STEMcoding Project Announces Big Updates and New Resources for Distance Learning

Each summer is an opportunity to polish, improve and build new STEMcoding content that mixes computer science with traditional science and math learning objectives. With instructors facing extraordinary circumstances this fall with distance learning and hybrid learning due to covid19, we put in extra time to deliver new features to help students work from home and potentially without close proximity to a teacher or instructor.

The Milestones System

Until recently, the main way a student could know if their code was working correctly was to submit their code to their instructor to look over. This puts an extra burden on the instructor to frequently grade or give feedback to their students and on a short timescale. For more than a few students it becomes impractical. In May and June, we added what we call the “milestones system” to many of our classical mechanics activities. For these exercises, the student sees a list of objectives below the screen with either a green check mark, gray question mark or red X there to indicate whether the objective is met. We have funneled our experience with various ways that students mis-configure codes to determine if certain objectives are met or not. The result is instant feedback on whether they have made a particular modification to the code correctly.

Here is a demo of what the milestones system looks like if students completed Planetoids with Torque correctly


Teachers will still need to go in and look over student submissions including their codes and answers to reflection questions, but this new system can help identify common errors in real time and provide useful warning messages for students to fix them. As educators across the US anticipate more distance education this fall we hope this helps maintain rigor while taking us much load off of the teacher as possible, leaving them to focus on other things and addressing deeper concepts. The milestones system has been implemented in activities Move the blob, Accelerate the blob, Apollo Moon Lander, Bird Launcher, Pong,, Planetoids, Lunar Descent, Bellicose Birds, Planetoids with Torque and Planetoids with a Spring.

STEMcoding Object Tracking System for Home Physics Experiments

One of the most difficult parts of distance learning for physics and physical science classes is replicating the lab experience. For example, students at OSU and many other schools use equipment like Vernier logger pro to analyze the positions and velocities of objects in simple physics experiments. How can instructors help students perform experiments like these from home?

If students have a smartphone or a tablet at home they can potentially record a video of some kind of simple physics experiment. Some devices, like the iPads each OSU freshman will get this year, are capable of 240 frames per second slow motion video recording. This is perfect for recording physics experiments! There are a couple of different programs that instructors use to analyze these videos, but typically they work by going frame by frame and clicking on the position of the object as it moves. Relatively few of the programs that are available are capable of automatic object tracking (i.e. without manual clicking).

Instead of creating a one-size-fits-all program that allows the user to do both the frame-by-frame clicking on the object AND automatic tracking, we designed a free browser-based program that ONLY does object tracking. The key is to use a brightly colored, preferably blue or green, ball in front of a dark background like a black posterboard. By analyzing the colors in the video, our program can track the motion of the object automatically.

The goal is not to replace the frame-by-frame analysis with manual clicking, but rather to provide an independent analysis of the same data. With tools like these, students will be able to analyze the experiments they conduct at home with much more precision than they might be able to otherwise.

A user guide for the program is available at this link . As described there, the program is compatible with iPhone / iPad and Android recorded videos and it works on various platforms including chromebook, iPad, windows and mac.

The STEMcoding Object Tracking System was recently submitted to the AAPT Summer Grand Challenge for simple home experiments with basic school supplies. A very big thanks goes to Cincinnatti area physics teacher Jennifer Boughton for helping to record videos and perform other testing for the new program.

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