Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Can Only Imagine

When doing STEM projects, I have always imagined a school that completed operated the way STEM projects are done. We shove the desks to the back of the room, and we use them as "working tables". Students are constantly designing, testing, changing, redesigning, and retesting to get a construction that they are pleased with. I've ranted countless times about how great STEM projects are for kids, but what if we completed operated on a higher-order thinking level? Students that completed paced themselves? Chose their own activities?  No rote-memorization. No lines of desks. Here's an inspiring article that got me thinking about the topic. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moving to a New School

My husband and I recently decided to move back to our hometown. We grew up minutes apart, and both of our families still remain in the area. You may have read my post here about how dreadful I was of the job hunt, which is why I am so excited that a new school has given me a home for next year! The more exciting part is that I wanted to teach at this school for such a long time, and I am teaching three classes of science and three classes of technology. Seriously, this is a match made in heaven for me! I am beyond excited to start the new school year, and I trying to hang onto the threads of motivation that I still have for this school year... #lastweekofschool #whyisthereevenalastweek

Monday, May 26, 2014

STEM Project: Glider

The school year is flying by in gliders! This week, students must construct a glider that will fly a total distance of 7 meters. By constructing gliders, I wanted students not just to use their imagination and creativity and  practice the engineering process, but I also wanted them to learn a few scientific concepts along the way. The scientific concepts are below:
1. Students will understand and apply Bernoulli's principle.
2. Students will understand and apply Newton's second and third law of motion.
3. Students will understand and apply thrust, drag, lift, and gravity.

Before touching any material used to construct a glider, students had to research a few things. I wanted them to understand Bernoulli's principle because it wasn't a concept that students were going to just "come to". Therefore, I did a mini-lesson about Bernoulli's principle. Here's a great video to help explain Bernoulli's law and how it relates to Newton's third law of motion.

After the mini-lesson, students went to the computer lab, and researched glider designs. All of my students have a school google account. Therefore, they used the drawing feature on google drive to create a plan with their partner for three possible glider designs. Here's a couple screenshots of their planned gliders.

Now begins the fun! Students have a limited budget and they can buy materials for a cost. For example, a cereal box cost them $4.00. A sheet of newspaper will cost then $1.00. I always always try to find very inexpensive or no-cost items. Students spend an 1-2 entire days constructing, testing, redesigning, and retesting their glider. I am lucky to have a classroom that is 8.5 meters long. So, I just mark off 7 meters as the "test zone" in my classroom.

During presentation students talk about what their original design was, how it changed, why they changed it, what their largest challenges were, and their biggest successes were. They then have three attempts to fly their glider past the 7 meters zone. This week, it was nice, sunny, and windy. So, we presented and tested them outside.

We didn't do this step this week, but if you had more time, I think that it is of great value. Students pick one variable they want to change on or about their glider (wing material, wing shape, wing length, body shape, initial flying height, etc). If their variable was initial flying height, they then might test the variable at three different heights (1 meter, 1.5 meters, 2 meters). They will record how far their glider flies at all different heights in a data table and calculate the probability to determine the most successful change. They will do this for three variables of their choice.

This step is critical for students to learn to put the academic vocabulary with the project concepts. Students will complete a few questions about the glider project with their partner that they worked with.

I hope that this tutorial helps if you are planning a project about Bernoulli's principle/ Newton's 3rd Law of Motion.

Monday, May 19, 2014

STEM: Action Research

As a part of my master's class on action research, I conducted research about how much the students are actually learning science in my classroom. Sounds kind of crazy right? How much are the students really learning about kinetic and potential energy when we do the catapult challenge? Are students really learning about insulators and conductors when they create a stylus or is this just a fun challenge? So, I set on my exciting, riveting action research journey. I am a big fan of action research... This busy class assignment just came when I was moving, changing jobs, going to weddings every weekend, etc. Too busy = master's classes not fun. Anywho, here's the down and dirty of what I discovered is happening in my own classroom. The students are learning the overarching concepts. For example, students are learning that more potential energy = more kinetic energy. Heat is conducted more efficiently by a metal than a cloth. However, students need the academic vocabulary to scientifically explain these concepts. Students need an academic lesson on the vocabulary of insulators and conductors. kinetic energy. potential energy. I am IN LOVE with STEM projects. They teach students critical problem-solving skills, perseverance, the engineering process, and they feed the natural inquiry of children. I would adore a curriculum that had a STEM curriculum to go with every scientific learning standard. While I am working on that, I work in peace knowing and having the data to prove that students are learning scientific concepts as well during these crazy chaotic project times.

Friday, May 9, 2014

STEM Process: Day 5

Today, students finish up their variables that they are testing. After they finish their variables, they answer reflection questions about the entire project and how it relates to scientific concepts. In this case, students are reflecting about the relationship between the potential and kinetic energy of their catapult. That concludes our catapult project! I hope your students had as much of fun as mine did doing this project!

STEM Process: Day 4

Today, students present their catapults to the class. In their presentations, they explain what their original idea is and how that idea and design changed throughout the construction process. They then have three tries to make it in the center target.

Students now are going to change a variable on their catapult. For example, they may change the material that they wrap around the marble. They may first wrap the marble in tape, and test the accuracy of the launch multiple times. Then, they may wrap the marble in string, and again test the accuracy of their launch. Then, they will wrap nothing around the marble, and test the accuracy of the launch. They must test three variables. Some variables that are commonly tested are 1. how far the launcher is pulled back, how many rubber bands are used, the location of the placement of your catapult, the base of the catapult, the length of the launcher, and the material of the launcher. After presentations, students spend today testing three variables of their choice. Students record this data in a data chart in their packet.

STEM Process: Day 3

Students are continuing their construction efforts with their STEM project today. In this particular project, the students must design a catapult that can launch a marble in a center target that is 3 meters away. I've separated my room, and I put the desks in the back of the room, and the "launch center" in the front of the room! Holy Moly! Flying Marbles! 

Front of My Room: 

 Back of My Room

 The Target... Ignore the green tape.. That's for another project. 
Students get full points if their catapult makes it into the small circle and 85% of the points if their marble lands within the larger circle. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

STEM Process: Day 2

This is the meat and potatoes of STEM. This is the construction phase. Students now build their structure using the materials that they purchased and the ideas that they feel will work. As they are building their structure, they are revising it from the feedback they are getting as they are testing the structure. For example, they may start out building their catapult one day, decide it will definitely not work as is, and rebuild it completely a new way. They can "return" undamaged supplies to the store to add that money to their "account".

Monday, May 5, 2014

STEM Process: Day 1

As a lover of STEM, I have developed a structured process for all of my STEM projects. This guided process helps the students on two different levels.
1. The students learn to follow the engineering process.
2. The process allows students to have a structured routine of organized chaos. Students who know what they're supposed to do = Happy Teacher!

Before I start getting into the nitty-gritty, all of my STEM projects involve around students creating a device that performs a task within constraints. For example, students in the past have had to create a catapult that launches an item into a targeted circle that is three meters away. Students have had to create a wind turbine that uses wind power to lift ten pennies. When creating these devices, students can "buy" materials with a set budget that I give them. They have the freedom to use any of my materials, but they cannot exceed their cost. This budget is a large part of their constraint... kinda like the real world, huh? haha

There is no need to reinvent the wheel in this technological information age when students are given the project details. Students research what engineers have built in the past. They research the pros and cons to each design. They may research past designs in the computer lab or we may watch a few videos in the science room if the computer labs are booked. This week, students are learning about potential and kinetic energy via a catapult or trebuchet. So, students watched this video.

Students are given information about the materials that they have to work with, as well as the cost of the materials. They have a specific budget that they cannot go above. Students must come up with a design with their partners, as well as fill out a budget sheet of their expenses for the design that they have in mind. I always let my students return undamaged materials. Students will also come up to the "store" to demonstrate what they are thinking with the materials to the others in their group.

Materials at the store
 Group Planning (above and below)
 Students using materials to explain their ideas to their classmates. 

Don't you just love my photoshop skills? LOL

Thursday, May 1, 2014

We went on a trip!

April 29 had been an anticipated day for a while. In the fall, I began writing a grant for a field trip to The Field Museum to Chicago! About a month ago, we found out that we had received the grant and we're going to Chicago. We had a great parent response and had approximately 20 chaperones for our sixty-five kiddos. It was wonderful! The kids were not only SO excited to be in Chicago, and they were so grateful during the entire trip. Email me if you live in Illinois and want to take a field trip. I can hook you up with a great grant!