STEM: Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

S&C cover March 2010I wonder how teachers include the “E” in this acronym when designing or selecting class activities. And yet, the play that children do can be the foundation for future interest in engineering. This issue has several articles that describe how to capitalize on children’s curiosity and problem-solving abilities with engaging and purposeful activities, from race cars (Gravity Racers) to sand castles (Building with Sand) to learning about rocks (Science Rocks—in SciLinks, use the keyword “rock” for your grade level for more information on types of rocks, identifying rocks, and the rock cycle) and other Imaginative Inventions (which has suggestions for an egg-drop design activity in addition to suggested trade books on the topic).
Elementary Design Challenges focuses on airplanes and flight and has a list of suggestions for other projects. The author uses the resources of NASA’s Engineering Design Challenges website. SciLinks has additional suggestions for websites that have explanations for engineering and design principles in projects such as bridge structures and roller coasters, and for learning from paper airplanes. (Some students may be skeptical when we tell them it’s ok to fly them in class!)

The article Potato Problem Solving illustrates how students used the 5E process to study the thermal insulation properties of materials. Engineering for All is an engaging narrative that describes a windmill design activity that took place in an inclusive classroom. The activity is based on a design process: ask, imagine, plan, create, improve (SciLinks websites have more information on wind energy). As you’re reading the article, be sure to check out articles in the March edition of The Science Teacher, Science for All. Although the articles have a focus on secondary students, the theme is similar and you’ll get some additional insights and ideas for inclusive classrooms.
Children are never too young to explore design solutions. The photographs of the children’s problem-solving strategies with inclined planes in Science and Literacy Centers are priceless! I liked the questions in the “Teacher talk to support inquiry” graphic. And the classes in the article Insect Keepers went beyond the usual activities of an insect unit to incorporate the design process. The author includes checklists to assess student learning, too.
I was traveling through central Texas earlier this month and in the highway rest stops, the buildings were designed with storm shelters for tornadoes.  The students in Hurricane Proof This were looking at the design of buildings to withstand severe conditions  (these students may also be interested in the article Skyscrapers or other design sites such as the Leaning Tower of Pasta).
Check out the list of Connections for this issue. Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, this resource has ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.
I hope that our secondary colleagues will take a look at the amazing things that younger students are learning about and doing. (These activities could certainly be kicked up a notch or two for the upper grades!).

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2 Responses to STEM: Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

  1. firman says:

    the world of technology is always moving forward…
    very useful info.. thank you

  2. MP says:

    Excellent information. It can be tough to find ways of incorporating engineering into middle school science. Thank you for the help!

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