ETSU program focuses on training teachers on computation and STEM

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 4, 2019 at 5:23 PM

In an increasingly automated and tech-driven society, teachers have been learning more about how to creatively use technology in their classrooms.

At East Tennessee State University’s Clemmer College of Education, several teacher candidates have recently started learning how to do just that in a new program focusing on incorporating digital learning with elementary school language arts courses.

On Tuesday morning, Renee Moran, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction, showed teachers how to program and code small robots. Teachers learned how to use robots in lessons about haikus, a traditional form of Japanese poetry.

“I think they’re really excited about it because, for some of them, they’ve never thought about English language arts and computational thinking and coding. They usually think about it with math and science,” she said, adding that the robots used light, motion and sound to match the tone of the poems.

Leah Thacker, a second-grade instructor at Bulls Gap School in Hawkins County, said it was an interesting way to teach students about poetry and language arts, while also encouraging an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It makes it fun. It makes them want to learn something like haikus, which are something small and simple and usually pretty boring. You put robots with it, and then it’s more exciting,” she said.

Tuesday’s workshop was part of a new $665,887 project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Program called “Integrating STEM and Literacy with Computation in Elementary Education,” or iSLICEE.

Throughout the summer, mentors will spend a week on campus learning best practices and strategies for integrating coding, digital learning and the components of computational thinking into STEM and language arts curricula. On Wednesday, teachers will learn how to use Lego Story visualizers in mathematics lessons.

Chih-Che Tai, principal investigator of the project and assistant director of the ETSU Center of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education, said integrating digital learning and technology in classrooms is an important part of modernizing education. Tai said he wants to help “build a digital learning environment” and promote more STEM literacy in classrooms.

For the past several years, Tai and other colleagues have led similar initiatives aimed at providing training centering on this.

“We want our teacher candidates to not only be a generation of consumers of digital technology but also to have an understanding of how to use these tools to further computational thinking in the classrooms,” he said.

For more information on this program and others at ETSU, visit www.etsu.edu.

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