18 Reasons to Try STEM in 2018-PART 2

I read an article a little while back that gave advice about writing blog post titles. One suggestion was to try using numbers. Well, maybe not the number 18.

Nevertheless, it is 2018 and 18 seemed like the perfect number. I also felt pretty certain I could think of 18 reasons you should try STEM!

The big reveal today will be reasons numbered 10-18. If you missed last week's post you should also read it to see what's going on with reasons 1-9! (Links for many things will appear at the end of this post!)

To be honest, there is not a particular order for all these reasons I am listing. They do work together though. Like a lot. And that is one big reason to love STEM! So, here we go!

10 - Kid's sketches are spot-on.

If you read my blog often you know I talk about the Engineering Design Process. One part we follow consistently is the planning step and part of that step is to sketch an idea for the project.
If you want to make the sketching part more intriguing for kids give them some grid paper. For some reason, they love to draw on grid paper.
If you want to make the sketching part more intriguing for kids give them some grid paper. For some reason, they love to draw on grid paper.

Anyway, take a look at the drawings above and below. The sketches are awesome and labeled with the materials to be used. Anyone could take the drawing and attempt to build the item. Let me tell you what I tried one day! Ha!

One part of the Engineering Design Process that we follow consistently is the planning step and part of that step is to sketch an idea for the project.
One year I had some groups that just did not take the time to sketch well and they would try to throw a structure together with very little planning. So, one morning I had every team draw one sketch for the structure. When they had their team sketches ready I took the papers from them and then randomly passed them out to different teams. They were then told to use the new sketch and build...

How do you think that went over? TERRIBLE! The complaints were brutal. Moaning and groaning and gnashing of teeth. Well, probably not that last thing. But, overwhelmingly the kids said the drawings were awful and could not be used.
"Aha!" I said, "And that is why you need to make sure your ideas and plans are well thought out and ready for anyone to try."

Truth: Kids really want to just dive right into a project and invent on the fly, but I insist on following the correct procedures. We think like scientists and engineers! (cause that is what we are!)

11 - The science is necessary.

One of the very first challenges we tried was a paper airplane. I had kids build and fly planes and keep a data table of their flight distances. But, I very quickly noticed something! They had no idea how to conduct an experiment and control the variables. They were changing their planes right in the middle of the test. So, we had to back up and learn about controls and variables and procedures.

Now, we make sure the science is part of any activity where it seems necessary.
Newton's Cradles are the best ever STEM Challenge!
One big topic in our lab is Sir Isaac Newton. We learn about the Laws of Motion in so many ways. One fun activity we complete is to build Newton's Cradles- like the picture above! (Link at the bottom)

Below you can see kids analyzing their data before they move on to the experiment or building. I want them to learn to use test results to make informed decisions!
Science is an essential part of STEM!
Truth: The science is important and I think part of the job of the lab is to make sure kids know to test fairly and keep accurate data. And they love to do this! Writing down test results, averaging distances, drawing blueprints, measuring, multiplying, and estimating are all a big part of the lab. What valuable hands-on lessons these are!

12 - Real life projects bring the world a little closer.

There is a place for silly challenges like building spoon towers (yes, it's a tower with a spoon at the top)! But, sometimes we build something with a purpose in mind. One of the very first challenges I tried with fifth graders was to build a device to keep food off the ground while you were camping. They loved this type of challenge so, of course, I have invented more of them!
STEM Challenge: Build a barrier to protect a little house from flooding!
Building a flood barrier for a home was another one we tried. And we loved it! This started off as a flood barrier for a house, but we later changed the story to protecting a dog house. Kids used a lot of materials to create that barrier and then we poured water on it! Ha! So much fun and cheering when this worked.

STEM Challenge: Build a cargo carrier that can withstand a drop of a few feet.
Another real-life idea involved cargo drops. I still remember seeing the cargo drops that took place after the tsunami in 2004 and I found some footage of real cargo drops. Watching some videos was all we needed to inspire us to make crush proof containers for precious cargo (marshmallows). The kids experimented dropping the cargo at different heights and we all watched anxiously to see if the cargo would survive.

Truth: Adding the real-life applications and using a story about the design and building activity adds an interest level to our work. We have created pipelines like the ones in Panama, gliding bridges like the ones in Nepal, and zip lines like the ones you can travel on in an amusement park. Wouldn't it be fabulous if one of our STEM students develops into an engineer in the future that does travel to faraway places to make a difference in the lives of others- even if it is just an amusement park ride.

13 - Try and try and try again.

Perseverance. How do you teach that? How do you get kids to just keep working? The very nature of STEM challenges will help with this complicated trait!
STEM Challenge: Build a barrier to protect a little house from flooding!
The natural design and test and redesign process of STEM challenges lends itself well to teaching perseverance. I also believe that the naturalness of it keeps kids from being overly frustrated. Oh, sure, they are frustrated when things don't work, but as I have said, overall they get right back to work after rethinking the problem. The best part is, of course, that they use their failures as a springboard to new ideas. 

See that photo above. That team thought those foam cups would work as a protective barrier to keep their house from flooding. What they discovered quickly is that foam cups float! So, they had to completely rethink this solution.

STEM Challenge- Test and experiment with ramps heights and then build the best model!
Above you can see a team building a ramp. The idea with this challenge was that we would need to adjust the ramp heights during the testing. I showed the kids how to use our tables and tape the ramps at different heights. It is easy to just pull up the tape and adjust by moving up or down. This team asked if they could build the end of the ramp instead.

Truth: I let them build that ramp the way they wanted to. I knew it would not work. I let them do it anyway. They learned by testing it that it was going to be very difficult to adjust the height without rebuilding the end every time they needed to move it. One more way that hands-on work will teach the kids so much. Do you let them build something wrong? Yes, trial and error is a great teacher!

14 - It's FUN!

Just the other day I heard this: "STEM is the only reason I like coming to school."

Why is that? I have to think that the fun we have is part of it. We do some really neat challenges that involve building the very things kids love so much.
STEM Challenge- build a goal post and a way to kick the ball through it!
The sports challenges we have tried have all been winners. Kids love to compete and they really wanted to score with those football goals!

STEM Challenge - Build a spinning Ferris Wheel!
The Ferris Wheel challenge was so interesting and we learned a lot about how to make something symmetrical  - even though that wheel pictured is not. If you look at it closely you can see it has seven sections instead of six. The creation of this was challenging but so intriguing to watch and so fun to share.

Truth: Our class is full of learning. Just this week we have been reviewing and using the steps of the scientific method. The kids have been measuring, keeping data tables, averaging results, using the results to decide what to do next, modifying their experiment, analyzing data again, and creating a final product based on all of these things. So, what was the challenge? Building Paper Airplanes. Kids will remember all of the things we learned because throwing paper airplanes is just plain fun!

15 - Kids are amazing.

This is perhaps the best reason to try STEM. Your students will astound you with the things they will think about and try. Take a look at the photo below.
The task was to build a container that would hold a certain number of M&M's. Most teams build a square or round box, but one group made a long thin tube. I commented that it was going to be hard to get all the M&M's (500 of them) into the tiny opening of the tube. A few minutes later I went back to the group to see how they were doing and they had made a funnel.

Seriously. They made a funnel.

Truth: Kids are amazing thinkers.

16 - The finished projects are terrific.

The finished projects are often just precious. I love watching kids embellish their structures with all the extras.
STEM Challenge: Build a car that rolls! It is more challenging than it seems!
The car above has seats and a steering wheel. It also had a car tag with the word "STEM" on it!

STEM Challenge: Build a car that rolls! It is more challenging than it seems!
Here's another car with very large wheels and a steering wheel. By the way, the large wheels were made after they discovered the small wheels would not reach the ground due to the placement of the axle (learning by errors again)!

Truth: You need a place to display the finished projects so others can see them. My test class will be the first to complete a project and they cannot wait to get back to the lab the next week to see the displayed items others made.

17- Sharing is the best part.

This is the part we never skip. We share at the end of class. Kids cannot wait to show off their finished structures and talk about them!
STEM Quick Challenge: Make a volcano model!
Above is a volcano that has "lava" flowing and this was an exciting share time. We all gathered around one table and tested one volcano at a time. First, the team talked about how they built it and then improved it. Then we made the lava flow. Lots of exclamations and groans if it didn't work as expected.
STEM Challenge: Create a spider box with a viewing window!
Above is a team all holding up their spider box. They are showing the viewing window in the box as they each take a turn telling us about parts of the box and how they built it.

Truth: Sharing at the end of class is a vital part of the process. Kids love to talk about their projects and especially they love to show how they work. But, here's the big thing. They LOVE to see what all the other teams have done.

18 - Free Challenges (you gotta love that!)

I have challenges that are FREE. That's a great reason to try STEM soon!
The three challenges pictured are all in my Teachers Pay Teachers store and the links are below!

TRUTH: I promise. Cross my heart. Your kids will love completing a STEM Challenge!

Links for Lots of Things:

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