STEAM and physical computing

STEAM learning is about providing young people with opportunities to explore and apply science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in an interdisciplinary manner. STEAM challenges young learners to tackle meaningful, real world scenarios through experimentation, creativity, collaboration and application of knowledge by drawing on a range of subject areas.

Physical computing is about making things using software and hardware to interact with the physical world and it offers almost limitless possibilities for STEAM learning. As the saying goes:

If you can think it, you can code it.

Even relatively simple physical computing activities, such as monitoring the moisture content of a garden or adding flashing LEDs to a t-shirt, will touch on several or all of the STEAM elements.

Young learners can use code and electronics to create gadgets, artworks, tools, novelties, products and solutions that naturally combine multiple disciplines. As such, coding and physical computing, are now curriculum imperatives and considered a necessary part of a 21st century skillset.

This is undoubtedly a positive step for education, but for educators, many of whom have limited experience with physical computing, it presents two immediate challenges:

  1. learning to use the hardware and software themselves so they can confidently and creatively introduce physical computing to their students
  2. finding ways to integrate physical computing in an interdisciplinary manner to achieve STEAM learning.

The ThinkerShield is a simple, reliable way for educators to get on with addressing these challenges. It makes it easy to get started with physical computing and provides a classroom-ready pathway to STEAM learning.


Challenge 1: get started with physical computing

Built to run on Arduino (the massively popular physical computing platform), the ThinkerShield allows learners to get on with simple physical computing activities without previous programming or electronics knowledge or the need for soldering and wiring.

This removes a common electronics and programming barrier and allows educators to begin experimenting with the technology after learning just a few bits of simple coding syntax. All educators, even those who are new to coding and electronics, will quickly find themselves making things flash, buzz, sense and respond. And with just a little practise, they will be able to use the ThinkerShield to confidently start creating simple physical computing projects for (and with) their students.


Challenge 2: initiating STEAM learning

Coding software to control hardware opens a whole world of STEAM learning opportunities. Maybe it’s to measure and record something, automate a process, decorate a room, run a presentation, drive a robot, or control a game. Whatever the application, a physical computing project almost always involves the elements of STEAM.

What’s important though, is that it is easy for both learners and educators to grasp the basics so they can quickly start experimenting and thinking about the possibilities. If the technology is a barrier, fewer educators and learners will elect to use it. And here’s where the ThinkerShield can help.

With its low entry requirements, flexibility and expandability, the ThinkerShield provides a gateway to the world of industry standard physical computing and STEAM learning. With minimal effort, learners can use the onboard components to discover the basics, then use the external connectors to connect to the real world. Then, if they choose, learners can move beyond the ThinkerShield altogether to explore industry standard hardware and software development for any discipline.

STEAM and physical computing

ThinkerShield and the syllabus

  • ST3-5WT plans and implements a design process, selecting a range of tools, equipment, materials and techniques to produce solutions that address the design criteria and identified constraints
  • ST3-4WS investigates by posing questions, including testable questions, making predictions and gathering data to draw evidence-based conclusions and develop explanations
  • MA3-1WM describes and represents mathematical situations in a variety of ways using mathematical terminology and some conventions
  • MA3-2WM selects and applies appropriate problem-solving strategies, including the use of digital technologies, in undertaking investigations
Knowledge and Understanding
  • ST3-6PW describes how scientific understanding about the sources, transfer and transformation of electricity is related to making decisions about its use
  • ST3-7PW uses scientific knowledge about the transfer of light to solve problems that directly affect people’s lives
  • ST3-13MW describes how the properties of materials determine their use for specific purposes
  • ST3-16P describes systems used to produce or manufacture products, and the social and environmental influences on product design
ThinkerShield and the syllabus

  • MA4-1WM a student communicates and connects mathematical ideas using appropriate terminology, diagrams and symbols
  • MA4-2WM a student applies appropriate mathematical techniques to solve problems
  • MA4-3WM a student recognises and explains mathematical relationships using reasoning
  • MA4-4NA compares orders and calculates with integers, applying a range of strategies to aid computation
  • MA4-5NA operates with fractions, decimals and percentage
  • MA4-7NA operates with ratios and rates, and explores their graphical representation
  • MA4-8NA generalises number properties to operate with algebraic expressions
  • MA4-9NA operates with positive-integer and zero indices of numerical bases
  • MA4-11NA creates and displays number patterns; graphs and analyses linear relationships; and performs transformations on the Cartesian plane
  • SC4-4WS identifies questions and problems that can be tested or researched and makes predictions based on scientific knowledge
  • SC4-5WS collaboratively and individually produces a plan to investigate questions and problems
  • SC4-6WS follows a sequence of instructions to safely undertake a range of investigation types, collaboratively and individually
  • SC4-7WS processes and analyses data from a first-hand investigation and secondary sources to identify trends, patterns and relationships, and draw conclusions
  • SC4-8WS selects and uses appropriate strategies, understanding and skills to produce creative and plausible solutions to identified problems
  • SC4-9WS presents science ideas, findings and information to a given audience using appropriate scientific language, text types and representations
  • SC4-11PW discusses how scientific understanding and technological developments have contributed to finding solutions to problems involving energy transfers and transformations
  • SC4-13ES explains how advances in scientific understanding of processes that occur within and on the Earth, influence the choices people make about resource use and management
  • SC4-16CW describes the observed properties and behaviour of matter, using scientific models and theories about the motion and arrangement of particles
  • 4.1.1 applies design processes that respond to needs and opportunities in each design project
  • 4.1.2 describes factors influencing design in the areas of study of Built Environments, Products, and Information and Communications
  • 4.1.3 identifies the roles of designers and their contribution to the improvement of the quality of life
  • 4.2.1 generates and communicates creative design ideas and solutions
  • 4.2.2 selects, analyses, presents and applies research and experimentation from a variety of sources
  • 4.3.1 applies a broad range of contemporary and appropriate tools, materials and techniques with competence in the development of design projects
  • 4.3.2 demonstrates responsible and safe use of a range of tools, materials and techniques in each design project
  • 4.4.1 explains the impact of innovation and emerging technologies on society and the environment
  • 4.5.1 applies management processes to successfully complete design projects
  • 4.5.2 produces quality solutions that respond to identified needs and opportunities in each design project
  • 4.6.1 applies appropriate evaluation techniques throughout each design project
  • 4.6.2 identifies and explains ethical, social, environmental and sustainability considerations related to design projects
Digital Technology
(draft Syllabus)
  • TE4-1DP designs, evaluates and communicates innovative ideas and creative solutions to authentic problems or opportunities
  • TE4-2DP plans, manages and evaluates the production of designed solutions
  • TE4-3DP selects and safely applies a broad range of tools, materials and processes in the development of quality projects
  • TE4-4DP designs algorithms and implements them in an appropriate programming language

  • SC5-1VA appreciates the importance of science in their lives and the role of scientific inquiry in increasing understanding of the world around them
  • SC5-5WS produces a plan to investigate identified questions, hypotheses or problems, individually and collaboratively
  • SC5-7WS processes, analyses and evaluates data from first-hand investigations and secondary sources to develop evidence-based arguments and conclusions
  • SC5-11PW explains how scientific understanding about energy conservation, transfers and transformations is applied in systems
  • SC5-13ES explains how scientific knowledge about global patterns of geological activity and interactions involving global systems can be used to inform decisions related to contemporary issues
Information Software and Technology
  • 5.1.2 selects, maintains and appropriately uses hardware for a range of tasks
  • 5.2.1 describes and applies problem-solving processes when creating solutions
  • 5.2.2 designs, produces and evaluates appropriate solutions to a range of challenging problems
  • 5.5.1 applies collaborative work practices to complete tasks
  • 5.5.2 communicates ideas processes and solutions to a targeted audience
  • MA5.2-2WM interprets mathematical or real-life situations, systematically applying appropriate strategies to solve problems
  • MA5.2-5NA recognises direct and indirect proportion, and solves problems involving direct proportion
  • MA5.2-16SP investigates relationships between two statistical variables, including their relationship over time