Monday, June 24, 2013

What STEM is... and What STEM isn't...

Our school began our journey with STEM this past school year, and it has really been one!  We are nowhere near where we strive to be, but we are making forward progress every day (which is a great thing)!  Our district has some support from some outside organizations in developing our STEM program, but they really want us to "find our own way", which can be a little frustrating (OK, maybe a lot frustrating).  We began our STEM process with the understanding of the acronym itself...

S = Science (of course most elementary teachers do not feel comfortable teaching science)
T = Technology (what technology? we are lucky to have four desktops in our rooms)
E = Engineering (what does that even mean?)
M = Math (phew! finally one we know)

I am not kidding when I say this is really where we were in the process!  Most of the staff figured that if we just did one science lab a week, we were covered, right?  Right?  So that is just what we did.  We taught the same ways we had always taught and just sprinkled a little science in where we could fit it.  But, this is not STEM!  We met in cross grade level teams and planned science stuff, we tried to talk about science, and we got more non-fiction books for the classrooms (because as teachers books can just about fix everything).

Then, we went to a STEM professional development day.  Uh oh!  We were not on the right track at all!  Time to back that STEM train up and start over!

STEM is...

STEM is a philosophy of teaching that encourages and supports creativity and innovation in K-12 students.

     STEM schools should provide challenging, student-centered, inquiry-based experiences for students.       Students should integrate skills from different subject areas in order to solve real world problems.

STEM education is designed to prepare students as responsible citizens for success in the real world, college, and work experiences.

     No matter what the career path, STEM teaches students how to problem solve, think creatively, collaborate with others to come up with solutions, and communicate with one another.

STEM education is a direct response to the knowledge that our future needs to be built on technological leadership, innovative thinking, and critical problem solving.

     STEM schools better prepare their students for their role in a global environment where they will be better equipped to compete for jobs, ideas, etc.

STEM education is the key to our future!

     A STEM education unleashes the potential and creativity of our students as well as giving them the skills they need in order to develop revolutionary ways of thinking and problem solving about the world.

STEM is not...   

STEM is not only for students who are academically advanced.

ALL students deserve and will benefit from a STEM based education.  In fact, students who are not successful in a traditional school setting will find success in a STEM program!

STEM is not only for those students and teachers interested in math, science, engineering and technology.

STEM helps all students develop and apply an essential set of skills through a diverse and rigorous curriculum.  These skills can be used in all job fields, not just those specific to science, technology, math, and engineering fields.

STEM is not only for schools rated in the highest categories in their state.

In this age of standardized testing, students in STEM schools will perform better because of the critical thinking skills developed within the STEM program.  Just because a school does not have high (or even passing) state test scores does not mean it cannot benefit tremendously from a STEM program.

STEM is not "one size fits all".

Each school must develop its own STEM program in order to fit the needs of its students.  It is a highly personalized form of education.

Now that we are planning for year two of our STEM implementation, we feel we have a better handle on STEM.  We use backmaps to plan our STEM lessons.  These are a great way to organize your thinking as you develop STEM projects.  We strive to complete at least four STEM projects a quarter and then we integrate the rest of the subjects into the plans.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Backmapping as a Way to Plan for STEM

We use backmaps in order to plan for our STEM projects and themes.  They are really easy to use and help us see the "big picture" one quarter at a time.   Here is a blank one.  We come up with a problem or issue related to our curriculum and then we develop projects for the topic.  We fill in supporting activities for each of the weeks of the quarter.  We also complete more detailed lesson plans each week, but the backmaps help us to stay on track.

We make these 11 x 17 size and then post them up in the classroom and we also keep a copy in our lesson plan books.  You can download the blank backmap for FREE here.

Here is an example of a completed backmap.

As you can see, these are not detailed lesson plans, but they are a great way to plan out your thinking as you develop your STEM classroom!  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

STEM Challenge...Can you build the tallest tower?

This one is always a HUGE favorite among the kids!  It can be a little tricky, so it is one of the challenges that we do later in the school year!  The kids really need to work together as a team in order to make this one work!  

Here is the challenge...
What is the tallest free-standing tower you can build using the materials provided within the time limit?

Students get the following materials:
-One package of large marshmallows
-Three boxes of spaghetti noodles
-Ziploc bags (one baggie per pair or team)
-One yard of string or yarn
-One yard of clear tape

I love that these challenges are so open-ended with so many possible ways to succeed!  My kids came up with many different solutions for this challenge!  The tallest tower we constructed was about 18 inches high.  Setting a time limit for the challenge added another layer of difficulty!

Try this one with your kids, with or without the packet!

From time to time, these challenges will be offered for FREE!  Be sure to follow my blog and my TPT store for notifications of these "flash freebies"!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

STEM Challenge...Can you make a straw rocket?

This one is so easy to do and the kids absolutely go crazy for it!  All you need are regular straws, smoothie straws cut in half (they are wider) and tape.

Students can tape the end of either straw and then use the other one to launch!  It is fun to try both ways!
We developed a bunch of fun challenges for the straw rockets as a class and then they competed as table teams!  By having the students extend the challenge by developing their own tests and challenges for the straw rockets, they were more invested and engaged in the process.  They came up with some great ones!

Teams had to hit a bullseye to score at least 10 points, shoot the rocket a distance of 12 feet (multiple tries were added up), hit the ceiling with the rocket, and do three tricks with the rocket. 

I wonder what challenges your students could come up with to use with the straw rockets?

Monday, June 10, 2013

STEM Challenge...Can you build a free-standing tower from all of the noodle pieces?

My kids love STEM challenges!  I have created a whole collection of them to use in my classroom.  They are a great way for kids to communicate, collaborate, and challenge themselves to solve problems in creative ways!

As the STEM Coordinator for my building, I am assembling STEM challenge kits for the teachers in my school to use with their students.  These kits will include lab sheets as well as any materials needed to complete the challenge.  This one is pretty easy to set-up and pretty cheap (which is always a great thing)!  For a classroom kit for this Noodle Challenge, I spent about $8!  Most of the cost was for the pool noodles (which should last a good, long time)!

Engineering Challenge:

Can you construct a tower on the bridge using all of the cut pieces of the pool noodle?

Here are some of our solutions...

Isn't it amazing how many different ways the kids solved the challenge?  Many of the teams were able to come up with multiple solutions!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Can You Save FRED? Activity

This is one of those classic science activities, that is always a HUGE hit with the students! Can you save FRED?  Click here for the FREE lab pack!

This poor gummy worm, named Fred, is stranded on the top of his overturned boat in the middle of a lake. He cannot swim and he needs to somehow get himself into the life preserver which is currently under the boat.

Without touching Fred, the cup, or the life preserver, can you and your partner save FRED using only the four paper clips provided? What would you do?

This lab is a great review of the scientific method and also a great way to encourage your kids to communicate and cooperate!

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