How do we successfully iron together subjects in 5th grade? We S.T.E.A.M. them! OK, that was not a great joke, but it was the only way I could think of to make a point about how we integrate authentic learning opportunities into our packed academic schedule.
This is how I began my last class blog post. I think the reason many teachers hesitate to jump into the Maker's Space arena, or try engineering challenges in their classrooms is partially because we have learned to fear new buzz words, but also because we fear the pacing guides more! What will happen if we get off pace with our division pacing guides, or worse yet, get off pace with our grade level?!?!?! Many of us envision the proverbial sky crashing down, especially at SOL score time, right?
However, after 3 years of navigating the engineering/STEM/STEAM/Maker'sSpace world, I have learned 3 very valuable lessons. The first lesson: taking the lid off the traditional classroom and allowing students to pursue their own ideas earns me a TON of social and emotional capital! Overall, the students seem to like school more, they are calmer, and when we return to unit studies they seem much more highly engaged. This happens every.single.time! The calming effects last for days, too.
Lesson 2: I hear and see evidence of student achievement from ALL students, not just from my extroverted students. Students I used to worry about ever learning how to measure to the nearest eighth inch demonstrated advanced measurement skills during the design phase of an engineering challenge. The student I could not get to write multi-paragraph compositions would hand in a detailed analysis, conclusion, and sales promotional plan for a new product he designed during Maker's Space-that he has already "pre-sold" to several students! Lastly, during traditional unit lessons, students who would normally sit and receive information would jump up and make profound big idea connections to work we had done during problem-based learning activities. This happens every.single.time!
Lesson 3: You may think this lesson is selfish of me to publish, but I think its important to note. I am a practitioner and lifelong learner. However, I do not know everything I need to know about every subject I teach. Student explorations through design challenges or open-ended problem based learning activities provide me with new information I can apply to future lesson activities. For example, this latest round of design challenges centered on exploration of student understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the cyclical nature of planning and conducting investigations. As students worked through a catapult design challenge, I learned how to better teach them the use of shapes, not to just name the shapes! I witnessed a partnership attempt to measure the angle of their spoon with a ruler, encounter failure, ask another team for help, and finally measure with a protractor. Now they own this new skill! This is how I should have protractor skills in the first place. Finally, I had an epiphany while listening to student conversation: cycles are embedded in our work as writers and readers, too...How can I apply this new idea into my future plans?
Please share your journey with STEM/STEAM/Maker'sSpace or problem-based learning. What lessons have you learned? Why should or shouldn't other teacher practitioners try this trend?