STEM by Design: Strategies and Activities for Grades 4-8 by Anne Jolly

4. Gearing Up for Teaching STEM

  • There is no doubt that a lot of work and planning needs to happen prior to STEM implementation. This will include gaining knowledge about your students along with learning about STEM practices and your available resources. Local businesses are likely to help here. Work to make sure that all students can participate so it isn’t just for the elites. You can start by looking at your content standards and find engineering challenges that apply, or you can find engaging engineering challenges and see which of your standards apply. Also encourage student-generated problems. Anne offers links to interesting challenges in this chapter. While you need to define criteria for success, don’t forget that failure is an accepted part of the STEM process. You also need to prepare your students for this rather than springing it on them. You may have to give them some teaming lessons and prepare for flexible timeframes.

5. Choosing Good STEM Lessons

  • There is no single STEM plan for every school. While some plans travel well, others depend on local circumstances and resources. Although some core content will be learned during STEM lessons, there will also be a need to teach what looks like regular math and science lessons to give students some foundational knowledge. A STEM lesson will take multiple days to complete, perhaps 4 to 6. Time between days allows incubation periods, which are necessary for problem solving. Places to look for STEM lessons include modern math and science textbooks, social media contacts, and Internet searches.
  • Anne offers eleven STEM lesson specifications you should use to judge each lesson. They are: 1. Real world engineering problem? 2. Something students can relate to, 3. Open-ended with multiple ways to successfully complete the problem, 4. Integration of math and science, 5. Use of the engineering design process, 6. Student-centered and hands on, 7. Design and develop a model or prototype, 8. A clear role for technology, 9. Purposeful teamwork, 10. Testing the solution and evaluating results, and 11. Communication of the design process and results.

6. Analyzing Lessons for STEM Potential

  • Don’t confuse nifty science experiments for STEM lessons. Here is a link to a STEM lesson exemplar that contains the teacher notes and the student notes. Anne analyzes how this lesson hits all but one (specific directions to work in team) of the 11 STEM specifications. She points out that hitting all 11 is not necessary. She recommends avoiding team competitions but prefers collaboration between teams. This chapter contains two other sample lessons.
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