Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in Hacking STEM, a ground-breaking training held on the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington. This training was unlike anything I have ever participated in. To start, we entered the conference room set up with tables in small group clusters, six people at a table. This was not going to be a sit-and-get type of training. Right from the start, we knew that interaction and collaboration were going to be necessary. Next, on the tables were piles of lemons. What are the lemons for, you ask? Well, we were challenged to build a battery with the lemons to power a LED. Naturally, we thought, no big deal, we will just Bing it and find the instructions. No, that was not allowed. The struggle was part of the learning. We quickly discovered a bag full of copper and zinc nails along with a pile of double-sided alligator clips. Could this be the missing link we needed to make our lemon battery come alive? The short answer is yes, but I won’t give away any of the details. I want my readers to find their own solutions, for the struggle and the learning are real!
What is Hacking STEM?
Hacking STEM is made possible through a partnership between the Education Workshop, Hack for Good, and the Microsoft Garage. The Hacking STEM team is an innovative and energetic group of educators, programmers, makers, and STEM enthusiasts dedicated to making Hacking STEM successful in all classrooms. They have worked hard to remove financial barriers, by keeping the projects low cost, however, they have not skimped on the academic rigor. Hacking STEM brings affordable hands-on inquiry-based lessons to K-12 classrooms across the globe. These free lesson plans infused with visualized data focus on the 21st-century skills students need to be successful in the jobs of today and the future.
How do I get started using Hacking STEM?
At the core of Hacking STEM is learning authenticity. We want our students learning STEM using real data, gathered from real instruments. Doing this in a cost-effective and scalable way is feasible when students use inexpensive materials to build the instruments they will use to collect their data. The Hacking STEM team at Microsoft has done all the heavy lifting for you. Resources, including lesson plans, instructions, material lists, and project code are available for download.
Want to measure the strength of an earthquake, build a seismograph. Want to compare water quality in ponds and streams in your community, build an electrical conductivity sensor. Your students will begin their STEM inquiry by building a data collection instrument. Once constructed, the instrument will likely be connected to the Arduino Uno, an inexpensive microcontroller board. If you have little to no experience working with a microcontroller, fear not! Step by step instructions are included in each lesson plan, and the Hacking STEM team has even written the code for each project in Arduino IDE.
Upon completion, students will connect their instrument to a computer running Excel. Once in Excel, an add-in called Data Streamer (previously Project Córdoba) will need to be loaded to visualize real-time data collected from the instruments built by your students. If you have not used add-ins before, it is simple. Go to the Insert tab, then click on Store in the Add-ins section of the toolbar ribbon. Do a quick search for Data Streamer and click on the add button. Once connected, you are ready to start collecting and visualizing data.
What supports are available?
Support and assistance for Hacking STEM are available to educators the Microsoft support website. I also encourage everyone to join the conversation on the Hacking STEM LinkedIn Group. Through expanding your professional learning community (PLN) on LinkedIn, you receive constant support and timely feedback from educators and Hacking STEM team members.
Expanding your learning
Hacking STEM is sponsoring free summer workshops across the United States in Houston (August 6, 8:00 a.m. – August 7, 5:00 p.m.), Fort Lauderdale (August 8, 8:00 a.m. – August 9, 5:00 p.m.), and New York (August 16, 8:00 a.m. – August 17, 5:00 p.m.) If you want to attend, register at the Microsoft Education Blog.
Hacking STEM was an outstanding opportunity for professional development and personal growth. I am excited to put this learning into action with my students and share these resources with educators in my PLN.
Knowledge is Power!