Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Getting Started with STEM

I must start this post by declaring that I am, by no means, an expert when it comes to STEM education. I have received very little training, and have relied mostly on exploration and trial and error when implementing STEM in my own classroom. When STEM was first abuzz in the education community, I decided to jump right in!! With this post, I hope to simply share how I have been able to incorporate STEM into my own classroom over the past few years.


STEM (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is at the forefront of education right now, and I have to say, I'M LOVING IT!!! I love the idea of a hands-on learning approach. I love the idea of students building, creating, and exploring with their own two hands. Over the past couple of years, I have seen tremendous growth in how students think critically, work cooperatively, persist when challenged, and reflect on their failures, AKA learning experiences!

A couple years ago, I implemented STEM Fridays in my classroom. (I know, not very catchy!) Every Friday, I would present my students with some type of engineering challenge. At the time, there were already many great resources out there. But for me, I was short on time and I was short on money. Instead of purchasing kits or expensive materials, I found other ways to gather supplies!

Gathering Supplies

I started by creating a list of items that I thought would be inexpensive, but useful for building. I referenced many great blog posts and pins shared on Pinterest. Throughout the year, I gathered supplies from around my house, visited dollar stores frequently, and even picked up an item, here and there, on my (bi)weekly trips to Target. Then, with the help of my room parent, I set up a SignUp Genius asking parents to help donate supplies, as well. Here is a list of supplies that I have compiled over the years. 

CLICK HERE to download!

This list is just a start, and I find that I discover new ideas almost daily (especially thanks to Pinterest!)

Some of my favorite challenges have required just one supply! For instance, use one piece of paper and fold it in such a way that it can hold the most books. Or, given one piece of aluminum foil, construct a boat that holds the most weight.

Tasks and Challenges

The possibilities are endless when it comes to STEM tasks and challenges!! When I first started challenges with my students, I was very hesitant about trying new things, and tended to stick with the same types of challenges, week after week. You can only imagine how many "towers" my students built in the beginning. In some ways, this was to their advantage because they were able to build on their mistakes from week to week, and discover new materials and how they work best. 

After some time, I decided to start working outside of my comfort zone!

Here is a list of general tasks and challenges to get you started:
  • Construct the tallest structure.
  • Construct a structure that can hold the most weight.
  • Construct a contraption that can carry__.
  • Construct a contraption that can go the fastest.
  • Construct a contraption that can go the farthest.
  • Construct a contraption that can transport __ to __.
  • Construct a contraption that complete a given task.
This is just a selection of ideas, and I find that one of the best sources for ideas comes from students, themselves!! You'd be amazed by what they come up with!!

Follow my STEM board on Pinterest to discover new ideas!!

Ready, Set, Go!

So, you have your supplies and you have your tasks! Now it's time for students to start building!! When we do a STEM challenge in our classroom, we follow the following steps...
  1. I first explain the task or challenge to the class. We go over the rules and I give them a chance to ask questions for clarification. I make sure not to give away ideas for strategy! I then have students record the task or challenge, in their own words.
  2. When we have time, I like to give my students a chance to do some research before they begin construction. For instance, if the task involves some type of simple machine, I may encourage them to look for sources online. Unfortunately, we do not always have time for this piece. If that's the case, I give students some time to work in groups to discuss the challenge before building, and gain ideas from each other.
  3. Next, I ask students to "imagine" how they will complete this task. I have them record their thoughts and ideas before getting started. Once they have individually recorded their ideas, I put them in groups to come up with a PLAN!!
  4. Finally, it's GO TIME!! I usually give students a set amount of time to complete the task. Then I have the pleasure of walking around to see what they are able to come up with!!
  5. When the time is up, we test, measure, or evaluate the performance of each group. Once that's done, students go back to their seats to "reflect". They explain what they did to complete the task, and draw a picture or diagram. They record the outcome of the challenge and what they were able to accomplish. And last, they evaluate the process, by recording what worked, what didn't, and what they would change for next time.
I use the following "lab sheet" with each of my STEM challenges....


CLICK HERE to download!

Here are a couple challenges that my kiddos have enjoyed...
Building a bridge out of straws.
A classic: Toothpick and Marshmallow Towers
The possibilities are endless when implementing STEM in your own classroom. I love using STEM tasks and challenges because it encourages students to wonder, imagine, think, design, create, build, and explore!! These tasks require students to work cooperatively in teams, problem solve and persevere when faced with challenges, and think "outside" the box. 

I would love to hear what you are doing to implement STEM in your own classroom!!

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