STEM Lab: part 3

After finishing my introduction to STEM during the first rotation (first two weeks of school) I began having my students build towers. This is when I began to teach the Engineering Design Process. While there are different versions of the process, I use these simple five steps:
  1. ASK: Define the problem
  2. IMAGINE: Brainstorm possible solutions
  3. PLAN: Think, Sketch, Label
  4. CREATE: Make a prototype and test it
  5. IMPROVE: How can you modify your design and make it better
Building towers is a very simple way to begin understanding the process, is done with simple materials, and can be done by grades K - 5. Here are some pictures of our towers:

Grades 2-5 build with 24 plastic shot glass cups from the Dollar Tree. Their challenge was to build the tallest tower. What I did not tell them was that once it was built I would blow on it. All the towers from their first attempt crashed and then they redesigned to build stronger. We talked about the importance of the foundation of a building.

The kindergarten and first-grade classes had 12 cups. They used these larger cups which were much easier for them. They got very creative in finding ways to build high. They also used paper cups and we compared the different materials. The plastic cups were stronger, the paper cups were taller. Each pair of students had a chance to build with both and were very excited to be able to try different designs.

This "foundation" lesson is one that we refer to throughout the year. In the upper grades, we have a STEM notebook where we record what each class discovers in their hands-on work. This is an adjustment for me from teaching STEM in my own third-grade class. I am not able to have everyone keep a notebook when I teach 6 different classes daily :) So far this seems to be working for us.

Another "management" technique I have fallen into is to designate each two-week rotation as a unit. We are now in unit four (the towers was unit 2) and I have one more unit before the first quarter ends in October. I am going to try to keep sharing our work on the blog, including writing about the three ASD units (autism spectrum) who come to me and my search for engaging projects with accomodations for special needs students.

Happy teaching, and remember: every teacher should be a STEM teacher!

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