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!


Making the Move to STEM part two

After cleaning up all those boxes I showed you in my last post, I have a very nice STEM lab.



I see six classes daily in this room. My morning is filled with intermediate grades and I have primary students during the afternoon. The school year started on a Wednesday and the rotations go through two weeks to see all the students. Along with the rules and routines that are part of the first days I planned to jump right into an introduction to STEM.

One thing I want to do this year is to highlight various STEM careers. I purchased a set of posters from Lakeshore Learning and you can see the first two on my Careers board in one of the pictures. I look for short youtube videos to help explain the careers as well as using the printed information on the back of each poster.

For my first challenges, the fourth and fifth-grade students built perches for Harry so he could see the classroom.

Second and third-graders tried to save Sam by getting his life jacket on.

The kindergarten and first-grade classes built with the Duplo block kits. 

It was a successful first two weeks. Students were engaged and were having fun. Their teachers kept telling me that they talked about STEM constantly and wanted to know when they could go back. I'll be sharing in future posts about our beginning lessons on the Engineering Design Process as well as incorporating our three ASD (autism spectrum) units into the classes. Until them, happy teaching!


Making The Move to STEM: part 1

I haven't written a blog post since the end of July. Like many of you, I've been busy with back to school! For me, August has been a month of learning a new job - which I am loving. School started here on August 10th, so we have 18 days under our belts and I'm ready to share a little bit from my new classroom.
I am still at the same school but have moved from teaching 3rd-grade math and science to two classrooms. Now I teach STEM as a special area class to the entire school. With over 950 students that takes a full two weeks. Some grade levels have to split one or two classes to get them all in. We also have three ASD units that come with their grade level, so some of my classes are pretty full.
I am loving my new classroom - I had to move from an upstairs room where I had taught for the last six years to a downstairs room. My favorite thing is that there is a parking spot right outside my back door - since I need to make a quick getaway at the end of the day it is perfect.
I will share a few pictures of my room before pre-planning:



As you can see, I have some great cupboard space. Since STEM is very "materials intensive," this is a huge blessing. I am able to keep a lot of the supplies behind closed doors.

I have a few posts planned to show you my classroom and tell you about the STEM challenges we have been doing at the start of the year. I'll leave you today with the one thing I forgot: teaching Kindergarten is like herding cats. I was quickly reminded of that on day one! Before my 7 years in 3rd grade, I had taught kinder for the previous 6 years. I remembered a lot of things, but had to quickly make some changes before my second day of K. More about that later :)

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