The 6 W's for STEM

03 June 2018
I have been teaching, coaching, and having fun with STEM/STEAM for many years, I often get asked many questions about STEM. Those questions usually begin with one of the five W's, so I decided I would answer those in one easy post.

Before I begin, let me start off by saying that STEM is a relatively new approach to education. Relatively "new" in the name, but educators have been doing this since Sputnik. STEM is the integration of science, technology, engineering, and math. I respectively include the "A" for "art" because I want to recognize the fact that anything created by a person is a form of art.

So let's get started with the 6 W's for STEM! 

WHO is STEM education for?  

EVERYONE! In my experiences, STEM is helpful for gifted students because they are challenged to think on a higher level. Many academically and intelligently gifted students are perfectionists. It is very challenging, an often times frustrating, for them to complete these types of tasks and challenges. This is when I sit down with them and discuss how they could improve their design and offer helpful suggestions and encouragement.
On the contrary, STEM education is beneficial for students with special needs because they are often times motivated to solve a problem based on the task at hand. The designs are concrete, and they can implement a variety of skills to solve a problem.

WHAT do I do to implement STEM?

STEM is probably one of the easiest things to implement in your classroom because literally, you just step back and let your students go. You literally become the coach as you walk around the room and watch them make their own discoveries. Research shows that when students create their own synapses, they are more likely to retain them.

Although it may be hard to relinquish your control over the classroom (I know because it was for me) you will see that it is so much more rewarding that your students are learning on their own because you have given them permission.

WHERE do I store everything? 

The answer to this question is a little difficult only because every classroom is different. My current classroom is 91 years old. It was made with absolutely zero storage. If I had more storage, then I would definitely keep the supplies on hand. Since my storage is limited, I have found that keeping them in my garage and bringing a basket of what I need works best for me. This way it is out of the classroom, and out of the way. I also try to use simple materials (post-its, paper clips, etc.) to save money and space.

WHEN do I do STEM? 

Many teachers ask this question because it is not in their current schedule. I have heard from successful teachers that they do STEM every Friday. They call it STEM Friday. It's a day where students get to integrate all that they have learned throughout the week into one project. Lisa Taylor and I have created weekly STEM Challenges for grades K-2. This sets the tone for the week and gets students excited about coming to school! I cannot tell you how many of my students have said that they will remember me for the fun STEM projects I let them do in school.

WHY should you do STEM?

STEM allows your students to be creative. Students learn through play. In this way, students are allowed to use the skills that they have learned to create a masterpiece. They practice communication skills while working in groups. They develop a growth mindset when they fail. They make discoveries about how the world works. No one is born with creativity. We have to work at it. We have to practice it. Kids need to practice being creative as well. Why wouldn't you want to foster this type of critical thinking and creativity in your classroom?


HOW can I implement STEM? 

I love doing simple experiments or a read aloud before my kids complete a STEM project. Because my little ones see everything in black and white, they need just a little bit of guidance whether through experience in the real world or experience from a book. When I do this, it gets their creativity flowing through their little brains. Then, I introduce the challenge. The kids are competitive and usually like to have a classroom winner. Sometimes we do this if it is appropriate for the challenge. If not, then we just roll.

Before the challenge I decide on whether or not we need to work in groups, pairs, or individually. If it is groups, then I assign roles such as an artist, presenter, researcher, and materials manager. They usually pick a captain to guide them through the process.

To stay on time, almost always give my students a time limit. I display a timer from Classdojo on the board so that the students can keep track of it. If you don't use Classdojo, you can use a simple online timer.

Once we are done with our projects, we present. I like a fishbowl type of seating for this so that all of the students can see. They really get in to it!

Finally, we do the clean up. I always select a piece of mystery trash on the floor. I wait until the entire room has been picked up clean, and THEN I award the person who picked up the mystery piece of trash. My room is spotless every time we do this!

Earth Day STEM Challenge

26 March 2018
     Did you know that on March 24, 1989 an oil tanker struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William's Sound and spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil into the ocean? This major oil spill was one of the first that devastated Alaska. Wildlife was in danger - if not already dead. The people were also in danger of becoming sick. At that point in time, we had little experience trying to clean oil from water, but now we have learned special techniques and even developed new tools. '

Earth Day STEM Challenge

St. Patrick's Day Craftivity

26 February 2018

 I love to make goodie bags with my students! They also get a kick out of doing it too! I decided to do something clever a couple of years ago. My kids kept asking if they could make leprechaun traps, and honestly, I knew I didn't have enough supplies for it, nor would all of my kids participate. So I decided instead, to have students create a simple bag. The assignment was to bring in THREE objects that would lure the leprechaun.

How to Make Ice Cream in a Bag

12 February 2018
I am super excited because I am about to embark on teaching a unit about thermal energy, AKA heat. Sounds really boring, right?! I was thinking about how I could get my students to be engaged in this not-so-interesting unit. I have seen the Bunsen burner experiments, I have watched ice melt, an egg cook, etc., etc. We need something NEW and something FUN! Okay, well it may not be totally new, but it's new to us!