My 3rd grade class is always pretty small, so we usually start the year doing a Genius Hour project together so they can practice research and presentation skills. This year, my group of 4 decided they wanted to learn how the Great Barrier Reef has changed over time, and what are the consequences of these changes. They seemed to have a slightly vague idea of what the death of the reef could mean – especially for people who live on the other side of the world. I ran across an excellent site that allowed them to see immediate and long-term effects of pollution and other human interference with the reef. The “Reef Simulator” allows players to choose a scenario, such as overfishing or tourism, and develop a hypothesis for how some of the reef’s dependents will react. With a press of a button, the students can then see a bar graph that reflects short-term population changes due to the scenario, and another button to see the long-term changes.
With a few multiple choice questions, the simulator determines how much understanding the users have of the graph, whether or not it supports their original hypothesis, and whether they want to change the hypothesis.
Since we talk about “systems thinking” in my classroom, this simulator was an excellent interactive that allowed my students to see that changes in a system indirectly affect every single part of the system eventually. They were truly surprised how animals like certain breeds of sharks might become completely extinct without ever being hunted or directly targeted by humans. To follow this up, I plan to show them this TED Ed lesson next week.
After playing the simulation, my students exclaimed, “We need to do something – NOW!” They felt even more urgency when I pointed out that the simulations each showed the effects of one human event, and that in real life the reefs are suffering from combinations of all of them…
I suspect that part of the reason that not many minorities enter S.T.E.M. careers may be because we don’t hear enough about the ones who have. This coming January, Hidden Figures will come to theaters to tell the story of three African-American women who worked at NASA, and helped to propel John Glen into orbit. You can see the trailer for the movie here.
As part of the promotion for the movie, PepsiCo and 21st Century Fox have teamed up to sponsor a contest for females who are 13 years and older who hope to change the world with S.T.E.M. The winner will receive a $50,000 scholarship, so if you know a girl eligible to apply please pass this on.
In addition, you can visit the Hidden Figures website to play some S.T.E.M. challenges and read some other inspiring stories about significant S.T.E.M. contributions made by women.
My students are always fascinated when I have an ant farm in the classroom, and there is a lot to be learned from these insects as we observe their organized frenzy. Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay to Be Smart” recently published a YouTube video that answers the question, “Why don’t ants get stuck in traffic?” After watching the video you may second guess your feelings on self-driving cars…
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have outdone themselves with their latest book, Ada Twist, Scientist. Beaty (author) and Roberts (illustrator) made their mark in children’s literature with their two previous books, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Demonstrating the sometimes exasperating, but always creative, personalities of inquisitive and innovative children, these books have become favorites for those who champion maker education and S.T.E.M. They are also great examples of growth mindset and passion based learning.
Ada Twist, Scientist tells the story of an adorable young girl whose curiosity knows absolutely no bounds. Her parents fondly support Ada’s intellectual investigations until she decides to throw the family cat into the washing machine in an attempt to find the origin of a terrible smell, at which point Ada is exiled to the “Thinking Chair.”
You will have to read the book yourself to find out how Ada handles her isolation and whether or not she solves her stinky mystery. Suffice it to say that the book has a happy ending and will inspire parents and children to see questions as exciting learning opportunities rather than as time-wasting obstacles.
For a teaching guide and links to other related activities, visit the Ada Twist website.
In this video from Smarter Every Day, the host, Destin, demonstrates what really happens when you actually try to change your mind. I don’t mean when you switch to pizza instead of a hamburger. I mean when you try to change something your mind has done the same way for decades, like riding a bike. You will see the neuroplasticity of the brain in action, and realize that it takes a lot more work when you’re an adult than a child to create new paths in the brain.
Of course, you will immediately want to take the challenge of riding a backwards bike as soon as you watch the video. If you are so inclined, you can buy your own for $500 at the Smarter Every Day shop. There is a disclaimer, of course, that you will basically be paying a lot of money for a bike you won’t be able to ride…
Deborah Lee Rose is an author who recently worked with a raptor biologist, Jane Veltkamp, to write the non-fiction book, Beauty and the Beak. The book will be published in 2017, but you can already access related S.T.E.M. materials here.
Beauty, who had much of her beak shot off by a poacher, was almost euthanized because of her inability to survive. Jane Veltkamp and her team collaborated to save Beauty, and the eagle is celebrating her 15th birthday this year.
One important part of Design Thinking is empathy, and the story of how Beauty’s rescuers cared for her and found a way to replace the eagle’s beak using the technology of 3d printing is an excellent illustration of empathy at work.
There are so many lessons to be learned by the story of Beauty, from the perils of poaching to the fantastic feats that can be accomplished by those who work together to beat the odds. This is a tale that is relevant and inspiring, and sure to make an impact on your students on multiple levels.
I recently read a post on We are Teachers by Erin Bittman (@ErinEBittman) about how to use stuffed animals to teach STEM concepts. In the article, Bittman gives several examples of how students can practice measuring, weighing, and using other mathematical skills as they compare their stuffed animals. In addition, lessons can be learned about animal adaptations and habitats.
One reason I love these ideas is because I have seen the devotion that younger students have to their stuffed animals. With that kind of interest, students will definitely be engaged. The lesson give multiple opportunities for cross-curricular connections that will make the learning memorable and relevant to the students. Check out Bittman’s article for specific activities, and feel free to add more in the Comment section!
I have a “Stemspirational” Pinterest Board here if you are looking for even more resources.