Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer STEM Series- Part 4- Problem Solving!

Thanks for sticking with me STEM Friends! This has been quite an adventure to convince you to add some STEM to your classrooms! What's up this week?
PROBLEM SOLVING!
Problem Solving in STEM Class! This is the best part of STEM- watching your students use their unique and clever thinking to make the materials work!


Before we dive into that here's a quick recap:
STEM Summer Series: This week's post is all about Problem Solving! The most amazing part of STEM class is watching kids solve problems in delightful ways!


You can find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 with just with a few clicks!


But for now, let's move on to Problem Solving!
This particular topic is very exciting to me!
I know, as an adult and a very right-brained person, that the way I approach tasks and solve problems is vastly different than the way 8-11 year old kids do.
Here's a great example:

Last winter we tried building some platforms. One of the ideas was to use straws and paper clips. I thought kids would do what I do with straws and paper clips. Let me illustrate this for you!
STEM Challenge: Kids showed me a clever way to connect straws and paper clips!

1- Unbend the paper clip into an L shape.
2- Insert one end of the L into the straw.
3- Insert the other end of the L into another straw and now you have a bending corner or joint.
That is what I would do.
Kids did NOT do this.
They did a whole lot of this:
STEM Challenge: Look how these boys made their paper clips and straws work. They clipped the straws together and also threaded the straws through the ends of the paper clips!

Can you see how they clipped the straws together and also threaded the straws through the ends of the paper clips? For the most part this did work- it is just not the way I built my platform.
Aha! But that is one of the best parts of STEM Challenges! The kids learn to be THINKERS without my input and most of the time they do very well at it!

Okay, now that you can see that kids' minds think completely differently than you expect,
let's focus on a few ideas:
1. Kids plan and sketch and it rarely works the way they think it will.
2. They will learn through the trial and error.
3. They will try some things that YOU would have never thought of in a million years.

1. THINGS RARELY WORK AS EXPECTED.
Before beginning any design challenge I have kids talk through their ideas and sketch what they will build. I insist they try to stay true to their plan. Does this work?
No
No
No
But that is real life, people. Have you ever built a house? Our contractor changed our original blueprints dozens of times. As they ran into problems they had to deviate from the drawing!
 It happens. (They charged us extra money for most of the changes, go figure!)
It happens in STEM Class, too!
Here's a sketch of a container we built to use for a cargo drop.


The team planned to build a square container and place the cargo (marshmallows) side by side in the container. They have cardboard on the bottom and craft sticks extending out in several directions.
Well, when they finished and dropped this container the cargo popped out.
Next is their second attempt to solve this problem. They added a cup to the container packed with bubble wrap and craft sticks inside the cup to add some stability because the cargo cannot easily move around.
Did it work?
No.
Back to the drawing board! Next they tried this:
STEM Challenge: This team could not get their cargo to stay inside its container. After multiple improvements they finally added two more craft sticks and banded them together. Did this finally work? YES!
The cup now has two more craft sticks and they are banded together. Did the cargo survive this drop?
YES!
Did they follow their original plan? Somewhat, but through trial and error they encountered several problems and worked to solve them. Genius!

2. SPEAKING OF TRIAL AND ERROR
This happens constantly in our challenges. The kids plan a design, build it, try it out, and watch what happens. Based on what they see in the trial they make adjustments, take away, add to, and solve the problems. Take a look:
STEM Challenge: The kids had to find a way to keep the string in place. In the top photo the team curled a paper clip around the column and made a little hook. In the bottom photo the team used pipe cleaners to make an enclosed spot so the string would stay in place.

In both these photos students had to find a way to make a string bridge work. We called these gliding bridges. The idea was that a container suspended from a rope would cross a river. By pulling on the rope the passengers in the container could transport themselves across the river. The problem shown in the photos is that the string was popping off the support columns and the container would crash. The kids had to find a way to keep the string in place. In the top photo the team curled a paper clip around the column (dowel stick) and made a little hook. In the bottom photo the team used pipe cleaners to make an enclosed spot so the string would stay in place. They also cleverly used the extra string to make a guide wire to hold the contraption in place! Amazing!

3. THINGS YOU WOULD NEVER THINK OF!
I have watched kids solve some pretty tough situations. One day I had a student say, "I can't tell you how many times we have failed at this!" Did he give up? Absolutely not! He went right back to his group and they kept working. They just tried something else!
Here's a few of my favorite Kid Solutions. Be prepared- these are fairly profound!
STEM Challenge: It's a rescue challenge! They have woven a straw through the craft stick platform at the top and by turning the straw they can wind up the platform on the ground.

The one above is from a challenge in which the kids had to build a rescue device that could wind up a cargo platform. Look closely. They have woven a straw through the craft stick platform at the top and by turning the straw they can wind up the platform on the ground. This was a challenging task. Making something that would actually wind up was harder than you think!
STEM Challenge: The cargo had to be inside a container with no top on it and when dropped the cargo could NOT move. This team added the paper "spring" to help absorb the impact of being dropped.
The one above is from the Cargo Drop challenge. The cargo had to be inside a container with no top on it and when dropped the cargo could NOT move. This team added the paper "spring" to help absorb the impact of being dropped.
STEM Challenge: The bridge made of straws needed to support the weight of a tower that would be placed on the bridge later. This group used craft sticks to connect the straws across the opening for the bridge, but the straws and sticks kept slipping. They added a rubber band and then taped it in place to stop the movement of their bridge.
Above is what some third graders did to solve a bridge problem. The bridge made of straws needed to support the weight of a tower that would be placed on the bridge later. This group used craft sticks to connect the straws across the opening for the bridge, but the straws and sticks kept slipping. Do you see what they did? They added a rubber band and then taped it in place to stop the movement of their bridge.
STEM Challenge: The group in the above photo came to me and asked if they could have a pulley. Sadly, I told them they could not have a pulley. So, they used a plastic cup and made their own PULLEY!

The one above is one that has made me marvel every time I see this photo. It's from the Gliding Bridge challenge. The gliding bridge device had to span an opening between two tables. On each side of the span kids built a support column of dowel sticks. A string connected the two support columns on each side of the span. The string had to be movable. We actually pulled the string to make it slide around the support columns and transport the passengers. The group in the above photo came to me and asked if they could have a pulley- which I thought was rather genius. Of course they needed a pulley and I was pleased they knew this. Sadly, I told them they could not have a pulley. So, what did they do?
Look at it closely. They used a plastic cup and made their own PULLEY!
STEM Challenge:The one big problem we had was making the connecting device so that it would slide easily over the string of the zip line. This team threaded a straw through holes in the passenger container and then placed the zip line string through the straw. It worked perfectly!
The one above is from a Zip line Challenge. The kids had to build a passenger container that would travel down a zip line. The one big problem we had was making the connecting device so that it would slide easily over the string of the zip line. The team in the photo threaded a straw through holes in the passenger container and then placed the zip line string through the straw. It worked perfectly!

Are you kidding me? Kids are Ah-May-Zing!
They think so much differently than we do. And here's the thing. They can solve some pretty tough challenges and problems.
I bet you engineer something in your house or classroom all the time. 
Kids can solve those problems, too!

Try a STEM Challenge with your students this year! They will amaze you! You will be hooked!

Next thing to look for on this little blog is a post about 
"TEN THINGS YOU NEED FOR YOUR SCIENCE CLASSROOM FROM THE DOLLAR TREE!"

Watch for it- it's coming soon!



2 comments :

  1. Carol, you are my favorite STEM queen and I can't thank you enough for your series this summer. I've learned so much from you and I can't wait to take what you have taught me and apply it in my own classroom. You are STEMtastic...just like the Pinterest board! xo
    Alison
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

    ReplyDelete
  2. Have loved your posts! Love STEM and your pictures are great. What great resources for teachers not sure of how to add it to their science plans!

    Renee at The Science School Yard

    ReplyDelete

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