More productive teaching time gives you the equivalent of 12.5 class sessions every semester with no additional effort.

This article is for STEM educators who teach hands-on labs where students work with single board computers, microcontrollers, and the wide range of other components such as wires, LEDs, resistors, sensors, actuators, and motors.

Right now, during this time of virtual classrooms and remote learning, many students have lost access to hands-on projects where they could wire up a circuit, write some code, and actually experience the satisfaction of seeing a light come on or a robot crawl across the room.

I don’t claim any special knowledge, but it seems likely that at least some educational ground has been lost to the pandemic—especially where hands-on labs are concerned.

Both teachers and students will be looking for ways to make up for lost time.

Phase Dock has a solution that enables STEM educators to gain more productive teaching time without longer school days or adding days to school year. Implementation is a one-time event. It’s easy. It doesn’t involve changing student behavior, and it doesn’t add to the teacher’s administrative workload.

How is this possible?

Secondary school STEM ed teachers with whom we have spoken estimate that they lose up to 20 minutes in every class session to the set-up and tear-down time that bookends every hands-on electronics and engineering lab.

Although some schools have spaces that are dedicated to electronics/engineering, not all schools have that luxury. Some teachers complain about having to transition their lab from engineering to biology in a scant five minutes. This puts additional pressure on those teachers.

Let’s break down where the preventable time-drains occur.

Activity 1: Students enter the lab and find their projects. If projects are stored in a cabinet or closet, you’ll probably find a traffic jam at the door. This is not great either for ease of access or social distancing.

Activity 2: Students take their project a designated work area. Is the project in the same condition it was at the end of the last lab? Students have complained that electronics projects stored in plastic shoeboxes get jostled around, connections break and…what used to work…no longer does. Now, the student will lose time troubleshooting the problem before she or he can again make progress.

Activity 3: Distribution of components in the classroom. When additional components are kept in a central location, students congregate to get what they need, the teacher must sort and maintain the inventory, and the inevitable loss and breakage occurs.

The clock shows that approximately ten minutes have passed since the students started walking in the door. You now have about 45 minutes before the bell to dismiss.

Activity 4: Pick-up and clear the lab. Experienced STEM teachers have told us that students can pick-up and clear a workspace in five to six minutes…if they just throw things in a box. This is not ideal. See Activity 2 above. That is where the integrity of the project may be compromised.

If students put tools and components away carefully, the end-of-class clean-up can take up to ten minutes.

This drops the productive teaching time in an electronics/engineering lab to a mere 35 minutes!

Bottom line: A 55-minute STEM lab can lose approximately 20 minutes of valuable, productive teaching time to the logistics of handling and storing electronics projects and components. Further loss of learning momentum occurs as students troubleshoot projects that were damaged through careless handling.

Imagine if you could gain back 15 of those lost 20 minutes.

For a lab that meets three-times-a-week over a 15-week semester, you would gain the equivalent of twelve-and-a-half class sessions. Think how much more material you could cover. Imagine diving deeper into topics. Explore more interesting ways to engage students.

Stop squandering time on broken projects and move forward with break-through projects!

We mentioned earlier that Phase Dock has a solution that enables STEM educators to gain more productive teaching time. Implementation is a one-time event. It’s easy. It doesn’t involve changing student behavior, and it doesn’t add to the teacher’s administrative workload.

In addition, you can use it in your classroom year after year, because it doesn’t wear out and it doesn’t go obsolete.

Before the pandemic, the Phase Dock WorkBench project development kit (PDK) already proved that it could reduce total set-up and tear-down to only five minutes.

Here’s the story.

As the new Director of Innovation and Design for an elite private school, William “Billy” Ayotte wanted an electronics and robotics platform that would enable him to make a splash in his first year, engage his students in a more ambitious curriculum, make student projects attractive, and enable him to keep his classroom orderly.

The WorkBench from Phase Dock gave Ayotte everything he had hoped for, plus a benefit he hadn’t anticipated: 35% more productive teaching time in his engineering labs. Instead of students spending 20 minutes of every 60-minute period on set-up and tear-down, Ayotte claims “I’d say we spend 5-minutes taking things out and putting them away. It is super quick.”

Throughout the Fall and Winter 2019, Ayotte taught basic electronics using resistors and LED-based projects, some with breadboards using the WorkBench Starter PDK from Phase Dock to manage the components and projects.

“I’ll be honest, said Ayotte. “[WorkBench] worked so well that the kids didn’t really have to think about it. And I didn’t have to think about it. I was just putting stuff out on the table “OK, you need this, this and this.” They were able to go up, get it and click it together really quick and away they went.

“I look at this in hours and minutes,” said Ayotte. “If you’re teaching traditionally where you have an Arduino mounted on a breadboard, that’s all you can do…Arduino and breadboard stuff. If you are doing more advanced projects, like I am, then you have assembly, disassembly. You have to manage components and set up.”

“At a previous school, I was teaching 90-minute classes. When I joined the [new school’s] staff, I was really concerned about teaching electronics in a 60-minute period knowing that it would take 10 minutes to get things put out… and then it would take probably 5-6 minutes for students to put everything away—and that is if they threw it together messy. If they kept it neat it would take 10 minutes. That’s 20 minutes lost. I can’t stress how much class time that takes. And you don’t notice it until you’ve tried something better.”

“With Phase Dock, I felt like I had more time to teach in the 60-minute sessions than I did in the 90-minute classes under the old methods,” said Ayotte. “In actual application [with Phase Dock], I’d say we spend 5 minutes [total] taking things out and putting them away. It is super quick.”

“We use rolling racks to store the projects in the classroom. I pull the cart out to access both sides. The kids come in and they pull everything out in two minutes. Set-up and tear-down time is really, really fast. And for COVID that also means that they aren’t interacting as much. It is quick and easy.”

That’s the solution.

WorkBench project development kits from Phase Dock can reduce non-productive time in engineering or electronics labs by up to 35%.

Thanks for reading.

Feel free to comment. Especially if you are a teacher. We are eager to learn more about your work and your challenges!

Wishing you More Education and Less Frustration,

Barbara