Workshops Give Educators Hands-On Instruction, Training
By Edwin L. Aguirre
UMass Lowell’s Computer Science Department recently hosted two workshops designed to enhance educators’ experience in teaching computing and robotics. Called CS4HS and STREAM, the events were held in June on campus and in Sturbridge, respectively.
CS4HS, which stands for Computer Science for High School, is an initiative sponsored by Google to promote computer science and computational thinking in secondary schools. UMass Lowell received a $15,000 grant from Google’s Education Group to hold the workshop on campus.
STREAM, which means Using Robots to Teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, is geared toward helping K–12 educators utilize robotics as they teach STEM subjects. The hands-on workshop featured Artbotics, a National Science Foundation-funded collaboration between UMass Lowell and the Revolving Museum in Lowell that combines art, computer science and robotics to create interactive, kinetic sculptures. STREAM was organized by UMass Lowell and Bedford-based iRobot Corp.
CS4HS: From Data Visualization to Cloud Computing
In CS4HS, teachers went back to school to learn new programming skills.
UMass Lowell Sciences Dean Robert Tamarin and Google Boston Engineering Director Steve Vinter were on hand to welcome the nearly 40 middle- and high-school teachers from Massachusetts and Rhode Island to the workshop. The two-day event consisted of three hands-on sessions, short faculty research talks and group discussions.
Topics for the workshops included an introduction to programming using App Inventor for Android, Google’s development environment for Android mobile devices; media computing with Python; and using MIT Scratch, a blocks-based programming language, to create algorithmic and computational musical compositions.
Faculty members from the Computer Science and Music departments also shared with the audience their research in computational geometry, scientific visualization of data sets, social networks, and mobile and cloud computing, as well as their experience in teaching computing to first-year college students.
“It’s great to have the support and endorsement of Google,” says Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin, who organized the workshop. “Based on our years of work with area teachers, we’ve already had a great response, and we expect teachers will be bringing lots of ideas back to their classrooms this September.”
For example, Chris Connors, who teaches technology and engineering at Pembroke High School, has found ways on how to turn students’ cell phones from being disruptive devices in classrooms to productive learning tools.
“I’m interested in having students take better control of technology in their lives,” says Connors. “Through computing and programming, I’m helping them find ways to make better use of their cell phones, to learn how to use these devices in service of their learning.”
Robotics Goes Main-STREAM
In STREAM, educators had a taste of applying the principles of robotics to create pieces of art.
“This year’s workshop was attended by 40 middle- and high-school teachers, as well as several from community colleges,” says Phyllis Procter, program manager for community partnerships in the CS Department. “The majority was from Massachusetts; however, some were from Connecticut and New York. One of Prof. Holly Yanco's graduate students in robotics, Kate Tsui, presented information about local robotics companies, such as company products, history and employment opportunities. Several area teachers also did short presentations on the use of robotics in their classrooms.”
STREAM’s full-day Artbotics program was presented by Diana Coluntino and Adam Norton. Coluntino is the Revolving Museum’s artistic director while Norton is media manager and research assistant at UMass Lowell’s Robotics Lab.
“After an overview of the history and structure of Artbotics, STREAM participants were put to work, learning how to control motors, lights and sensors using the Cricket Logo program,” says Norton, who also serves as artist educator at the museum.
The teachers used their newly acquired skills to produce two different projects: a drawing made by a pen-wielding car driven by a Super Cricket microcontroller, and an interactive, narrative sculpture. The completed kinetic sculptures included a curious snail that popped out of its shell when viewers approached it, an erupting volcano and a salsa dancer that lit up the dance floor, literally, Norton says.
In addition to UMass Lowell and iRobot, financial support for STREAM 2011 was provided by the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education and SIM Boston.