Engagement! Collaboration! Real-World Applications! Oh My!

Getting Excited About Our New STEM Series

STEM Catapult
When watching the videos in our new STEM series, I found myself thinking, “I want to do that!” From building catapults to constructing edible cars, these STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) projects are incredibly fun.

If you pay close attention to the students in these videos, you’ll see heads put together, smiles on faces, and animated discussions. But there’s so much more than fun going on in these projects. There’s real-world application of content knowledge, meaningful integration, productive collaboration, and a focus on teaching both skills and content. These videos are chock-full of rich teaching and learning.

The design challenges we see in these videos were artfully planned to allow students opportunities to show what they know, apply their knowledge, test their ideas, and revise their plans. The very nature of design challenges mirrors what we know about learning: powerful learning takes place when we can apply our knowledge, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.

Barbie Bungee Jump lessonIn this lesson on Barbie bungee jumps, 8th graders apply their knowledge of the line of best fit to design an effective bungee jump. Teams attach Barbie to their bungee jumps, send her plunging down a stairwell, then make changes to their bungee jumps as necessary. All while applying a potentially not-so-exciting algebra concept!

The magic of the teachers we see in these videos is that they find ways to not only show students the juicy parts of science, math, engineering, and technology, but they manage to make all parts juicy. Imagine if the same content had been taught solely through textbooks. Without a chance to apply their knowledge, students would lose an opportunity to truly engage and wrestle with material.

egg protection STEM lessonIn this video about brain safety, 6th graders apply what they learned during a unit on neuroscience to construct a helmet that protects against brain injury. Teams consider what they learned about each part of the brain and design their helmets accordingly (don’t worry, no brains were harmed in the testing process – they used eggs as stand-ins).

I love how the teacher, Channa Comer, not only gives students the chance to apply their knowledge but also focuses on the skills scientists use. By doing this, students get opportunities to work on skills like collaboration and revision that can be transferred throughout subject areas (and life!).

As I watched the STEM videos, I was also struck by how seamlessly teachers integrated across subject areas. This is another great example of real-world learning. Scientists don’t just use science — they use math, technology, writing, the arts, etc. Real life doesn’t present itself in compartmentalized subject areas, and neither do these design challenges.

Heat Loss STEM LessonIn The Heat Loss Project, 6th graders use their knowledge of thermal energy to measure how heat travels through homes. They construct model homes, use iPads to show how heat moves, measure temperatures with thermometers, and calculate how much energy is lost. This project authentically integrates science, math, technology, and engineering, allowing students to apply their knowledge from each subject area simultaneously.

Roller Coaster STEM ProjectWhile you watch these videos, think about your own classroom. Maybe this video on Roller Coaster Physics will inspire you to try “chiming” as a discussion strategy. Or perhaps you’ll watch the design challenges and consider creating activities that allow students chances to make mistakes and learn from them. No matter what grade or subject you teach, I hope you’ll find something in these videos that makes you think, “I want to do that!”

Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She is passionate about making learning fun for both teachers and students. Lily has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, and teacher trainer. Lily is excited to join the Tch team as a writer and hopes to help teachers learn from seeing each other in action!


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