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MIT Full STEAM Ahead offers scalable, hands-on remote learning for K-12

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MIT Full STEAM Ahead offers scalable, hands-on remote learning for K-12

When we picture hands-on learning, usually a computer screen is nowhere in sight. But for the team behind MIT Full STEAM Ahead, “hands-on remote learning” may become the great new frontier for delivering quality K-12 online learning at scale.
Full STEAM Ahead began as an online resource hub to provide robust curated content to K-12 students, teachers, and parents during the first surge of the Covid-19 pandemic, when schools around the world started to shut down in rapid succession. With support from the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) and a monumental effort of coordination, the hub has grown into a vibrant learning community. Six months, 10 custom-created interactive learning packages, and two highly successful online summer programs later, the Full STEAM team has a lot to share about what makes engaging, effective remote learning experiences. Spoiler alert: it’s not high-tech gadgetry.
“Remote learning does not automatically mean ‘passive learning,’” says Claudia Urrea, senior associate director for pK-12 at J-WEL and co-leader of the project. “We’ve learned that with basic access to tech, and by using low-cost, widely available materials, learners can create and participate in effective hands-on learning, even at a distance.”
Spring: rapid response
Perhaps MIT’s most ambitious response to date to the sudden crisis in pK-12 education, Full STEAM Ahead is a testament to the strength and ingenuity of MIT’s pK-12 community, and a demonstration of MIT’s “mens et manus” (”mind and hand”) motto in action. Within days of the full-campus evacuation in mid-March, members of MIT’s pK-12 education community came together on Zoom to organize a coordinated response. It was Professor Eric Klopfer, director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program (STEP), who first suggested an online resource hub with a highly interactive hands-on learning component, and signed on to lead the project along with Urrea.
In a matter of weeks, the core team had built the site and were compiling resources in consultation with local school systems. Office of Government and Community Relations K-12 Outreach Administrator Rohan Kundargi communicated with colleagues in the Cambridge Public Schools in order to better understand their students’ and teachers’ needs. As a result, the interactive site was able to meet Massachusetts data privacy and security requirements, making it easier for teachers to turn to as a resource.
The content gathered on Full STEAM Ahead ranges from interactive programming languages geared toward young or beginner-level users, such as MIT App Inventor and Scratch; high-quality STEM-content video lessons (MIT BLOSSOMS); and course materials such as MIT OpenCourseWare Highlights for High School, all of which can be filtered by subject or interest area. Sponsored by J-WEL, the Full STEAM Ahead website also features curated MIT resources for learners at the higher education and workforce learning levels, in keeping with J-WEL’s commitment to transforming learning across those groups.
For each of 10 weeks between mid-April and the end of the academic year, Full STEAM Ahead released a new themed “Learning Package,” scaffolded by age group, for K-12 students and teachers. Different organizations across campus committed to curating each new package, an effort coordinated in large part by STEP Research Scientist Aditi Wagh. Lemelson-MIT, the Edgerton Center, the MIT Museum, the Education Arcade, three groups from the MIT Media Lab (Personal Robots, Lifelong Kindergarten, and Space Exploration Initiative), and others helped young learners explore topics such as spread of disease, invention education, nature photography, and artificial intelligence through engaging, low-cost interactive activities.

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