What was your favorite subject in school? If you answered “recess,” we’re right there with you. It’s true that playing games with friends is the highlight of most kids’ days, but the fun doesn’t have to be contained to recess. There’s a lot to learn as technology continues to change the business world and we want the next generation to be prepared. All of this is why educators and national leaders are focused on keeping subjects engaging, relevant, and fun with STEM curriculum. So, what is STEM?

Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.

STEM is an educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations in the STEM field are projected to grow by 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s a lot of opportunity for the youth of our nation but a career in STEM can be daunting to approach. That’s why we started ASPIRE.

ASPIRE is a software program where students, grade 7-12, use a graphical editor to solve computer science problems. We share this program with local schools, and every year we teach this course at a week-long summer camp at University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Though we only have a week, we cover a lot of ground by using gamification as our primary teaching method. We designed the course to be interesting and engaging, yet we’re able to introduce concepts like:

  • Basic to Advanced wheel movement
  • Variables and functions
  • Conditional statements
  • Radar, targeting and firing strategies
  • Elements of basic problem solving
  • Trigonometry
  • Solving math problems programmatically

Pretty intense curriculum for summer camp, right? That’s why making it fun is so important, the kids don’t even realize that they are grasping principles some people don’t learn until college, or at all.

A prime example of the difference between traditional learning and gamification would be this problem.

abstract-math-problem

This is an elementary algebra problem where you find the degree of the angle labeled “X” , or, X=180-48. The answer would be x=132, and the measure of the angle is 132 degrees.

Students will learn these foundational formulas, and how to find the answer, but there is one thing this problem is sorely lacking: possibility. When would they use this knowledge in real life, or what are the different ways they could apply it?

Now here is the same problem, the ASPIRE-STEM way:

aspire-math-problem

Problem Statement: Two bots exist in a one vs. one arena. Your Green bot and the opponent’s Red bot are facing the direction indicated. Calculate the amount of degrees that your Green bot should turn its turret to the right in order to hit the Red bot if neither bot is moving.

They will use the same formula, do the same math, and they also get to see it all in action. They start thinking of all the possible ways to move their bot and strategize, which spurs their imaginations toward other applications of this formula. By adding a little competition and a reward (KABOOM) for correctly solving the problem, we create a link between what they are learning and what they could do with it. Since they get to create their own bots, then battle each other in the arena, they have a drive to learn more so their bot will be the champion of the daily challenges.

Gamification is a fantastic teaching method for getting students engaged and excited about learning, but life can’t all be recess. Pursuing a career in one of the STEM fields takes discipline, with ASPIRE we teach a good balance of the two.

classroom