I remember in my university classes doing a STEM project for the first time…#Marblerollercoasters It was amazing! With a little 3/4 insulation tubing, (Check hardware store, should be able to find for less than 2$ a piece, **Remember each piece is split) masking tape, the classroom, and our imagination! It was my childhood Roller Coaster Tycoon dream come true. The class had great success. My group was interactive, and the experience was both educational and memorable. Rainbows, unicorns, powder sugar clouds. I was sold on all things STEM |STEAM challenges in the classroom.
My first year in my own class I couldn’t wait to challenge my 5th graders. The first activity we tried was another I had experienced in my university class. #Balloonrocketracers I divided the students into groups, handed out materials: Straws, masking tape, paper, balloon, yarn. Clear expectations were set, and the challenge of designing a balloon rocket that would cross the finish line first was issued. We used a phone to video whose ballon crossed the finish line.
Overall it was OK. Honest to goodness, my nerves were popping. Full disclosure, for a teacher that runs a pretty tight ship, and is wound a little tight, STEM made a few of my screws come loose. I loved the idea of it, my students LOVED it, but the practice challenged me. I especially struggled to make time for it after our class discussion. Based on my assessment, fun was had, but there was little to no substance gained.
I knew I needed to make changes to the process, I needed my students to SLOW down and actually think about what they were doing, back up what they were doing with their thinking, and process the challenge. After the challenge, I NEEDED them to reflect. In my mind the reflection is the meat of the lesson, that’s where learning and application can be solidified.
The more you get to know me, you will also learn that I am a very low-prep, maintenance teacher. The idea of printing, and laminating multiple sheets for one Stem Activity was too much for me. All of this thinking and unwillingness led me to create these STEM | STEAM Planning and Reflection Sheets.
I love these. These sheets were exactly what I needed in order to have success with STEM activities. There are two layout options you pick whether it’s Stem or Steam your implementing. The only difference between the two is the A, (Arts). The best part about these pages is that you can use them again, and again, and again. You can also use these with ANY STEAM/STEM challenge.
Students will begin with the planning page. Here before they dive into the materials, they are required to think about the problem. Students write out the problem, brainstorm and note possible solutions, and then take it a step further by describing what success will look like at the end of this challenge.
From that point, they move into design. While the students work on a blueprint they are encouraged to assign numbers to their design… (measurements of time, distance, size, quantity. Next, they list out the materials provided and determine if anything else is needed, *if allowed.
Finally, at this point, students can dive in and start test driving. There is a section on the planning sheet that allows them to record data for trial and error. This section may not always be applicable, however, it can be used as a section to take notes.
Next, onto the reflection page. I LOVE the reflection page. Students begin by explaining why they selected the solution they did, why they thought it would be the best choice. Next, they consider how it relates to the real world. Is/was there a problem this challenge relates to. What about the solution, could their thinking or solution provided be applied to another problem that exists?
The following section is my FAVORITE. Notice at the top of each page S.T.E.M.|S.T.E.A.M. is written out. Also what it means, what it stands for, and what it might look like in these experiments is also explained. Students then go through each letter and decide if that subject was required at any point throughout the challenge. They then describe and back up their claims using evidence from the activity.
The next part is so important for any lesson. Would they define their efforts as successful, were they able to meet the idea of success they listed at the first of the activity. If given the same challenge, what would they do anything differently. ***Tip: DO THE SAME CHALLENGE MORE THAN ONCE. Allow them to wrestle and adjust their designs, give them the time to test out their thoughts from the reflection. You will be thrilled with the growth and confidence you see from one try to the next. If students show enthusiasm try it a 3rd or 4th time…etc, Do it!
Lastly, they back up their ideas for making changes. Can they think of any scientific reasoning that supports their adjustments?
These are wonderful to get more out of your Stem and Steam Challenges. You’ll love that you can print these double-sided and hand students a single page to scaffold their efforts. The students will become more and more acquainted with the process as you use them again and again throughout the year. These work great in centers, STEM / STEAM Bins, small groups, or whole-class instruction. These are a wonderful way to hold students more accountable for their learning.
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I hope you enjoy the activities listed, I would LOVE to hear from you and how they go. Nothing brightens my day like being tagged in your classroom work on Instagram! Happy Teaching!