to lesson plans and other teacher resources, Michele’s portfolio includes published articles covering a range of educational and business topics.

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