Friday, July 15, 2016

Things STEM is Not! (Summer Series #6)

Welcome back STEM and Science Friends!
This is the last week of my Summer STEM Series! But, it's a doozy.
I overheard this one day, "STEM is just fluff. All they do is play and build things!"
Grrrr.......
Then I started reading articles about STEM and realized there are still some misconceptions out there....this is similar to my Myths About STEM post, but here we go with some things that STEM is Not!!
STEM is a lot of things: Collaboration rich, fun, creative, full of team work, and so much more. But, there are definitely some things that STEM is NOT. STEM is not totally spontaneous, or just fluff, or cookie cutter projects. Here's a blog post explaining this and more!,,

STEM is a lot of things: Collaboration rich, fun, creative, full of team work, and so much more.
But, there are definitely some things that STEM is NOT. Let's take a look:

STEM Challenges are really easy, however some advance planning and prep is always needed. Throwing something together at the last minute might not be a great idea. Check this blog post for more about things STEM is not!
Before you panic about this statement, let me explain. You know how sometimes when you walk into your classroom you have no clue what you are going to do that day. C'mon, you know this happens. And then you throw something together and somehow it works. Well, STEM doesn't work like that!
Well, it can, but it's much more likely that you will need to think about a STEM activity with a day or two to plan for it. Gathering materials is necessary and maybe grabbing a parent volunteer or organizing things a little differently.
Can you throw something together on the spur of the moment?
Well, yes.
To be completely honest I invented a STEM challenge one day in about 5 minutes by just going through my cabinets and pulling out materials I thought would work. It's called Building Boats.
 True story.
HOWEVER, I have the advantage of being the STEM lab teacher and I have 43 cabinets, all full of 
stuff. If you really want to start with STEM I am here to help you, but do plan on thinking about the challenge, gathering materials, and getting your kids prepped for this adventure. They will take care of the rest!


STEM projects might use the same materials, but the final structures are very different. Expect students to use their own special talents and thinking to make their models unique! Definitely not cookie cutter projects! Check this blog post for more things STEM in NOT!
Let me explain again: A few years ago I had my third graders making "Moon Newspapers". It was a fabulous idea. Each student had a large piece of paper folded in half to resemble a newspaper and they had to have a title, like The Lunar Daily, and then articles about a whole list of moon events. It included drawings of the first moon landing and phases of the moon. You get it, right?
So, when these were finished we hung them in our hallway and they looked amazing.

But they all looked EXACTLY ALIKE.
Cookie cutter.
Here's the thing. STEM structures aren't like that. They are all different. Even when the groups have the exact same materials they will build something different.
And 9 times out of 10 what they build is completely different than what I expected. Take a look:
STEM Challenge: Toothpick towers! Students all have the same supplies, but they build completely different structures! Each group adds its own special ideas!

Those are all toothpick towers and use the exact same materials- but kids approach this task very differently. Definitely not cookie cutter (or playdough)!
Expect the unexpected and designs that will astound you.


STEM is not just about building structures! Actual science standards are followed in STEM Class! Check this blog post for more information!
Grrrr....."All they do in STEM class is just build stuff."
Let's knock that little statement right out of the park, okay.
I have science standards to cover. Yep.
Not only do I have science standards for my state, I also have the NGSS standards. I am sure you would like an example! Take a look:
Photos are from an exploration we complete in STEM ! It takes about three weeks to go through testing mystery powders and watching chemical reactions. It includes the amazing Insta-Snow and a fun little event called "Elephant Toothpaste".
Photos are from an exploration we complete in STEM! It takes about three weeks to go through testing mystery powders and watching chemical reactions. It includes the amazing Insta-Snow and a fun little event called "Elephant Toothpaste". It is not just about building. 
Here's another one:
This one is all about chemical reactions, too. And it also just happens to be a design project. Kids spend two weeks experimenting with pancake ingredients and then their testing data is use to make the ultimate pancake.
This one is all about chemical reactions, too. And it also just happens to be a design project. Kids spend two weeks experimenting with pancake ingredients and then their testing data is use to make the ultimate pancake. 
Conclusion: We don't just build stuff.

STEM Challenges are fun, but that is not all they are! It's not all play. It's a LOT of hard work, terrific thinking, problem solving extreme, and collaboration rich!
Here's another thing I have overheard about STEM.
"All they do is play and have fun. No wonder kids love it so much!"
Half of that is true. The other half is something STEM is NOT.
It's not just fun!
It's hard work.
It's thinking and planning and going through the steps of the engineering design process. It re-doing parts of your structure when it doesn't work. It's frustrating and aggravating when things don't work the way you expect and you have to start over. 
Does that sound like just fun?
Take a look:
STEM Challenges are fun, but they are also hard work. The team in the photo has learned that stacking those craft sticks in the center of their Ferris wheel is not going to work. They had to pry them apart and start over!
Kids are building a Ferris wheel. Total fun, right?
Well, it was fun, but the group in the photo forgot one tiny part of making that wheel. It needed an opening in the center for the axle on which the wheel turns.
They had to take it apart and start over.
They left an opening on the second try. Here's what happened next:
STEM Challenges are fun, but also frustrating. After starting over because they didn't leave a hole for the axle of this wheel, the team in the photo made the hole too large. They fixed this by closing the gap with pieces of craft sticks!
The opening was too large and the axle floated around in the hole and the wheel would not spin very well.
So, what did they do?
They added pieces of craft sticks around the opening to close the gap enough to make it work.
Totally problem solving at its best. Can't say it was all fun, however.
This happens daily in our STEM class. It's not all play. It's a LOT of hard work, terrific thinking, extreme problem solving!


STEM is about construction, building, designing, but we do more than that! We write all the time. Reflections, improvements, data tables, graphing, and more. Check this blog post for details!
And the last thing I have overheard or been directly told, "You are so lucky! Kids don't do any paper work so you have no grades!"
What?
Seriously!
We write in Every. Single. Challenge.
Remember that engineering design process I mentioned. We start with asking a question and then move into Imagining.
Kids write in this step! They also write about their plans and sketch ideas. They write about improvements and then write reflections at the end. Take a look:
STEM Challenges are about more than just building things! We write in STEM Class!
The top left Reflection says, "The hardest part was getting the strings even. We started over like three times." The top right is a graph plotting the results of bungee jumps (with Barbie dolls). The bottom left is a sketch of a Newton's Cradle. The bottom right has the question, "How will you make sure your strings are correct?" The student wrote, "Put a ruler to make sure it is correct."
The writing is often very simplified, but we still write.
We don't just build and play and have fun.
STEM is work.
And we love it!

Go check Doodlebugs for more Five for Friday Posts.
Don't forget to check back on most Wednesdays for my What's Going on in the Lab posts!


1 comment :

  1. I loved this whole series, even though I live in the ELA world. The fact that everything turns out different, and they have to figure out where they made their mistakes and start over are my favorite parts of these activities!

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