Friday, June 3, 2016

Five Myths about STEM! (Summer Series #1)

Welcome STEM and Science Friends!
Last summer I created a summer STEM series that was so much fun to write and also had great feedback from readers. So, here's a new version. Ta da---this is the Summer Series for 2016!
STEM Series for Summer reading: It's all about STEM for elementary age students and will help you get started. Practical advice, great tips and hints, and featuring challenges I have tried! Try this weekly series!

This week it's all about five myths concerning STEM and how I can clear up those misconceptions for you!

SUMMER STEM Series: This first week is devoted to myths about STEM in the elmentary school. If you are thinking about trying STEM this post will give you some practical tips and answers!

Myth Number 1: STEM curriculum is not creative. You just build stuff.
STEM Myth: STEM projects are not creative. Kids just build stuff! Read this post to see why this myth is just not true!
Seriously.  I read that in an article. STEM is not creative. Kids just build things and everything looks the same. 
Y'all. This is just not true. Even with the same task constraints and the same materials the structures I see in class are all different. And, let me just tell you this: KIDS ARE AMAZING! They have no fear! Most of them are not striving to be PERFECT. They just want to complete the task and add their own special touches to the devices.
And that's when I see their creativity!
Take a look at that photo above. The kids were building a box. The constraints required that the box be a certain size and it had to have a handle. However, what we ran into was that the boxes would not stay closed when picked up by the handle. So, teams had to add a fastener to hold the box closed. Do you see what that team did? Look at the purple arrow. It is showing you the little hook they created to hold their box shut.
That is creative!
If you want to read more about problem solving that takes exceptional cleverness you can try this vintage post:

Myth Number 2: STEM focuses on only one subject- Science. 
MYTH: STEM is only about Science. Read this post to see how false this myth is! STEM is so much more! The integration of other subjects is phenomenal!
Yes, Science is a major focus. But is that all?
Our favorite challenges involve the scientific method and experimenting. This means we must keep data and this involves research, calculating, averaging results, analyzing results, and concluding from those results. We write in every class. The kids must write explanations, draw or sketch ideas, jot down notes about what is happening, record improvements in their designs, and then write reflective paragraphs. We don't always research, but we do use electronic devices to find information when we need it, we find ideas to help with designs, and we use recording devices to view our presentations or create our presentations. But, here's the BIG advantage of STEM. It's not just about the academic subjects. The collaboration and teamwork is profound. Kids learn to work together as a team with the best interests of the team at the heart of the task. They learn to take on jobs and responsibilities and share the work load. They make DECISIONS! Good gracious, this is a big issue- making the right choices.
I would have to say that STEM encompasses just about everything. It's not just science.
(The photo above is showing the fantastic Barbie Bungee Jump Experiment and Design challenge we completed this year!)

Myth Number 3: STEM is only about gadgets and robots and circuits.
STEM in the Elementary classroom is about more than robotics.Check this blog post for more about that topic!
For some people the acronym STEM brings on the vision of robots, robotics, engines, and complicated circuitry.
Those are part of STEM class, certainly.
But, there is so much more. STEM includes the T for Technology and again, you immediately think of computers and then probably robots. However, technology is defined as this: It's the purposeful application of information in designing and producing goods and services or for use in human activities. Here's another meaning: Technology means using materials in a way to solve a problem.
This might include using materials in an unusual or innovative way.
Wow, does that sound like only robotics?
It sounds like designing and building a device to solve a problem, maybe using materials that might not be the ordinary ones for that problem. Yet you tackle it anyway!
Now, think about that! Isn't that real life? If you have not seen the movie called Apollo 13 you need to watch it. In that movie the astronauts have to build a device to replenish their oxygen supply and they must use only the materials they have on board the space craft. The materials were not meant to be used for this purpose, but it's all they have (they are in space!) Friends, this is STEM!
It's not just robots!

Myth Number 4: STEM is only for kids that are planning to be engineers when they grow up.
STEM for Elementary Students is for all kids! Read this post about myths concerning STEM and you will learn why it's for all kids and not just those that will be engineers when they grow up!
This myth just makes me laugh! Seriously, who would believe this?
Let me just set this one straight. STEM is for every kid! I see a little more than 350 kids each week and of that number I would say about 10 don't like STEM projects. The rest think coming to STEM is the best part of their week. This is for so many reasons. Kids that are artists are the creative part of a team. Kids that like to build things are the construction crew. Kids that like to be exact are the tape managers or the person that keeps the group on task.
My best students are NOT always the natural engineer type students. My best students are the ones that don't do well in other subjects. Struggling readers, reluctant writers, not so great at math kids... those are my best students. They work hard because of one simple fact- in STEM class, failure is part of the process and being able to re-do and improve is what they need to do all day long. 
STEM is for all kids.
(Climbing off my soap box now.)

Myth Number 5: STEM is expensive.
STEM Challenges for Elementary Kids! THe materials to gather are so much easier than you think! Check this blog post for ideas and links to even more!
Okay, friends, I will not lie. Materials for STEM can be daunting. Goodness, I have made pancakes for THREE weeks with two grade levels and that amount of pancake stuff was over the top. But, they sure did learn a lot!
I have another challenge that requires five foot lengths of PVC pipe, but once you buy them you have them forever. And, you can always substitute broom sticks. Go see the custodian!
Anyway, yes, materials can be a lot to purchase or have donated, but you can also build about anything with straws and craft sticks.
So, let's just dispel that myth about materials being expensive.
Good grief, go to the dollar store and buy a box of foil sheets. Your kids can build all kinds of things with one foil sheet!
For more about the materials for STEM try these posts:

Come back next week for Part 2 in this series!

Right now, go visit Doodlebugs Teaching for more Five for Friday link-up posts!


  1. Love this! I team teach, and next year I want to have our classes to combine more to work on STEM activities. The collaborating and team building is what I love the most!

  2. This is a great resource! Thanks for sharing all your great ideas!

    Teaching Voracious Learners

    1. Thanks for stopping by Katie! This series will last all summer so come back for the next few weeks! Next week is all about Best Practices!

  3. Hey, Carol! This is an awesome post! Our district has just formed a STEM ambassador program for teachers and I was one of the ones chosen to be in it. I'm so excited. We are going to plan lessons geared toward our grade level so it will help other teachers in our county not to feel that STEM is so daunting! I'm going to save this post for sure!! Linda's Learning Loot :)

    1. STEM is daunting....until you get started and then you will discover that it is magic! I have five more posts in this summer series so come back every Friday!

  4. All of this is so true Carol. My biggest joy as a new STEM teacher for 6 months full time now is the integration of absolutely everything! The students have changed their mindsets so much and see that their time in the lab is so much more than "the problem or investigation". The collaboration between unlikely grouping is so rewarding. Wise words my STEM friend!

    1. Aw, thanks so much Megan! You are exactly right. I group my students somewhat randomly and the groups always (almost) amaze me. Kids that are unlikely leaders will step it up a notch when they have to! Come back next week for Part 2!

  5. You made some good points! I will be back next week to check out your next post.

    1. Thanks so much Caitlin! I am glad you enjoyed this post! Please do come back for Part 2 and there will be a total of 6 posts for this summer series!

  6. As a special educator, I was leery about bringing in a STEM project to my students. It was an AMAZING decision on my part. I wholeheartedly agree with you, kids love this. My group took off with it and made me realize they need MORE projects like this.

    1. I am so glad you are trying STEM with your students. The benefits are enormous- for all kids! Thanks for visiting my blog!


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