Saturday, March 7, 2015

STEM in the Elementary Classroom

Materials Used in Creation of Sail Car
Back in February I received an email from Catherine Logue, Associate Editor, Scholastic Instructor asking if I'd be interested in reviewing a STEM product.  Of course I jumped at the chance!  As I waited for the supplies to arrive, I tried to imagine what exciting materials would be shipped to us.

When the box arrived I couldn't open it fast enough.  Peering inside, I was less than thrilled!  Seriously, I was disappointed!  Inside were about 400 notched craft sticks, many clear straws,  6 inch long, thin dowels, elastics and some large and small cardboard wheels.  As I looked at the lot, I wondered what the students could possibly do with this collection or ordinary items.  Then I noticed there were directions for a "Sail Car" provided by Pitsco Education (Try This Engineering: Sail Car).

As I gave my word I to review the product I decided to forge ahead and give it a chance.  When I presented the project to the students the fist pumps and 'oh yeah's' showed their eagerness to begin. Some parameters and basic directions were shared with the students.  They were allowed to work with a partner, small group or independently.  Students were asked to plan/sketch up to 4 designs on an organizer.  In their fervor to get started their drawings were crudely thought out and drawn.  (I purposely didn't give them the direction sheet as it had a picture of a completed car depicted on it.  My thinking was that they might copy this car & not create their own.)

Students worked steadily for about 40 minutes.  When it was time to "shift gears" for other instruction the room erupted with a loud "AWWW!"as students shared their displeasure at the interruption.

During indoor recess almost all the students worked on their cars...not because they HAD to but because they WANTED to! This alone speaks volumes of using STEM type activities in the classroom!  It took some more class time to finish the car (over a couple of days).  It was rather a trying experience as students had difficulty attaching the wheels - had I read the directions carefully, I could have saved them some frustration (but in the process I learned a bit about engineering too - Thank you Nancy F. for helping!).  Of course throughout the building process discussions were being held about things that were working, not working - students collaborated between groups and were happy to share their successes. At one point, we even examined a "lego" car that a student made during recess one day so we could compare the wheel structure! Great ideas coming from these 10 year olds!

The day arrived that we were ready to test the cars to see which one would travel the furthest.  A START line was created and several tape measures were secured to the floor!  Students were only allowed ONE blow through a straw - then the distance was measured.  Each car had 3 tries.  Students all lined up along the start line and awaited their turn.  It really was fun.  You could hear the students discussing why someone's car worked well or didn't work as well.  The cars' distances ranged between 6 inches and 60 inches! Huzzah!

To wrap up the project students all discussed what they learned and wrote a "Sail Car Reflection".  “Awesome! Fun! Confusing! Hard! Challenging!” – these are the words my students used to describe the project.  They loved being able to “create something using their own ideas.” "Next time I'll take time to make a better plan." "I liked the materials because they were simple to use." 

This is only one example of STEM in the classroom (and not a very overly planned activity).  The next activity will involve research - as students need some foundational skills or at least the background knowledge.  What's the next activity???? I'm not sure, but I do know that IT will happen again and SOON!  

I would love to hear your ideas about STEM in the classroom and how you manage it! Feel free to share in the comment sections below!