Friday, April 6, 2018

STEM for Dummies

I am not an expert. On a level of 1 to 10, I think I'm a 6 on the STEM expert-o-meter. That's a D. Not an F, but definitely not an A or B. With that out in the open, I wanted to share a STEM lesson I created for any teachers wanting to try STEM in the classroom, but don't know where to begin.

If you're like me, you've seen STEM everywhere. This is what I knew:
1. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

That's about it.

I have since done some reading and took an online course, which has left me at a 6 on the STEM expert-o-meter. The most important ah-hah! I want to share is that your STEM projects do not need to include each component of STEM. Using at least two is necessary (e.g. science and technology), but I'm sure the projects get better with the more components you integrate.

I got started by looking at the Next Generation Science Standards. As soon as I saw 2nd grade standard 2-LS2-2: Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal dispersing seeds or pollinating plants, I knew I wanted to develop a project around it.

And that is how We Need Bees! came to me.

Before beginning your STEM unit, you will want to put students in groups. My groups ended up being 3-4 kids. You will want various levels in the groups. An important part of STEM is for students to be able to work collaboratively with other students, which is why I created a rubric for this. If you set the expectation for students to collaborate respectively, they probably will.

For STEM projects to be true STEM projects, there should be a real world connection and should be meaningful to your students. My students live near many orchards. They see the bees in the spring. They also see bees unable to fly and dying. My students ask why the bees aren't flying, so the curiosity was already there.

Students will need to do research to develop a better understanding of the topic. In this case, my students read articles relating to pollination and why they are not surviving. I found all of the articles on ReadWorks. If you haven't used the site, you must! My students also watched various YouTube videos.

Once students have done the research, they begin to see the problem. And so we identify it. . .

Now that students have background knowledge, the challenge is defined. In our challenge the students looked at images of bees' bodies. I wanted them to notice the hair on the legs and bodies of of the bees. Once they noticed the hairs, I asked students to discuss in their groups how the pollen sticks to the bees' bodies. The discussion went to the hair. The pollen stuck to the hair (if any bee expert is reading this, sorry if it's not called hair). From there I told the kids they would be making a pollinator.
next generation science standards

I passed out the materials the students could use. In their groups, they had to decide which materials would be best for their pollinator. The materials included: felt, cotton, pipe cleaners, craft sticks, and rubber bands. They could also also use glue and scissors to assemble their pollinators.

This is the rubric students used to guide their decisions. I chose not to grade the students on how well the pollinator worked. That might not be STEM acceptable, but I did ask that they explain the pollinator using the vocabulary we learned in class.

Once the students chose their materials and engineered their pollinators, they tested them.

Each students made his/her own pollinator. They chose the "best" one from each group to test. Each group was given 10 seconds to pollinate as many "plants" as possible. This worked by dipping the pollinator into a small cup of macaroni and cheese powdered cheese. Then, the tester ran to 10 different paper flowers and dropped off pollen at each flower. We would count how many flowers were "pollinated" in 10 seconds.

Just a heads up, the "pollen" doesn't fall of as easily as I would have liked it to. One flower might have one speck of cheese left on it, which I counted.

We recorded all of the data including which material was used to make the pollinator--felt, cotton, or pipe cleaner. We discussed the data we collected, and then the students were able to improve their own pollinators. They were able to dip in cheese and test away.
Finally, students were asked to create a final presentation. They could make a Slides presentation, write a story, put on a play, write a report. . . It's up to you, but more importantly, it's up to your students. Give them a choice. Use the rubric to help guide students through their presentations.

No project would be complete without one of my famous trail mixes. The kids scooped the different treats into a bag to make a mix.
If you'd like to try this unit in your class, you can find the materials here. If this is your first time, just go with the flow. Make mistakes. STEM is pretty complicated if you're implementing it well, but it is so worth it. I have never heard a group of kids speak about a topic with such confidence.

Stay tuned. . . our next STEM project topic is climate change!


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