Friday, June 10, 2016

5 Best Practices for STEM (Summer Series #2)


Welcome to Part 2 of my Summer STEM Series!
Hold onto your hats, folks, as we dive into a few Best Practices for STEM!

Are you thinking about STEM in your classroom! Try this summer STEM series(this is part 2) for answers to many of your questions, ideas to try, and more! This week's blog post is all about Best Practices!

Now, let's start with a little disclaimer.....
I teach STEM classes for three grade levels- after teaching in the regular classroom for 20+ years. Best practices or best strategies means something different to everyone. All I aim to do with this blog post is run a few ideas by you and suggest, from my experience what works in my classroom! So, just know that I am not trying to be preachy, just helpful!

Are you thinking about STEM in your elementary classroom? This blog post will give you some answers, some ideas, and some great strategies to try!
(And, by the way, best practices do not include sitting in those old desk in straight rows....)


BEST PRACTICE Hands on Learning

STEM is the ideal place to allow hands-on learning to help kids learn, apply different strategies, and learn to persevere. Hands-on learning is one to fabulous strengths of STEM! Read more on this blog post about best practices!
I know you have heard this- Experiential, hands-on learning is the best way for kids to learn.
Before we talk about how this relates to STEM, let me tell you a little history about me.
I started teaching many, many years ago. Here's what science looked like: we had a textbook. We read a section. We answered the questions at the end of the section.  About every 25 pages in the textbook we came across the infamous Experiment page. This page was always blue and as soon as we turned to it all the kids would raise up and stare at me, silently hoping this time, this time, we would actually get to try the experiment. Nope. If I could demonstrate something I did so from the front of the room and the kids gathered around. NEVER did the students have their own individual experiments, because science just was not done that way.
Sad. So sad.
Now, we know better. Science is the ONE place that hands-on experiences make all the difference. When every student is part of a team, when all of them are building and trying something, when they can move and manipulate materials, when they can add to their design or change one tiny thing and it works, they learn so much more.
How does STEM come into this?
Easy, the trial and error of STEM projects is the best learning we can provide. Kids learn to persevere even when the task seems impossible. They approach the task in many different ways, improve on their designs, and finally prevail with something that works. I think it's actually magic.....

BEST PRACTICE Failure IS an Option

STEM Class is the place kids learn that failing creates new learning. It teaches perseverance, dedication to task, and that projects don't always like we expect. It is the place where kids learn to never give up! Read more on this blog post about best practices!
I have written about this so many times. I have recorded the thoughts and spoken words of children about this topic so many times.  I have told so many people about this.
Kids need to fail.
How else will they learn what works?
When every solution is the perfect one, they never learn what to do on that occasion when something goes awry. And, you know, something always goes wrong. That's life.
How does this fit with STEM?
Folks, we fail in our classroom every single day. We even have a phrase for this. We call our mistakes, goof-ups, miscalculations EPIC Failures. Let me explain this in kid words:
"I can't tell you how many times we have failed at this?" (At which point the kid dived right back into the task to try again.)
"I just can't see what to try next." (But, he did try something!)
"This looked so different in my head than it is working out."

Just think about it. The materials need to fit together a certain way and they just don't. You take it apart and try something else. The kids talk it through, try something new, and then hit upon something that does work. Eureka!
Take a look at the photo above. That team stacked all the craft sticks on top of one another and glued them together. However, they needed a dowel stick to go through them. They should have left space where all the sticks come together so the dowel would fit.
Yes, they took it apart and laid all those sticks out again and had quite a discussion about what to try next. In the end , they decided to leave a tiny opening and glue the edges of the sticks together. It worked.
One last thing-- go back to the statement above in which the student said he just couldn't see what to try next. I talked to him and his teammates for several minutes and with purposeful questions helped them think through what to do. At some point in this conversation the young man said, "You know, we are going to try a new idea because I am just not giving up." 
Profound.

BEST PRACTICE There is more than ONE right answer.

STEM Class: Don't tell the kids what to do, how to do it, or intervene when you know it won't work. Kids need to be free to explore and experiment without fearing that they are doing it wrong. STEM Projects have many, many correct answers and they will eventually find one! Read more on this blog post about best practices!
Oh my, this one is tricky. Especially if you are a Type A person, like me. I want every little project to be perfect and cute, and well made and, of course, completed the way I WOULD DO IT!
Kids don't play along with this.
They think way differently than adults and they try things I NEVER would. Take a look at that water slide above. I knew those straws on the back would not hold up the slide when water was added. Did I tell them?
NOPE.
It crashed.
Now, go back to point number 2 of this blog post.
This team learned by failing at their first slide. They took it apart, dried everything off, and regrouped. They talked, made some decisions, and rebuilt it. If I had stopped them from the beginning by inserting my beliefs they would have built a great little slide, but would have NEVER learned the lesson they learned by failing.
Now, take a look at the one below.

STEM Class: Don't tell the kids what to do, how to do it, or intervene when you know it won't work. Kids need to be free to explore and experiment without fearing that they are doing it wrong. STEM Projects have many, many correct answers and they will eventually find one! Read more on this blog post about best practices!
Same thing. I knew this was going to be disastrous. I bit my tongue and let them pour water down that cardboard tube. It got soaked and soggy and they had to start over, but I heard one of them say, "Wow. That's not what I expected, but it makes sense. The cardboard is paper and paper and water don't work together." Their second version of the slide had that piece  of foil on the inside of the tube  instead of the outside.
So, how does this one fit with STEM? You, the teacher, have to keep your mouth closed. Don't tell the kids what to do, how to do it, or intervene when you know it won't work. Kids need to be free to explore and experiment without fearing that they are doing it wrong. STEM Projects have many, many correct answers and they will eventually find one!

BEST PRACTICE Collaboration is paramount.

STEM: Make sure students know what team work looks like. Spend a lot of time in the beginning of the school year completing team building activities and talking about what it means to share the work load, make collaborative decisions, and do what is best for the team. Read more on this blog post about best practices!
It's easy to say, "Work as a team"! What is hard, however, is making sure students know what this looks like. I spend a lot of time in the beginning of the school year completing team building activities and talking about what it means to share the work load, make collaborative decisions, and do what is best for the team.
I have a very set-in-stone procedure we follow for every STEM Challenge.
Every team member sketches or writes about an idea and then everyone must stand before the others on the team and talk about that idea. The team then decides what to do based on all the shared ideas. I encourage them to make decisions on what is best for the team. Students learn quickly that getting your way is not always best for the entire team or the design. Ultimately, if one idea fails, the team can always go back to a different idea and try it next!


BEST PRACTICE It's not always on the Lesson Plan!

STEM Challenges are not cookie cutter projects! Kids try things that you know will not work, but you need to let it happen. Read more on this blog post about best practices!
Some of the best things we see happen are things I could not have foreseen. There are so many moments that I am just as amazed at the kids at the results of an experiment or attempt to construct something. These are teachable moments that cannot be planned for and are very unlikely to be part of that lesson plan so carefully crafted.
And, you just have to go with it.
Seriously, I am a control freak and like to plan for every possibility, but STEM doesn't work like that.
First, of all, kids don't think the way I do and they build things that cannot possibly work and somehow it works anyway.
Look at that photo above. Students are building a flood barrier. We are going to pour water into that tub and see if their barrier will keep the water out. What do you think?
I would have voted NO and was quite surprised when this messy little contraption worked.
Go with it!


STEM Challenges are not cookie cutter projects! Kids try things that you know will not work, but you need to let it happen. Read more on this blog post about best practices!
The above picture is another example. Kids were building water slides. They had one long tube and some smaller ones. I thought they would use the long tube for the tower of the slide, but so many of the groups used the long tube for the slide itself. This left them scrambling to support the slide---- with those straws.
No, this one did not work. It  toppled over immediately.
But, I let it happen.
Go with it! STEM is not cookie cutter projects. (I think I said that in this post already.)

Okay, STEM Friends, these are some best practices or best strategies that I have learned in the last few years. Click on the image below to get back to Part 1 of this series and join me next week for Part 3!

STEM Summer Series Part 1- This post is all about myths we read about concerning STEM and the real truth!




And, don't forget to join Doodlebugs for more Five for Friday posts!


4 comments :

  1. Glad I found your blog! I teach 1st at a STEM magnet school but we are in the beginning stages of figuring out what that means. It started out that we happened to be a school that loves science and the environment (we are in the mountains). It evolved into STEM. Enjoyed reading your post.

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  2. As always, I love your post. I try to stress so hard to the parents how important it is for kids to learn the skill of failing, but taking what they learned to try something new. Failing is learning! It's a hard thing for parents, especially those with high achieving students, to understand.

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  3. It is so important for kids to learn how to fail! It may not be easy to watch, especially when we could help them do something a better way, but it is an experience they need to have. You're so right - they need to learn to never give up! Definitely something to remember for next year..

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    1. Agree completely! We live in a time that doesn't keep score at ballgames, everyone gets a trophy, and kids don't know how to lose or fail. How does this prepare them for the real world? Yes, watching them put together something incorrectly is hard, but I just walk away and let them do it. When they have that 'aha' moment it is so much more valuable! Thanks for stopping by!

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