Troy University education students gain 21st century skills through final STEM project

Students in Dr. Shannon Dadd's Elementary STEM Methods class work with hydraulic arms they developed as a class assignment.

Students in Dr. Shannon Dadd's Elementary STEM Methods class work with hydraulic arms they developed as a class assignment.

A group of Troy University students recently got lessons in problem solving, communication, collaboration and perseverance through an assignment that culminated in last week’s Department of Teacher Education’s biannual Science and STEM Fair.

Students in Dr. Shannon Dadd’s Elementary STEM Methods class were tasked with developing a working hydraulic arm from materials she supplied and were given a task to complete with the arm such as picking cups, balls or other objects or playing a game of tic-tac-toe.

Student teams were assigned tasks they had to compete by using their hydraulic arms such as picking up objects like cups or balls or completing a game of tic-tac-toe.

“Our pre-service teachers through this activity and engineering-based learning are really learning some 21st century skills such as problem solving, communication, collaboration,” Dadd said. “They are learning about failure and how to persevere through that, and these are all applicable to anyone in any field – not just teachers and not just students. These are skills that are very applicable in their daily lives and their careers.”

Abbie Wood, a senior Elementary Education major from Straughn, said the students had been working on the project for about two weeks prior to last Thursday’s final reveal.

“We have been working on it for a couple of weeks, and we have built it from scratch from the materials that Dr. Dadd gave us,” Wood said. “We are using water and these hoses, and you have to pump the right amount of water into the hoses to get the arm to move correctly. The hard part about all of this was getting the air bubbles out of the tubes. Some people had to pick up a ball, some people had to play tic-tac-toe. We had a task card that she gave us that we had to complete.”

While the project was challenging and, at times, frustrating, Wood said it proved to be very gratifying.

“It is such a feeling of accomplishment,” she said. “We have definitely had our ups and downs through working on this project, so having that success at the end was a really good feeling, knowing what all of our hard work had achieved.”

Dr. Dadd said the project also is another way of helping to prepare students for the challenges they will face as a classroom teacher.

“I think that through these 21st century skills they are learning about and learning about failure, they discover that they are able to overcome that,” she said. “Teachers struggle with failure on a daily basis. It is also opening their eyes and minds to different types of learning, different types of activity – getting away from paper and pencil, worksheet and test type activities – and engaging students with something more kinesthetic that involves hands-on problem-solving. In the long term that is what is going to be better for our children in these K-12 classrooms. It is not just about learning content or creating generations of engineers, we want all our children to grow up with 21st century skills that make them successful adults.”

Wood said Dr. Dadd’s class has helped prepare students to become better teachers.

“You are not always going to succeed. STEM is all about learning from your failures,” she said. “This class has been a good way of teaching us that sometimes you fail, and you just have to pick yourself back up and become a better teacher from that.”

Dr. Dadd observes students has they carry out their tasks during the Department of Teacher Education’s biannual Science and STEM Fair.