Saturday, January 5, 2013

Implementing STEM Activities: Worth the Effort?

Earlier this year I took a fabulous weekend college course on STEM at Mary Washington College. STEM activities have been heralded as a way to promote and advance academic progress and creativity.  These open ended learning opportunities encourage collaborative inquiry and discovery based problem solving.

I was totally motivated to start implementing as soon as I walked off that college campus,  but you know how easy it is to get distracted  by the overwhelming demands of our jobs.  Reality hit and soon I was was sidetracked by the meetings, report cards, conferences and curriculum  and so thoughts of getting STEM activities going in my class were put aside. 
Well, thanks to some awesome teammates, coworkers and especially my STUDENTS, I have been reinspired to make this a more regular part of my teaching.
I am SO fortunate to work with  amazing teachers, one of my teammates designed a fabulous lesson that integrated a STEM activity with our current study of Rome.  We have been learning about how the Ancient Romans created aqueducts to transport water to the people.  The STEM activity that we ran had students working collaboratively with a group to design a model of an aqueduct that would be able to transport water from point A to point B. 

The materials used were: large buckets, wrapping paper tubes (some cut in half and some left whole), and ping pong balls to represent the water.  Students were not allowed to use glue, tape, etc.

The challenge was on and let me tell you the kids were more than ready for it!
It was amazing to see how engaged and energized these students were.  Here students are attempting their design. 
Like real engineers and scientists they soon discovered that many attempts were going to be needed. There was a lot of trial and error. They problem solved, redesigned and tested multiple times before reaching a desired outcome.

As a teacher I heard and saw them predicting, questioning, problem solving and reaching conclusions.  

Students had to figure out how to work together to adjust the size, height and angle of their structures until they were able to create a working aqueduct.  All three groups were successful!

There was much celebrating! Proud students and teachers! 

 Are these types of activities worth the time and effort it takes to plan and implement them?
You must try it yourself, but after witnessing your students in action I believe you will answer a resounding YES! 
Children are natural scientists and engineers.  Let us put those textbooks and study guides aside once and awhile and allow our students to experience what real science, math, technology and engineering is really all about.

So now I am challenging myself to continue to give my students more of these opportunities. My plan is to seek out stem topics that can be integrated into core academics.  Check back because I plan on posting each one I try. The successes and failures.

I'd love to hear from you.
Do you implement these types of unstructured, open ended problem solving lessons in your classroom? 
Please  share!