STEM in Any Classroom!

By Rabiah Harris April 7th, 2014 7:00 PM

“I finally think I’ve got it!” a student exclaimed as she figured out how to configure the wires in the shell to power her circuit.

“Ms. Harris! Ms. Harris! We got it!” Exclaimed another group of students in the back of the classroom.

As a teacher in a project-based learning classroom, it’s tremendous to watch a student struggle and then come to a conclusion after successfully creating a project. I admit, there are few things I enjoy more than the epiphanies of my students during individual and team collaborative hard work.

You often hear from non-English teachers that “everybody is an English teacher.” This is true!  However, it should also be true that everybody is a STEM teacher. This is because STEM instruction is an effective way to engage students in initial forays into critical thinking, one of the most important skills we teach at school. STEM instruction utilizes pathways that don’t traditionally make students think they are thinking critically, even when they are.

For instance, let’s say that you are a social studies teacher focusing on the Civil War.  You begin your lesson by showing a layout of the battlefield or the area where the Civil War was fought.  You then have students brainstorm ideas or tools that may have been used in combat by opposing sides.  As they are completing this activity, you bring in primary source evidence that describes what actually happened during the war to see if students can recreate those same scenarios.  At the very end, you introduce a final primary source that tells the “whole” story of a particular battle.  As a result of this lesson, students receive a short foray into engineering and engineering design while also learning the social studies content.

A DCPS colleague of mine at Stanton Elementary School has a great Kindergarten example.   Ms. Samples-Wright has her students create houses as they read The Three Little Pigs.  During the project, students go through the stages of the engineering design process and get to share their ideas with real engineers for observation and feedback.  Find this project, and more like it, on Ms. Samples-Wright’s website: 1humbleteacher.com.

Another great DCPS example comes from Mrs. Ford at Maury Elementary School.   Mrs. Ford teaches a “Think Tank” class where students get to experience a lot of STEM lessons with Mrs. Ford as their instructor. Most recently, budding 4th grade architects are being cultivated at Maury Elementary with a partnership with District Architect Center’s “Architects in the Schools” program. Check out more of Mrs. Ford’s projects here: maurythinktank.blogspot.com.

Interesting in trying out STEM in your classroom? Follow these key steps to implementation!

Start small, with only one lesson or one activity.  This will prevent you from becoming overburdened with supporting STEM.

Find one aspect of STEM to focus on and plan to do that well.  Whether it is science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, find a way to focus on one topic.  This will help you later, especially when you are trying to evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson.

Emphasize the path over the answer.  Many of the STEM process skills that we are attempting to highlight for students are more about the process of inquiry and not about the actual answer or product.  The key is to make sure that students understand (and maybe even journal about) the process for creation, data collection or analysis.

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