In this HSA Bulletin:
In the Spotlight!
Call for Content
March 17 Webinar Recording
HSA Webinar Series: Revised mathematics (C) course policy
FAQs of the month
In the Spotlight!
This month we are excited to put the spotlight on the UC-registered program, Learning by Making (LbyM). Housed at Sonoma State University, the program offers an integrated ninth-grade C-STEM curriculum that teaches basic coding and electronics skills as part of implementing selected NGSS performance expectations in life, earth and physical science. LbyM has three science (D) courses on their A-G reference list, and program director, Professor Lynn Cominsky tells us they "are eagerly seeking at least one more high-needs high school, preferably rural, to join [their] program." Please keep reading to learn more about this innovative curriculum and how to find out if that school could be your school!
1) What is the Learning by Making program at Sonoma State and how did it come to be?
Learning by Making (LbyM) is an integrated ninth-grade C-STEM curriculum that teaches basic coding and electronics skills, as part of implementing selected NGSS performance expectations in life, earth and physical science. Each LbyM course begins with three foundational units where students progressively build their computer science knowledge and coding skills for managing sensor-driven feedback systems used in subsequent investigative labs and experiments. LbyM trains students to design and construct their own experiments to make scientific measurements that are personally relevant, and that are critical to the future of our economy and our planet. The program started in 2014 with funding from the US Department of Education (ED) Investing in Innovation program, and is now continuing with a second five-year grant from ED. The lead author of the LbyM curriculum and director of the program is Prof. Lynn Cominsky, from Sonoma State University’s EdEon STEM Learning Center. An award-winning astrophysicist and STEM educator, Cominsky envisioned the LbyM program in 2013 as an expanded laboratory-based version of rocket-based microcontroller experiments that she had previously developed for NASA. Cominsky partnered with Susan Wandling, Director of SSU’s Pre-Collegiate Programs, as she had substantial experience in obtaining grants and running programs for ED, as well as extensive knowledge of local schools which might want to participate. The initial LbyM program was limited to rural, high-need high schools in Mendocino County, but it has now expanded to include schools in Lake, Trinity, Sonoma, and most recently, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
2) It looks like there are three different courses on the program's reference list in the A-G Course Management Portal. Can you briefly describe each course and talk about what differentiates them?
All three courses are approved for use in science (D). Each begins with three foundational units focused on coding and electronics troubleshooting competencies, delivered through small scientific investigations that build to meet specific NGSS performance expectations. At the completion of these core lessons and investigations, students understand how to configure, operate, and utilize light and temperature sensors to conduct experiments with real-world applications across the science domains with an emphasis on environmental concerns. Subsequent experiment units vary based on the dominant science domain of the course. Differentiation in the courses is defined by the disciplinary core ideas that are emphasized as students design and conduct experiments and labs using the sensor-driven systems. The Physical Science LbyM course builds an understanding of energy at the macroscopic and microscopic scales as students consider how energy manifests itself and transfers within the experiments. As an example, they apply this knowledge to explore how conductivity can be measured in soil samples to determine moisture content using temperature sensors. Their understanding of conductivity in soil moisture is later applied to designing and conducting experiments with microbial fuel cells and their uses in industry. Microbial fuel cells, (commercially sold as ‘MudWatts’) have applications in the Environmental Sciences and Biology LbyM courses as students learn how sustainable and renewable energy from bacteria within the soil can be measured, propagated, and harnessed.
The LbyM courses broaden students’ awareness of careers in science, directly related to their classroom work. Large-scale, real-world applications of the widespread use of sensors in industry are explored through video conferences with scientists and engineers in the various fields. Whenever possible, field trips to local businesses are also arranged.
3) What type of professional development and ongoing support do you provide your partner schools?
Each participating teacher gets 80 hours of professional learning annually. Teachers are paid stipends for participating in PL activities meeting five Saturdays during the academic year (now all remote) and a five-day summer training, held at Sonoma State University. We provide several staff who are available via email and cell phone for technical and logistical support, such as help debugging code or finding electrical wiring errors, as well as sending additional parts and equipment when needed. The professional learning community of all the participating instructors is another wonderful resource for sharing best practices.
4) In the response form, you described some of the ways the curriculum has been adapted to suit online/virtual learning. Can you describe one or two of the ways the curriculum was adapted and what successes and challenges you experienced?
Prior to the onset of in-home learning in March 2020, the LbyM curriculum was primarily implemented with students working in pairs, sharing a computer, electronics boards, parts and tools. Once the students were no longer in the classroom, they couldn’t really continue with the experiments as designed, and they couldn’t safely share equipment. To remedy this situation for the next academic year (20-21), we created 400 individual kits including a Chromebook with LbyM software, as well as all the tools, parts and electronics needed to do the experiments. Teachers now often use Kami or equivalent software to collect student responses on the worksheets, which were previously filled out on paper.
Trying to debug electrical wiring errors by having students hold breadboards up to computer web cameras is very challenging for the instructors! It is quite difficult to see the breadboards clearly enough to spot misplaced wires. We had previously implemented software that allowed SSU staff to view student code remotely when they were in their classrooms. However, once all the students dispersed, this was no longer possible, creating the additional challenge of remote software debugging. Some of these problems have been solved by students taking photos of their equipment or computer screens showing their code and sending them to the instructors, so they can help with the debugging process.
As another example, an annual field trip is planned as part of the LbyM career awareness experience. Students get to see sensors in action in various settings and meet people doing interesting jobs that use the skills they are learning through LbyM. In May 2020, we had planned to visit nature preserves and make sensor measurement outdoors as part of an exploration challenge. When these trips were cancelled, we improvised and created a “Field Trip Around Your Neighborhood” with various puzzles, challenges and observations.
5) Tell us anything else you think readers should know about the program, the courses or your partner schools.
The grant requirements from the US Department of Education include rigorous evaluation as part of the work. For our first five-year program, we did a quasi-experimental design study that showed that LbyM improved student performance in science by a whole letter grade, and in math by half-a-letter-grade. We are now in our second five-year program and the curriculum has greatly benefited from input provided by our partner teachers and our WestEd evaluators. The project will be conducting an impact study during the 2021-22 academic year with newly trained teachers, and we are eagerly seeking at least one more high-needs high school, preferably rural, to join our program. All supplies for LbyM are provided, as well as the field trip, and professional learning described earlier. It is not too late to sign up your high school! If you are interested, and think that your school will qualify for the study, please contact Prof. Lynn Cominsky at email@example.com for more information, and visit our website: http://lbym.sonoma.edu. We are happy to provide curriculum materials for review, upon request.
To find Learning by Making's course descriptions when logged in to the A-G Course Management Portal (CMP), please click the Course Search tab in the top navigation bar. Type "Learning by Making" in the search field, and the program name will appear as a filter option. Click the name and the three courses will be available to review.