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.

Summer 2020 Online Course with AAPT

In partnership with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) we will be offering a summer online course for high school physics and physical science teachers.

There will be two courses — a 1.0 grad credit “beginner” course from June 15 – June 26, and a 2.0 grad credit “intermediate” course from June 29 – July 15. Teachers may take one or both of the courses and taking the intermediate course without taking the beginner course is possible. Although you do need to register a free account with AAPT to sign up for the course, you do NOT need to be a national member of AAPT to take the course (even though there are lots of great reasons to be a national member!).

Here is a link with more information and to sign up for the course:


The cost is $120 per grad credit plus a $80 administrative fee. This administrative fee is a one time fee so if you take ANY other AAPT-affiliated online courses you will NOT need to pay the $80 fee again. This was the lowest cost that AAPT would allow us to offer the course. If cost is a barrier, please let us know if we can help advertise a go fund me or donors choose page on our youtube channel and our @STEMcoding social media accounts (including instagram and twitter)

Please consider signing up for the course or contacting teachers that you know about the opportunity!

AFIT Summer 2020 Teacher Fellowship!

The STEMcoding Project is partnering with the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) in Dayton, Ohio to offer a summer teacher fellowship during summer 2020. We are looking for one or two computationally-interested high school teachers to come visit Dayton, Ohio for 6-12 weeks to collaborate in the creation of innovative new classroom activities that incorporate relevant science, computer science and mathematics concepts. Prof. Chris Orban from Ohio State University and CDR Royce James, Ph.D. at AFIT will oversee the project.

Funding for this fellowship is provided by Department of Defense High Performance Computing (DOD HPC). Supercomputing is an important tool for solving defense-related scientific and engineering problems. The goal of the fellowship is ultimately to broaden and diversify the “pipeline” of students who go on to develop these skills. Currently, only about 1 in 3 high schools have a computer science teacher. Science and math teachers are well positioned to meet this need, either by integrating computer science into their curricula, or by becoming credentialed to teach computer science classes.

Position Summary

Requirements:​ Currently employed high school teachers who are US citizens. Teachers can be from any part of the US (not restricted to Ohio). Teachers must be interested in integrating computation into their curriculum. Prior coding or computer science experience is not necessary.
Time:​ 6 – 12 weeks during summer 2020 (exact duration is negotiable)
Where:​ Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio
Compensation:​ $1,250 per week plus funds to 100% cover presenting at a national education conference in fall 2020.
Projects:​ Creating innovative classroom activities that mix computer science, science and mathematics concepts.

Deliverables:​ 1. A final report that includes a description of the activity including pre and post surveys to assess student learning. 2. A poster for presenting the activity at a conference, and 3. A final PowerPoint presentation in Dayton in late July or early August.
Other perks:​ Attending unclassified seminars at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Getting a tour of supercomputer facilities, lab tours if desired

Program Priorities

We especially value applications from teachers who are leaders in their local professional networks who may be able to impact other teachers with the skills they gain. Likewise, we also value teachers who have a leadership role in their districts regarding curriculum. We are especially committed to this “fellowship” supporting professional networks with high impacts in diverse learning communities that can demonstrate equitable and inclusive outcomes.

The exact duration of the summer fellowship is negotiable (between 6 and 12 weeks) but we may need to prioritize teachers who are able to spend closer to 12 weeks with us for the position. These do not all need to be consecutive weeks, however a main requirement is to be ready to give a formal presentation on the project during the last week of July.

Interest or experience with education research (broadly defined) is a plus. Our hope is that the final summer report will ultimately be published in a periodical for teachers.

We especially welcome applications from physical science, physics, and/or astronomy teachers.

Teachers Click here to Apply for the Summer Fellowship!

STEMcoding listed on Ohio Dept of Education CS page!

The STEMcoding project started in 2017, around the same time that the state legislature in Ohio began discussing ways to improve computer science education in K12. That year House Bill 170 commissioned the Ohio Department of Education to create a comprehensive K12 Computer Science standards, which were published in December 2018.

With the published K12 CS standards, schools now have the guidance from the state to figure out what computer science classes should look like. Since then the Ohio Department has also released a list of Computer Science resources. We’re happy to announce that as of a October 2019, STEMcoding is listed as a resource there! The short summary there mentions various STEMcoding hour of code activities.

While this is not a formal endorsement or judgement of alignment by the Ohio Department of Education, we are happy to see our resources listed so other Ohio teachers can find it! Thanks Ohio!

NGSS alignment guide released!

More than any other document or textbook, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has had a profound influence on science standards in the United States. The NGSS, which has a motto “by states, for states”, was created from a group of educators from over a dozen different states that met in 2012 and 2013 to iron out a set of science standards for various grade levels. Although relatively few states adopt the NGSS as their science standards, most states have science standards that are greatly inspired by the work of the NGSS. This is certainly true of Ohio, which recently updated their science standards and among the updates was a number of statements on “The Nature of Science” that was heavily influenced by the NGSS (as mentioned on the Ohio science standards page).

What kind of science-focused coding initiative would we be if we did not clearly outline how our activities align with the NGSS? Not a very good one. So to help teachers and administrators better understand how the almost two dozen activities we have developed align with various standards we created this spreadsheet.

NGSS logo

The NGSS has three connected principles. There are science and engineering practices (like mathematical reasoning — not a science standard but certainly part of scientific thinking), there are core ideas (like Newton’s laws), and there are crosscutting concepts (like creating models).

An interesting thing about the NGSS is that one of the main practices is “using mathematics and computational thinking”. Computational thinking is an important new concept that we commented on in a new paper we released in July. Even though computational thinking is still today a novel concept for schools, the NGSS in 2013 could sense that it would be an important part of science instruction. So not only is “computational thinking” included alongside mathematics as a core science and engineering practice, the NGSS standards frequently mention “computer simulations” and “computational representations” throughout. Thanks to this emphasis, the task of connecting STEMcoding activities to NGSS standards is much more straightforward than it might otherwise have been.

If this all seems a little far out and abstract, or a betrayal of traditional science instruction, it is important to remember that science and computer science are now inextricably linked. As we saw with the imaging of the black hole in M87 that was released earlier this year, the triumph of the project was the sophisticated algorithms that combined the data from all the telescopes.

The iconic image above is computer scientist Katie Bouman looking at one of the first reconstructed images from the Event Horizon Telescope, which is a collaboration of radio telescopes from across the globe. This image is a reminder that computational thinking is now as much of a core idea to science as mathematical thinking. Thankfully, the writers of the NGSS understood this as much as anyone.

STEMcoding Black Hole Videos Go Viral!

This spring we were all amazed to see the first images of gas falling into a supermassive black hole which were taken by a global radio astronomy collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope. OSU is not part of that collaboration but many members of our department celebrated the discovery by creating educational videos on gravity and black holes with the STEMcoding YouTube channel. Launched in 2017 by Prof. Chris Orban and OSU alum Prof. Richelle Teeling-Smith, the STEMcoding project aims to help high school teachers integrate coding into their courses. Their videos are recorded at OSU’s campuses in Columbus and Marion.

On a human level, of the most celebrated aspects of the black hole image was the interdisciplinary team of astronomers, statisticians and computer scientists who worked together to develop sophisticated codes to combine the data from various radio telescopes. For the public, the black hole image is a reminder of how important computing has become to modern science. One of the most iconic moments of the story was the picture of Caltech computer science professor Katie Baumann sitting at her laptop and looking at the first results for the black hole image. The ecstatic look on her face looking at the result of many Terabytes of data analysis will surely be one of the most memorable scientific moments of 2019.

A screenshot from the Black Hole video released by the Coding Train youtube channel. Prof. Orban and grad student Amy Sardone appear in the inset.

Not long after the black hole image was released, Prof. Orban got a call from NYU arts professor Dan Shiffman who runs the wildly popular Coding Train YouTube channel. With almost 1 Million subscribers, the Coding Train is easily the most watched YouTube channel on coding. A few days before the black hole image was released, youtuber Derek Muller of Veratisium released a detailed video of what the black hole image might look like and it included a simulation from astronomers showing how light rays are deflected near a black hole. Shiffman wanted to show his fans how to build a code like that. The STEMcoding project had recently released a coding tutorial video on gravity and orbital dynamics featuring Prof. Orban, CCAPP postdoc Johnny Greco, and OSU astronomy member Amy Sardone.

Within a couple days, Prof. Orban helped Shiffman add relativistic corrections into his code without overwhelming the computing capacity of a typical laptop. Just two weeks after the black hole image was released, the Coding Train posted a video describing the code and giving a big shout out to Prof. Orban and the STEMcoding project for their help. Since that release the Coding Train video on black holes has been viewed over 85,000 times.

A screenshot from the new STEMcoding video series on escape velocity and black holes. Featured are OSU grad students Daniella Roberts and Jahmour Givans

Continuing the celebration of the black hole image, STEMcoding recently released a new coding tutorial video series on escape velocity and Newtonian black holes that is designed to fit into a high school astronomy class. CCAPP grad students Jahmour Givans and Danielle Roberts are featured in the video. Danielle is also part of @howwescience which is where CCAPP Prof. Annika Peter and her students post fun photos from their research group and travels. Teachers interested to integrate STEMcoding activities into their courses should reach out to Prof. Orban ( to learn more about professional development opportunities and other resources.

STEMcoding releases 3 more hour of code activities!

We are happy to announce the release of three more hour of code activities. These are: 1. Planetoids & Lunar Descent (which are clones of the classic games Asteroids and Lunar Lander)  2. Pong & and 3. Pi day!

These activities have been submitted to the review process at so they can be included alongside dozens of other activities on which is the world’s most visited website for K12 computer science education. This includes “The Physics of Video Games” activity that we submitted last year that is currently listed on After this activity was posted to in November 2017 we received e-mails from educators from around the world who found it and wanted to know about other activities we created.

We are also happy to announce that all our new (and old) activities are now compatible with iPads! With some help from OSU’s ASC Tech and an iPad we obtained for testing from OSU’s Digital Flagship initiative, we were able to figure out a workaround for some issues related to the iPad external keyboard.

Summer Training for Teachers!

We are offering a mostly-online summer professional development course through Ohio State this July 2018. Thanks to grant funds we can offer 1 or 2 graduate credit hours for FREE to high school physics or physical science teachers who need graduate credits for their accreditation. The course will be administered through regular video chats and an online system for completing the coding activities. Ideally there would be one face-to-face meeting in Columbus or OSU’s Marion campus with each participant in the course. If you have never taken classes at OSU before there will be a $60 registration fee. The grant would cover the remaining tuition costs.

Please fill out our contact form for more information about the opportunity. Teachers can also participate for CEU credits. We will try to accommodate teachers from non-physics disciplines as well.

STEMcoding project launches YouTube channel!

Following the success of the STEMcoding hour of code activity, we are continuing to record coding tutorial videos and posting them to the STEMcoding YouTube Channel (    Importantly, this youtube channel features a high percentage of underrepresented groups in STEM.

Throughout 2018, we plan to regularly record new STEM-focused coding tutorial videos aimed at the high school level. Please subscribe to the STEMcoding YouTube channel or follow us on twitter to get updates on new videos!