Introducing Students to STEM with SHARP Literacy

Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnectable. When you hear the words coding and creative art, you don’t think those two would amount to anything similar. SHARP Literacy is a non-profit devoted to helping bridge the achievement gap through an arts-integrated approach to literacy in the content areas, especially in science. As SHARP began to learn more about what a fundamental skill coding is for future-ready learners, they wanted to do their part to help bridge the digital divide by helping classroom teachers become more familiar with coding opportunities and spark student love of learning so that all children can have real life chances in STEM fields. SHARP Literacy consulted with classroom teachers as well as friends at Rockwell Automation, Northwestern Mutual, UWM’s Girls Who Code Club, Design Fugitives, and Learn Deep to develop a program with a resonant connection between art and coding that helps students develop skills in collaboration, communication, Growth Mindset and critical thinking. Create Art with Code workshops span throughout various SHARP partnership schools and provide 4th grade students the opportunity to create visual art using basic computer code.

I had the opportunity to sit on a panel of judges during their final presentations, and the outcomes were amazing! Not only does this program give students an opportunity to learn basic coding, it helps build their critical thinking and analytic skills that will help them in their futures.

The children were tasked with thinking of a problem in the school and creating something that could alleviate that problem. After deciding on their subject, students used a program that allowed them to create block coding on the computer, and also assembled a physical prototype using various materials. As a judge, I was tasked with asking these students questions about their decision making, problem solving and what they learned from the experience. It was very rewarding and astounding to see such talent in the STEM field.

The common theme amongst all the students was design challenges related to their desks. Whether they were too messy or theft was an issue, these kids wanted this problem to be solved. It was incredible to see their imaginations run wild; one with a self-cleaning desk and one that had all the bells and whistles you could think of. It was interesting to hear their perspective on what it takes to be part of a group effort toward creating something in real life! I was in awe at the level of intelligence these 4th graders possessed. When I asked a young girl what she learned working in a group, she responded with “perseverance”. All I could think was: These kids are the future.

SHARP Literacy piloted the Create Art with Code program in three MPS schools during the 2017-18 school year: Escuela Vieau, Forest Home Elementary, and Anna F. Doerfler Elementary.) In 2018-2019, they will also work with Rogers Street Academy as well as Banting, Summit View and Whittier Elementary Schools in the School District of Waukesha. The feedback from both teachers and students proves that the SHARP program works, and should be continued! One teacher noted, “The coding also lets them try different strategies and realize ho beneficial it is to be flexible and try something different. It requires them to preserve through a challenge, which is difficult for many of the students, who want instant success. This ties in well with our current math curriculum where they are presented with a variety of ways to solve a problem, and where perseverance is one of the important math practices. Other math practices that tie in with the coding are to look for repeated reasoning, use appropriate tools strategically, and look for and make use of structure.”What really struck me was how advanced these kids could be in STEM. Whether they were planning on going into the field or not, I loved their enthusiasm. After the presentations, I suggested that the students who were the most excited and advanced in the programming should be teamed together for another round/task. These students really have the potential to lead futures in this field and I was amazed by the organization and facilitating that SHARP Literacy did in order to make this program happen.

Angeline Herrick | Communications Coordinator

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