Where can teachers look to find their student's STEM story?
Students need teachers to help them discover their own STEM story and find what they are passionate about. How do we create opportunities in the classroom that will engage students and facilitate STEM learning? Where are STEM stories found? Here are three that are sure to inspire teachers to look everywhere!
Los Angeles, a place known for celebrities, has many STEM stories like Ashton Kutcher and Mayim Bailik, celebrities using their science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and training to pursue their passion. Ashton Kutcher, once a biochemical engineering major, at the University of Iowa, continues to explore and invest in cutting-edge technologies and Mayim Bailik from the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, plays a neuroscientist actually has a degree in neuroscience and speaks to parents and teachers on how to foster STEM learning opportunities. Students that are actors, artists and designers drive innovation. Game design, simulations, AI, are just a few of the course offerings at Westminster Avenue Elementary School. This culturally diverse school employs a variety of strategies to produce student centered multimedia STEM stories.
At the Orange County Fair, kids are sharing their STEM stories about growing up on farms and describing the Science of raising animals and growing fruits and vegetables. They have the skills scientists use: observation, data recording, analysis, communication and problem-solving. They describe Technology on the farm in the form of a hoe, a pitchfork, a rake, a saw, a shovel and using tools to make work easier. Engineering design is used to solve problems. Ask, What do you know? What do you need to find out? Plan, come up with the possibilities of how you are going to solve the problem; Build, using the plan, the tools, repair, replace; Test to see if your thinking worked and Re-design as needed. Collaborating, patience and perseverance always produces better results, they assure me. The most important STEM strand they said is Math. Counting, estimating, measuring, and predicting so you can look at a field and know its size and how many rows of corn will grow. By knowing the rain fall data, they can predict the average size of pumpkins. How fortunate for these kids, growing up on farms.
In East Los Angeles, I visited a 5th grade class where I looked for ways to help students find their STEM story. One student was talking to his friend about what car was the most popular, especially among hip-hop artists. They realized that some of their favorite songs even mentioned these rides. The students began to wonder if they could make a list of what cars are mentioned in songs, and figure out what was the most popular.
Cars, music, how could we tell their STEM story? I asked, “What car do you think is the preferred ride?” They got in to a discussion about the size of the vehicles, the engine capabilities, what “fully loaded” meant. I asked, “What if you were to design a car, what would you want?” They immediately started describing vehicles they had been planning for some time. I asked if they would draw their cars for me. Their focus was so intense as they drew multiple views of their cars. I thought how great it would be if we could arrange for these car-concepts to be created on a 3-D printer. Other classmates noticed and asked what was going on. As they described what they were working on they wanted to join in and talk about cars they like.
The teacher came up to me and smiled. These were students that would not normally elect to work together. The fact that they all had interest in cars, gave them the opportunity to identify the STEM components in their interests, creating their STEM story. As we listened to them explain to each other about fuel injection, horsepower, and transmissions, it was evident they had an understanding of science, technology, engineering and math, as it relates to cars, but had not been evident in their classwork, tests or homework. These were students academically performing below grade level. Listening to their STEM story we knew we had to re-think how to make the curriculum work for these students. The teacher said they just finished a unit on energy transformation and the Law of Conservation of Energy. Not one of these students had engaged with the material and often seemed disinterested. I suggested we take their STEM story and introduce the role of materials and car design.
I met with the teacher and began to plan with her and shared the resource STEM Road Map: A Framework for Integrated STEM Education . The teacher saw that she could use this resource. The book provides teachers a STEM road map, mapping out Common Core (in mathematics and English/Language Arts), the Next Generation of Science Standards and the Framework for 21st Century learning into grade level STEM modules. The module, “Transportation-Motorsports Module”, was especially helpful, describing how students can take on the role of design engineers as they work in teams within a set of design constraints, to build an innovative prototype vehicle with a new safety aspect and powered by energy transformations. By asking, “What effect could materials have on cars?” students could investigate materials used in racing cars and street cars and look at how materials affect performance. We would engage these students to work together like racing teams to illustrate the division of duties and collaboration that is required for successful teams. The students’ were able to explore and have an opportunity to discover the science and math in what they are passionate about!
STEM stories are everywhere. Recognizing students passions and providing foundational knowledge, creativity and innovation, teachers can help students find their STEM story. Someday these students will become our scientists, engineers, technologists, or perhaps our actors, artists, designers or farmers! (author: Carrie Lynne Draper)