Sunday, August 7, 2016

My First Learning Experience With STEM

This past week I attended my very first STEM training, and I was super excited but also SUPER nervous at the same time!  After almost a decade of traditional teaching, I was about to dive into a completely different approach to teaching and did you say it includes ENGINEERING?!!!

I mean yes, I have always been surrounded by engineers from my husband to siblings to in-laws and friends, but I have always been an Engish/Language Arts person.  Give me a novel to read and decompose and analyze, and I can write you a novel back. However, I knew that if I am ever to be a better teacher, I needed to get out of my comfort zone.

And so along with a group of the sweet teachers from my campus who are newly hired, I jumped head-first into STEM and you know what?!!  I really love it!  Here are 3 important lessons that I learned from my STEM training!

STEM encourages mistakes.  So often in the classroom, students are afraid of failing. In a standardized testing world that we live in, students can be bogged down with getting the right answers and obtaining the right score, that they just want to be perfect in everything.  With STEM, mistakes are encouraged and celebrated as opportunities for improvement and innovation.

Design Challenge 1: To demonstrate this, our group was asked to build a cantilever, which is basically a protruding beam of sort that is supported or anchored on one side using KEVA boards.  Our criteria was to build it as long as it we can without the structure collapsing.  Again and again, we took risks without fear or judgement and kept improving our structure until we were satisfied with our results.  While this seemed to be such a simple activity that could possibly take up to 20 minutes in the classroom, students could definitely benefit from teamwork, innovative thinking, and problem solving.

Stem encourages innovation.  With so much to do in a day, it is hard to find time for students to be create and be inventive.  STEM gives space and allows time for both teachers to be innovative in their teaching instruction and students in their thinking.  

Design Challenge 2:  A really fun challenge we did was to build a little clownfish a new home in the ocean using the KEVA boards.  The only criteria for this was simply make the shelter so that it would protect the clownfish from its predators. Wow!  The innovative thinking in this challenge was incredible!  While some teachers created structures that were low to the ocean floor, some had safe houses within the shelter, and others had multiple entrances with peepholes.  

When we were given the opportunity to try this challenge on incoming second graders in the afternoon, their thinking was just as incredible and innovative!  Using the KEVA boards as soft, stinging coral, they built barriers for their shelter and also had multiple entrances and sophisticated escape routes.  As the students worked in groups of two and some on their own, I could see the excitement in their eyes.  They had such a good time that they kept building even when time was up!

Stem is student-centered! So often teachers feel like we are solely in charge of our students' learning.  Not with STEM! Yes, we still are responsible for the instruction of the content, but students are given the opportunity to take leadership in their own learning and turn their own creativity to tangible products and projects!  

Design Challenge 3: After reading design challenges relating to two familiar fairy-tales, the second grade students in my group voted and decided to create a design to launch confetti at least 3 feet in the air for the wedding of a well-known princess and her beast.  Before we went into the construction of the design, my teaching partner and I introduced and went through the Engineering Design Process together with our students as this is very important in STEM and stressed the engineer portion of the challenge.  Furthermore, we had students switch through content stations where we demonstrated and explained the force and motion and measurement.  Next, students sketched out their design with materials needed, went shopping in our STEM Store, and constructed their confetti launcher.

Needless to say, the students did incredible! From catapults to a slingshot to a see-saw to a rollercoaster, the students used their own background knowledge, content taught, innovative thinking, and creativity to build their own design!  Yes, there was definitely guidance and open-ended questions to help keep the students on track, but I was so incredibly proud of them!  

Even when we tested out the designs and the students realized that even though their design launched the confetti but didn't launch it high enough in the air to meet the criteria, they were already on top of how they could improve and what they could have done better before us asking them!  

While I have attended many trainings before, I have to say that this was my BEST yet!  Not only did it challenge my own views of teaching but it also opened up a world of instructional possibilities for me!  I really can't wait to apply what I have learned into my classroom this year and continue to grow in my own journey with STEM!

If you are starting out within your own classroom or would like an additional resource on STEM, feel free to check out my newest resource below!  I had such a great time creating this as I am very excited to use it in my own classroom this year!

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