The Mind Lab by Unitec has given its free educational website, Mind Lab Kids, a major overhaul with a significant upgrade for teachers. Primary and intermediate educators can now create and share engaging STEAM activities in just a matter of minutes using Mind Lab Kids Classroom.
Powered by Spark, Mind Lab Kids is a video-challenge website designed to provide a safe, child-friendly space online. With entertaining characters presenting STEAM challenges, 5 to 12-year-olds are encouraged to record their learning journeys and upload their responses to the site.
The ultimate aim is to get more children into STEAM subjects by giving them ownership of their learning and by showing that subjects like technology and engineering do not require high tech or expensive equipment to be accessible.
“STEAM education is crucial for the next generation of New Zealanders for life and work skills that will, in turn, generate future growth for our country,” said The Mind Lab’s Interim General Manager, David Farquhar, who points out that “many of the most significant tech discoveries have been created in garages using simple components, including Hewlett Packard (HP) and Steve Jobs with Apple.”
With the new Mind Lab Kids Classroom feature, teachers can make use of these video challenges as quick and easy-to-access classroom resources. The process is simple: sign up, select up to three challenges that suit your subject and year level, and pull them all into one activity, which is shared digitally with the class. Students take on the challenges at their own pace and record the process. They can then share their work with their classmates securely on the site, demonstrating key skills such as creating, innovating, failing, collaborating and problem-solving.
The new Classroom feature of the website helps teachers apply guided discovery to their students’ learning. Dr David Parsons, The Mind Lab’s Postgraduate Director, says that unlike entirely self-directed learning – where students sometimes struggle to find a starting point and to self-regulate their process – guided discovery provides more structure to help them meet learning outcomes.
“Learners explore the provided content with self-directed learning, while their understanding is reinforced through active problem-solving as they work through specific tasks. With guided discovery, the teacher decides just how much guidance is required. The mix of learning approaches used in the Mind Lab Kids videos, ranging from open questions to specific scientific or technology-based experiments or challenges, enables educators to select the right mix of guidance and discovery for their own students.”
Engaging learning experience
Teachers can also use Mind Lab Kids Classroom to establish a flipped classroom model.
“This is a form of blended learning,” added Rochelle Thorn, The Mind Lab’s Education Director in the Lower North Island. “It brings together advances in education and technology to deliver instruction online, outside of class, typically via video-based materials, and moves ‘homework’ into the classroom.”
With Mind Lab Kids Classroom, students can view the challenges in the activity as homework, gather supplies and plan at home, then complete the challenges collaboratively in class.
“The end result is a personalised, engaging learning experience for every student, whatever their learning style, pace, or ability.”
The site hosts videos in both English and te reo Ma-ori (look out for blue-haired Parehe) and new videos are added every week, covering a range of activities from across the spectrum of STEAM. As well as being free to sign up, many of the activities can be completed cheaply or for free by recycling household objects. Some bring science to life through home-based experiments, others are brainteasers that require independent research, and there are also tech and engineering challenges making use of simple household bits and bobs.
By Cheryl Whitfield, Editor and Digital Comms Manager at The Mind Lab by Unitec.
Teachers and children can sign up free for Mind Lab Kids Classroom at MindLabKids.com or can contact firstname.lastname@example.org with queries. For those who want to get more technical, Mind Lab Kids also has an online shop for sourcing supplies.