February 22, 2017

St. Patrick's Day STEM Challenge: Leprechaun Lockdown


This STEM challenge is a St. Patty's classic almost as old as time, so I've added a twist and a few extensions to keep it fresh!  

St. Patrick's Day STEM Challenge: In Leprechaun Lockdown, students create a leprechaun trap -- with a twist! Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.



Premise

Working against a criteria & constraints list, and armed with a Leprechaun Lore List, students create a design to lure and safely trap & contain a leprechaun!

Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Leprechaun Lockdown:








Are There Other Challenges Like This?



Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 challenges for St. Pat's! You can find the overview of each on this blog post. These challenges will all post by March 12, 2017. Each challenge will be linked to the post linked above, so be sure to check back weekly! 

Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram if you want to give me a smile this holiday season!

You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!





February 11, 2017

Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: Cards in the Clouds

Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: In Cards in the Clouds, students create the tallest towers possible from their Valentine's Day cards or from kindness/compliment cards they create themselves! Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.







Let's face it, most kids immediately trash their Valentine's Day cards once they strip them of candy and stickers. Why not put those cards to good use before they get recycled?  


Maybe you work with older students who don't do a card exchange.  In this case, you can encourage a week of kindnesses and compliments that will become the building blocks of the challenge.  Students will transcribe their not-entirely-random acts of kindness and compliments on index cards and use those to build their towers of love!



Premise:

In Cards in the Clouds, students create the tallest towers possible from their Valentine's Day cards or from kindness/compliment cards they create themselves!


Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Cards in the Clouds:










Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I have five Valentine's Day STEM Challenges ready to go! You can find an overview of each on this blog post.  Each individual challenge will get its own video walk through and blog post starting with Cupid's Quiver on January 19, 2017 and ending with Cards in the Clouds on February 12 (all but the last will post on Thursdays).


You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!








3 Critical Factors for Quality STEM Challenges

Have you been considering trying STEM Challenges with your class, but you're not sure where to start? You want to be sure you're using your limited instructional minutes well, but maybe you're not convinced STEM Challenges fit the bill.

There's really no reason to be intimidated, but you're right to seek out some information! Like so many things in teaching, the educational value you can get out of these activities varies widely based on a few factors! Your students having fun is pretty much a given, but a little bit of preparation goes a long way to making sure your students are engaged in active problem-solving and deep critical thinking, too!


In this post, I'm sharing the top 3 things to consider when preparing to conduct a top-notch STEM Challenge in your classroom. I've also thrown in a freebie and a few videos to help you on your way!



3 Critical Factors for Quality STEM Challenges

1) Is the activity you selected truly a STEM Challenge or closer to a "craftivity"?

Let me first say, I'm not throwing shade at craftivities; they have their place, but the goals of a STEM Challenge and craftivity are worlds apart. With STEM Challenges, we aim to provoke and engage students' problem-solving skills with open-ended (read: not prescriptive) challenges. Student designs should aim to solve the same problem, but their solutions will vary from those of their peers.

A quality STEM Challenge should go beyond asking students, "Can you build a bridge?" The best way I've found to give just the right amount of structure, without being too directive, is through a criteria & constraints list. 

Using bridge-building as an example, you want to give students a specific goal through the challenge criteria; have them build bridges for maximum capacity, length, strength, height, etc. 

In addition, you'll want to throw in some constraints to fire up their problem-solving skills. I always start by constraining the materials & time for the challenge. Then, depending on the age group and the follow-up lessons I have planned, I'll throw in additional constraints specific to the challenge at hand. Sometimes that means constraining for size, certain 3D solids, angles, etc.  

For more on the differentiating magic of criteria & constraints lists, watch the short video below:




2) What are you doing during the challenge?

The hardest part of a STEM Challenge for the teacher is learning how to step back. Letting students struggle and work through problems without your "help" can be difficult to witness, especially if they're asking for it. Your role here is to facilitate, not to direct or give solutions to their problems. If you want students to develop self reliance and resilience -- two worthy goals quality STEM Challenges help fortify -- understand that you aren't helping by helping. The hardest part is stepping back, but the best part of a STEM Challenge is watching your students experience joy, pride, and develop confidence when they succeed without your help.   

So if students ask, "What are the coffee filters for?" tell them, "Whatever you want them to be for, or nothing at all; it's up to you what you use, how much you use, and how you use it."  And if students ask you how to fix a design problem, ask them questions in return to help them help themselves like: What is the problem? What are you trying to do? What have you tried? What haven't you tried? 


For more on facilitating STEM Challenges, watch the videos below:



3) What is your follow-up / follow-through after the challenge is over?

If all you do is build something and move on, you're missing out on all that beautiful thinking that goes on at the upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy! Don't miss out! Be sure you schedule time for students to discuss, reflect, and analyze on the day of the building, whenever possible.  Be warned, it can be hard to tear yourself away from these meaningful conversations and proceed with your regularly scheduled day, but it's a first-class problem to have.  

On subsequent days, try extending with cross-curricular lessons. You'll also want to give students a chance to apply new learnings in a second iteration. I know that's not always possible due to time constraints, but trust me on this; if you've never tried doing a second iteration of a challenge, you've got to make time for it on your next challenge!  Students see their progress as they work to improve their original designs -- much as they do between drafts of writing -- and it goes a long way toward building those character traits we love: growth mindset, perseverance, resilience, and confidence!  

Don't take my word for it. A teacher recently left this feedback (that totally made my day) for my Halloween STEM Challenge Bundle:

"I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS!!! MY KIDS ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS!! I love that it challenged kids in a fun way and allowed kids that may not be "worksheet smart" the opportunity to shine with their tactile design skills! My kids begged me to do it again each week - that same activity because they thought of a new way to improve their design. It was a fun teaching moment where I didn't feel like the teacher on the Charlie Brown cartoons - lecturing all day. Thanks for creating these - on to find next month's!"


Find out more about the steps of the STEM Challenge Cycle in the video below:



Final Thoughts

Don't wait to become an expert to try it out! My master's degree is in design-based learning, and I still learn something new every time I run a challenge! Practice is the best way for you to become a better facilitator and your students better engineers!  

For students, STEM Challenges are almost always lots of fun, but sometimes designs will fail and students can become frustrated. Embrace the teachable moments if/when this happens! What seems like bad news truly isn't, because it gives you the opportunity to explore finding and fixing design flaws and thinking scientifically in general! Welcome the discomfort that comes with an initial failure, for you and your students can't grow without it!


Find out more about seizing those opportunities in the video below:



Getting Started Freebie

Now that you have an idea of what you're looking for, you might want to dive a little deeper. The freebie linked below comes with links to my STEM Challenge how-to video series, an editable request-for-materials parent letter, and links to my STEM Challenge Year-Round library (including the Floating Flowers STEM Challenge freebie). Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I can talk about this stuff all day long! :) 



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3 Critical Factors for Quality STEM Challenges: Top 3 things you can do to get the most educational value from STEM Challenges. Freebie & videos included.


February 7, 2017

Flower Frenzy STEM Challenge


 Spring, Easter, or Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: In Flower Frenzy, students create a bouquet of flowers with unique attributes within four challenges! Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.




The Flower Frenzy challenge is actually four challenges in one and works well for spring, Valentine's Day, Easter, or Mother's Day! 

Premise

In Flower Frenzy, students create a bouquet of flowers with unique attributes within four mini challenges: Floating Flowers, Functional Flowers, Fluff & Flatten Flowers, and Firmly Fixed Flowers. (If alliteration is a problem, I need to join a 12-step recovery program!)

You can set this challenge up in groups, in centers, or with partners over a period of weeks or days. 

Where Can I Find Out More?


As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Flower Frenzy:








Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I have five Valentine's Day STEM Challenges ready to go! You can find an overview of each on this blog post.  Each individual challenge will get its own video walk through and blog post starting with Cupid's Quiver on January 19, 2017 and ending with Cards in the Clouds on February 12 (all but the last will post on Thursdays).


You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!








February 1, 2017

Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: Candy / Confection Container


Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: In Candy/Confection Container, students create a container that keeps its contents secure and is small, stackable, and eye-catching! Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.



This challenge is simple on the outside, but oh so sweet on the inside! The best part is that you can add in so many math activities to extend. Just think of all the math that goes into creating products for retail: price, margin, tax, shipping & delivery costs, fitting items on shelves...The list goes on and on, so you can get as deep in the weeds as you like!

Premise

In Candy/Confection Container, students create a container that keeps its contents secure and is small, stackable, and eye-catching!


Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Candy/Confection Container:








Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I have five Valentine's Day STEM Challenges ready to go! You can find an overview of each on this blog post.  Each individual challenge will get its own video walk through and blog post starting with Cupid's Quiver on January 19, 2017 and ending with Cards in the Clouds on February 12 (all but the last will post on Thursdays).


You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!








January 25, 2017

Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: "Heavy" Hearts

Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: In "Heavy" Hearts, students fill an outer heart with inner hearts based on certain criteria & constraints in order to design the “heaviest” heart. Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.





Do you remember Frosted Forest? "Heavy" Hearts shares a few similarities; consider them cousins! This challenge is heavy on math and has a very wide range of difficulty level options available. One of the best parts -- you probably already have all the materials you need at your fingertips!

Premise

In "Heavy" Hearts, students fill an outer heart with inner hearts they create in three unique size/color groups. Each heart is given point values based on the criteria & constraints and measurement standards set by the teacher. Students are aiming to find the configuration that creates the "heaviest" heart.

Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about "Heavy" Hearts:







Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I have five Valentine's Day STEM Challenges ready to go! You can find an overview of each on this blog post.  Each individual challenge will get its own video walk through and blog post starting with Cupid's Quiver on January 19, 2017 and ending with Cards in the Clouds on February 12 (all but the last will post on Thursdays).


You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!