Category Archives: Science

Year of Engineering

Whether you call it STEM, STEAM, or STREAM, engineering is part of each of those acronyms.  In an incredible leap that still surprises me, I found myself teaching Principle of Engineering to students in 8th-10th grades this year.  (I taught elementary school for 27 years before this, for those of you new to the blog.)

After nearly falling asleep reading the course curriculum, I started to hunt for ideas.  There is no textbook; this is all project-based learning.  And just because the subject was new to me didn’t mean that I had to read from boring PowerPoints all year.

During my quest for ideas I discovered a UK site for STEM Learning.  Even more helpful for my specific interests, is the “Year of Engineering” portion of the site, which offers an incredible number of free resources for all grade levels.

Of course, I immediately dove into the secondary resources.  From the initial page, you can narrow down your engineering interest to a particular subject by clicking on a “Choose Your Inspiration” button – which perfectly describes the effect the enormous number of ideas had on me.  My favorite rabbit hole to leap into is the “Engineering in Design and Technology” one, which offers subcategories like “Sports Engineering” and “Humanitarian Engineering.”

You will need to register for a free account if you are interested in downloading any of the lesson plans or activities on the site.  Just give yourself plenty of time to explore each time you visit…

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CC image from Pixabay
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Question Sorts

My engineering classes have been working on helping to design the new playground at Advanced Learning Academy.  On Thursday, the architect, landscape architect, and district Director of Constructor visited the students to explain the process and answer questions.

I wanted to make sure there were some high level questions in there, so I decided to use the “Question Sorts” Visible Thinking Routine from Harvard’s Project Zero. (You can see another post I’ve done about Visible Thinking Routines here.)

Sonya Terborg has a great blog post about questioning here, and I love the quadrant example she gives.

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from Sonya Terborg

My original plan was to use the image in a Padlet.  However, as seems to be the case too often recently, our internet has been wonky.  So, I went somewhat “old school” and had the students use Post-Its on our whiteboard.

I changed the wording a bit, and flipped the labels on the y axis so that the more they cared about the answer to the question, the higher up it would be on the axis.

Although the concept appeared to be difficult for the class at first, they soon got the idea.  As always, some questions were “deeper” than others.  “What is the budget?” was asked more than once, but, “What is your idea of a playground of the future?” got high marks from the students.

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(Some of the PostIts fell off before I took the picture.)

The guests wanted to project a presentation, so they were able to pull PostIts off the board as they answered each question while their slides were on the screen.  It turned out that our primitive method of using the whiteboard was a good call after all!

 

Engineering Design Process Lessons from Design Squad

I’ve been combing the internet for projects to do with my engineering students (grades 8-10), and ran across these lessons from Design Squad.  They don’t quite fit my curriculum, but I thought I would share them since I know a lot of my colleagues are working on incorporating STEAM into the curriculum.  If you look on the left side of the page, you will see other lessons and activities that you may be able to use in areas that range from electricity to structures.

I have included Design Squad in posts since 2013, but I don’t think I have mentioned this particular page before.  Even if I have, it bears repeating!  This site offers a lot of creative challenges and videos that are great for any STEAM classroom.  And it’s not just for elementary students.  I used one of their videos today with my secondary students on isometric drawing, and it was the perfect introduction to a brand new topic for them.  After you browse the site, click here to visit their YouTube channel, chock full of videos on all sorts of design topics.

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Living on the Edge – of a Volcano

Long ago – during the first semester – my GT 3rd graders decided that they wanted to do their Genius Hour project on volcanoes.  (My 3rd grade class is only 3 students this year, so they are doing their project together.)  To narrow things down, we decided to learn more about shield volcanoes.  Specifically, Kilauea.

You can probably see where this is going.  After months of research, writing a script for a newscast, dealing with many device issues and lost footage, we finally had everything together.

Then Kilauea erupted.

Actually, of course, Kilauea has been erupting.  For years.  But in the last few weeks it has been more insistent on being noticed.  A neighborhood needed to be evacuated because lava flowed into it, and the toxic fumes aren’t too hospitable either.  In addition, more violent eruptions may happen in the near future.

Our video needed to be rewritten and re-filmed.  Again.  The students, of course, wanted to keep all of their “humorous” sections.  I wanted to make sure it didn’t look like we were making light of a serious situation that has caused Hawaii’s governor to declare a State of Emergency.

I think we balanced things out.

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Click here to see our Kilauea video!

 

OK Go Sandbox

If you have ever seen a music video by “OK Go,” then you cannot fail to be in awe of the band’s incredible creativity.  In every production, you can tell that they spent a lot of time on brainstorming, working hard, and having fun.  Even more notable, though, is how much math and science must be used to create these complex feats of artistic expression.

In cooperation with the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas (seriously wish this had been a thing at my university!), OK Go has designed a new website, the OK Go Sandbox, that provides resources for educators to use with students for STEAM activities based on a few of their music videos.

Each of the music videos currently featured on the site has a link to educational materials that include free downloads, challenges for the students, additional videos, and suggested activities.  From making flipbooks to experimenting with sounds made by different “found” instruments, this resource explores the astonishing potential of merging science with art.  Some of the challenges can be used with the Google Science Journal (a free app available for both Android and iOS).

It looks like this is a dynamic project that is encouraging advice from educators, so be sure to visit this page for more information on how to get involved.

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OK Go Sandbox

National Engineers Week

February 18-24th is National Engineers Week here in the States.  Since my 2nd graders have been studying bridges, we did an activity from the Building Big website, which is still one of my favorite resources when we talk basics about man-made structures.  Yesterday’s activity was one I had never tried with a class before, the Suspension Bridge activity.  Despite prepping everything ahead of time, I went through my normal roller coaster of emotions during the lesson.

Fortunately, all groups eventually got their bridges built, and they were fascinated with the weight the suspension bridges could carry compared to the beam bridges.  I would definitely do this activity again for the wow factor!

For more resources to teach your students about engineering, you can head on over to Discovere.org.  I’ve also embedded an awesome video from the National Science Foundation called, “What is Engineering?”

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More Bridges

My 2nd graders study structures, and our 2nd semester is spent on man-made structures.  We start with bridges, and I usually challenge the students to make bridges out of different types of materials.  Even though the activities always seem to engage them, I felt like I wasn’t quite making the lessons meaningful.

This year, I started simple by showing the students a BrainPop video about bridges and using our Depth and Complexity mats to discuss the video.  This week, we reviewed a lot of the Language of the Discipline (they particularly like the word, “abutment,” – for obvious reasons), and they remembered quite a few from the video.  Then I challenged them to do this activity.  The students were good at connecting that their attempts at paper bridges were beam bridges, but they were definitely getting frustrated after about 10 minutes of trying and failing.

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At this point, I would usually have shown them the solution on the teacher notes.  But this time I asked them to pause while we looked at the shapes interactive on the Building Big site.  After the students realized that triangles are the strongest shape, I asked them to apply that knowledge to some new attempts at the paper bridge challenge.  I was surprised to see some of the creative options they developed.

I finally did show them the solution on the teacher guide, and they were quick to understand and explain why the change in the paper’s shape made it suddenly stronger, Then they came up with variations and improvements.

This was the first time I really felt like the students weren’t just having fun building bridges, but were actually stepping through learning while developing innovative ideas at the same time.  They were explaining how the shapes they tried changed the force on the bridge, as well as how placing the load could affect the outcome.

As I watch many people on Twitter share “STEM” building challenges, I wonder how many, like my first attempts at bridge building lessons, might be more fun than educational.  Though fun is great, I feel better now that the students have found a way to make a “bridge” between their enjoyment and their learning.