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How Somerville Brought Fun, Social STEM Learning to their District

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Somerville Public Schools was one of the first school districts to incorporate Splats across their schools and curriculum. Jason Behrens, their District Innovation Specialist, led this program and decided to start at Winter Hill Community Innovation School. Now, Somerville Public Schools use Splats in all eight schools across the district in PE, Computer Science, Library, and some after school STEM programs. 

In February 2020, the Unruly Splats team caught up with students and staff at Winter Hill and the Somerville Public School District to see how they are using Splats in STEM learning and across their curriculum. This is their Unruly story.

stem and play with unruly splats

Bringing STEM and Play to Winter Hill

When Jason Behrens saw Splats for the first time, he was struck by how it combined physical activity with STEM learning technology. In his role as an Innovation Specialist, Behrens supports technology integration and explores new forms of education STEM technology for the district.

Behrens had been exploring the idea of cross-curricular STEM and when he saw Splats, it all clicked together. 

“What drew me in was this idea of fun coding games and physical activity happening together at the same time. It just was a concept that I had never encountered and was really excited to bring to my colleagues and to the students,” said Behrens.

To get started, Jason recruited 5th and 6th-grade students and teachers at Winter Hill to join an in-school STEM learning program and it was a hit.

STEM learning at somerville school district with splats
Students at WinterHill Community School code and play their own active games

“The kids had such a great time that we decided we wanted to bring this to other schools. One way we're doing that is by working collaboratively with the Library Media Specialists and PE teachers” said Behrens.

After the initial program ended, Jason and the Principal at the time, Chad Mazza, who is now the District Assistant Superintendent, hosted an event at Winter Hill and invited local stakeholders - even the mayor, Joe Curtatone, was there!

Behrens recalled, “everyone was really excited about seeing kids engaged in the way that they were with Splats jumping around, coding amazing games with each other and for each other, and that really helped us push this movement district-wide.”

Combining STEM and play in PE

Jason knew Splats were a natural fit for PE, so he recruited Winter Hill PE teacher Ben Senegal to incorporate Splats in his K-8 classes. 

Senegal had no prior experience with coding, so Splats was his first experience. After playing around with Splats for a few hours, Senegal said he felt comfortable using the app and fun coding games.

“Splats allows you to edit games and change coding very simply, and it's something that I'm comfortable with even being pretty novice in coding,” said Senegal.

relay race game STEM learning with kinderarden
Kindergarten students in Ben Senegal's PE class play a relay races with Splats

Senegal uses Splats across his K-8 classes. The younger students play the pre-loaded games and the older students get to create and play their own fun coding games or modify existing ones. Since not all students are as excited as others about PE, Senegal uses Splats as a way to get kids to buy into fitness in a different way.

“Splats have really opened up P.E. to a lot of students that normally would be sitting on the side or would choose to be a referee in a game rather than a player. Now, they're not only a referee, they are in control of the game. It also gives me a way to test their understanding of concepts when maybe they are not physically willing to do it.”

Splats have also led to a lot of cross-curricular collaboration among staff at Winter Hill, primarily with the PE teachers and Library Media Specialists.

Senegal told us, “The first time the librarian and I collaborated together with the splats was Splats Olympics night, where we had a bunch of different Olympic-based activities and then we had a secret agent training course that utilized the Splats in the library. It was pretty epic. It was really cool as an after-school event and we had probably upwards of 60 kids come and enjoy it.”

Unruliness in the Library

Fitness and play are not just for PE classes, and Library Media Specialist Deb Dixon from Winter Hill is leading the way to combining STEM learning with play in her classes.

Deb uses Splats with her K-8 classes to introduce skills like problem-solving, troubleshooting, and debugging. With her younger students, she’s also using it for interactive storytelling where she adds sound effects so students can step on Splats to make sounds that match up to different parts of the stories they are reading together.

“Splats are different from a lot of other tools because they get students moving and out of their seats! They can also see right away whether their code works, or there's a bug.”

Splats also help Deb’s students learn what to do when their program isn’t working and the steps to take to problem solve. When students do encounter a bug, her students work together in teams to try to solve the problem.

Deb told us that seeing what’s happening on the coding screen and then seeing it in action on the Splats is helpful for students to understand how their code works. “Being able to actually see what’s happening to the code on the Splats makes it more real for them.”

STEM learning for kids in library STEM class at Somerville
Students in Deb Dixon's library class play a "jousting" game coded with Splats

Splats Go District-Wide in Somerville

The one thing that stands out at Winter Hill is how they approach staff collaboration and cross-curricular STEM learning.

Chad Mazza, who was Principal at Winter Hill when Splats were initially brought in told us “staff collaboration is so important in anything that we do, but especially with Splats because you're really going cross-curricular. So without that collaboration, it wouldn't be possible.”

Behrens now runs Splats PD sessions for PE teachers and Library Media Specialists to encourage cross-curricular collaboration within and across schools. He encourages them to work together so that students can code in their Library class and play the active, fun coding games they made in their PE class.

After using Splats at Winter Hill, there was so much demand for Splats across the district, they purchased more Splats memberships for all their middle and elementary schools.

Mazza said, “One of the great things in my new role as Assistant Superintendent is that I can take my experience with Splats at Winter Hill and take it district-wide. Now all schools and all students will have the benefit of using Splats and taking coding to the next level!”

Plans for Fall Re-Opening

Since we visited Winter Hill in September, the district switched to remote-learning for the rest of the school year. During that time, we connected with Deb Dixon, who participated in our Unruly coding bootcamp using Virtual Splats. Virtual Splats allow students to create games, songs, and coded messages, all using our virtual platform! Dixon has been a champion of Splats at Winter Hill throughout distance learning and hopes to use Splats for a combination of virtual and in-person STEM learning and game-play in the Fall.

Splats for Unstoppable Play and Hybrid Learning

While a return to school might look different this fall, Unruly Splats help schools combine STEM learning and active play through virtual and in-person activities. Splats memberships include new flexible resources for play and hybrid learning.

  • 12+ Splats (virtual and physical)
  • Ongoing coaching

  • [new] A back-to-school virtual bootcamp for educators (Aug 1-15)

  • [new] SEL- friendly STEM activities for virtual and socially distanced play

  • [new] Flexible membership start dates
  • [ends Aug 1st] Discounted pricing when you request a quote before July 15, 2020

    For more information on options for virtual and socially-distanced coding and play with Splats, schedule a demo with a Splats expert.

Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

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