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…
I think I’ve finally come to terms with my Kickstarter addiction. Basically, I choose an item to “back”, and wait until that product arrives on my doorstep before I find something else to invest in. Most of the items I fund take around a year to get manufactured, so this seems to be a compromise that my bank account can handle.
Last summer, I wrote about my latest Kickstarter purchase, the Turing Tumble. I expected to receive it in January, but a few obstacles were encountered during production that delayed it to the summer. Sadly, this meant that only the few students that attended my robot camp got a chance to test it out, but I think I got a pretty good idea of its impact from them and my 15 year old daughter.
Paul and Alyssa Boswell, who invented this unique game, kept their Kickstarter backers very well-informed during the production process. Packaging is a huge part of getting products like this into the hands of consumers, and there were a lot of bumps along the way. However, I think they got it right in the end. Turing Tumble arrived in a substantial box that has a customized insert for all of the pieces. It will definitely make it easy to store.
Speaking of pieces, there are a lot, including tiny red and blue marbles that are “tumbled” in the games. The quantity of small pieces is a definite reason you should not ignore the age rating of 8 to Adult. I would caution anyone with young children or pets (like mine) who are living vacuum cleaners to set up this game in an area where accidental flying marbles won’t be immediately ingested .
The Turing Tumble is basically a mechanical computer. The different pieces represent what happens in a computer when a program runs. The set comes with a puzzle book that is written in the form of a graphic novel. Players are given 60 different objectives (challenges) throughout the story to complete using the pieces. (You can see an excellent description of the game, along with pics and video, on their Kickstarter page.)
A few of my students, ages 8-10, got to try out the game. Despite the beautiful images by Jiaoyang Li that accompany the story in the puzzle book, the students skipped straight to the challenges. Once they understood the basic structure of the book (each challenge has an objective, a picture of the starting setup, and the available parts you should add), they began to cruise through the scaffolded puzzles. A small crowd gathered around whenever they “started a program” by pressing the lever to release the first marble, and everyone watched in fascination as red and blue marbles fell in patterns determined by the placement of pieces.
My daughter was equally interested in the game. We sat at the dining room table working our way through the puzzles, and I ended up being the gatherer of pieces as she mentally visualized where to place them in order to accomplish each new objective. I was the one who finally stopped that night – mainly because I was feeling a bit grumpy about her solving the puzzles much more quickly than I ever could.
The good news is that anyone can now buy the Turing Tumble – and you don’t have to wait a year to receive it. It is available directly through their website, from Amazon, or Gameology (for New Zealanders and Australians).
Turing Tumble also has an education portion on their website, which includes a practice guide. You can submit your email address if you want to hear from the company when they release their Educator Guide.
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?”
Curiosity Machine is a wonderful resource for educators and parents who are interested in cultivating a love for S.T.E.M./S.T.E.M. as well as making. The site aims to cultivate “curiosity, creativity, and persistence” to help children succeed by offering hands-on engineering challenges.
The challenges are in a vast array of topics from aerospace to food science to satellite systems. One topic that interests me is biomimicry, as my 2nd graders are currently studying the physical adaptations of animals. All of the challenges walk students through the design process, something that has become increasingly recognized as an educational necessity for citizens of the future.
Educators, parents, and students can access the challenges by getting a free membership. Educators are able to create class groups, but students must join first before being invited to a group. If students are under 13 years old, parents must first complete a consent form. However, educators and parents can join themselves to access the materials and use them without the need of student membership.
There are also paid memberships, These include mentors (professional engineers and scientists) on student projects , training for parents and educators, and online support.
To get some great ideas for building, inventing, and problem-solving, visit Curiosity Machine and explore its wealth of resources!
I’ve seen Magnatiles at toy stores and a few of the children’s museums I’ve visited. From what I could tell, they seemed like a great manipulative for building. So, I finally ordered some last year.
A week after I received my set, I happened to be helping out in a Kinder classroom, and realized with a bit of disappointment that Magnatiles seemed to be a standard supply for 5 and 6 year-olds. I worried that my investment would be met with disdain by my older students.
Sure enough, when I pulled out the set, the first thing a student said was, “We used to play with those in Kindergarten!”
But it wasn’t said critically; instead the third grader sounded nostalgic and wistful for the times when building with Magnatiles was an acceptable part of the curriculum.
Since then, my gifted students and Maker Club students have awed me with some of their Magnatile creations. Sometimes I set what seem to be impossible parameters, yet the students still find a way to make my jaw drop.
Lesson learned by me – never think that toys that encourage imagination are too “young” for my students!
For more Makerspace Essentials, check out this post!
Obviously, the site is aimed at girls. However, there is a lot of information that will appeal to both genders. The “Try on a Career” page allows you to click on different types of engineering occupations to learn more. The site also includes interviews with engineers, resources, and information on “How to Get There.”
EngineerGirl is currently sponsoring an essay contest for girls and boys in grades 3-12. Students must propose a new technology that they think would help in at least one of these areas:
Entries are due by 2/1/16. For more information, go to this page.
Every year, my 2nd grade GT students build bridges as part of a unit on Structures. We have K’nex kits, and they enjoy learning about the different types of bridges as well as making their own versions.
This year I really wanted to have them do more than follow the instructions in a kit. When I saw the Sphero Bridge Building Challenge, I knew immediately what we were going to do. I modified the lesson plans a bit, borrowing from some other bridge-building lessons I’ve seen, and created yesterday’s challenge.
I gave teams the task of building a bridge that would span a 14-inch gap between two table edges. It would need to be strong enough to drive a Sphero across, and cost the least amount of “money” possible.
Of course, they didn’t have to spend real money. I put a bunch of materials on one of my tables and gave them a chart listing the costs:
Popsicle Sticks – $100 ea.
Straws – $50 ea.
String – $20 per foot
Paper – $10 per sheet
Tape – $5 per 6 in. (the 1st 6 in. are free)
The students had to plan the materials they would use and then figure out the projected cost. They had to sketch their bridges. Once I approved their plans, they could build.
I was so impressed with their planning! They weighed the Sphero, used string to measure its circumference, did complicated calculations of the costs of materials, and measured straws and popsicle sticks with great care. Great discussions ensued about the best designs for their bridges. A lot of math was done – most of it correctly.
In the end, two groups succeeded in completing and testing their Sphero bridges. Two did not. Their reflections afterward were fun to read. One student wrote, “We got our bridge done in time but we could have gotten it done earlyer if we had not been arguing.” All of the students thought planning was essential to a successful project – except one, who stated, “planing wast of time.” Another commented that the time it takes to complete building something can be delayed by things like, “how prodoctove your workers are.” His teammate was more blunt, “Our bridge did not get finish because some people don’t work.” They learned another reason for building delays can be when you don’t plan for enough materials and you have to wait for more to be delivered ( i.e. when there is a line of students waiting for Mrs. Eichholz to dole out more pieces of tape).
I will definitely add this to my lesson plans again next year. It was one of those experiences where you find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the utter chaos but completely awed by the creativity and engagement of your students. At the end of the activity you feel the contradictory, but welcome, combination of being both drained and energized.