Transform engineering education for elementary schools through community outreach and project based learning
In project based learning, students learn by engaging with experiments and activities that mirror the real world. Project based learning benefits students in the long-term by teaching them invaluable skills such as problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking. One of our Primary Education team's biggest projects, the Bit Cart, implements project-based learning in an effort to integrate more STEM topics into elementary school education. This year-long program aims to introduce students to STEM topics through hands-on projects, experiments, and fun experiences in the classroom.
The Bit Cart was originally piloted at Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School in June 2019 as a framework for how the Bit Cart could be implemented in future elementary schools. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Bit Project has moved their entire curriculum online to continue their commitment to offering accessible STEM education.
The Bit Cart aims to solve three common problems with STEM education at the elementary school level: lack of hands-on volunteer experiences for students, lack of STEM education training for teachers, and lack of resources for classrooms. The Bit Cart not only helps teachers and elementary school students, but it also benefits college students by giving them an opportunity to volunteer and get real-world experience working in a classroom. In addition, teachers do not always have training specializing in STEM education, so these lessons also have benefits for them. With Bit Cart, teachers can observe the lesson and use both the resources and the lesson plan themselves in the future.
Finally, many elementary schools, especially those in underprivileged communities, do not have the adequate materials to teach a variety of STEM lessons. To work with this issue, Bit Project uses resources and funding from the UC Davis College of Engineering to provide these resources for Bit Cart lessons. For all of Bit Cart's projects, Bit project provides all of the materials and the curriculum for the lesson. This way, teachers only have to schedule a Bit Cart lessons, and the rest of the curriculum is provided and powered by volunteers. The system's whole purpose is to make STEM education accessible, convenient, and transportable.
The Bit Cart is entirely created and powered by volunteers. Lesson plans involve four groups of volunteers at Bit Project: curriculum developers, outreach coordinators, volunteer heads, and classroom volunteers. All of these volunteers go through training online in subjects such as classroom management, etiquette, and organization, and are organized by volunteer heads into groups of 5-7 volunteers per classroom.
All of Bit Cart's activities and lesson plans are created by the curriculum developers, who work together to come up with engaging STEM lessons for elementary school students using the resources available to them. During lessons in the classroom, volunteers from Bit Project's Primary Education team bring with them a cart of supplies that students will use for experiments, hence the name "Bit Cart." After making a presentation about the STEM topic of focus, the volunteers work face-to-face with students as the students work on hands-on projects.
With STEM topics ranging from basic computer science to biology, the Bit Cart has given elementary school students the opportunity to delve into hands-on science. For example, in one of Bit Cart's lessons, volunteers brought wires, batteries, and clay to the classroom for a lesson about circuits and circuit building. Students then used their problem-solving skills and creativity to build circuits with the end result of powering a light bulb. Through this exercise, students learned how circuits work and how to both solve problems on their own and through collaborating with their peers.
Bit Cart's lessons have been highly effective with their audiences of both elementary school teachers and students. "The projects have a goal, but there's also a willingness to be open-ended and allow students to explore, to fail, and to succeed," said Mark Pollock, a 2nd grade teacher at Korematsu Elementary, "That epitomizes the whole idea of STEM, that you're going to experiment." With their focus on project-based learning, the Bit Cart brings a new method of teaching STEM subjects and promoting STEM education at the elementary school level. Not only will the students participating in Bit Cart programs learn about a wide range of STEM topics, but they will also learn valuable real-world skills through their problem solving and collaboration with others.
In June 2020, Bit Project's team published a paper in the American Society of Engineering Education journal titled: Student-led Initiative Promoting K-5 Hands-on Engineering Education