April 25, 2017

Summer STEM Challenge: Pick & Pack

My father was a master at packing the car for a road trip. It was seriously impressive. I created a 2-D version of this perennial 3-D real-life challenge as a tribute to his awesome skills!


Summer STEM Challenge: In Pick & Pack, students arrange items with different point values into pre-defined car trunk spaces. They can’t have it all, though! They’ll use a criteria & constraints list to bring all of what they need and some of what they want, as they aim for the highest point value! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.



Premise


In this 2-D simulation of a 3-D task, students arrange items with different point values into pre-defined car trunk spaces. They can’t have it all, though! They’ll use a criteria & constraints list to bring all of what they need and some of what they want, as they aim for the highest point value. 

This challenge can be super-simple, but also allows you to add layers of complexity to challenge students of all ages.

You'll need trunk templates & summer items to pack.



Where Can I Find Out More?

If you're familiar with my work, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! 


Check out the video below to see Pick & Pack in action:









Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 challenges for summer/the end of the school year! You can find the overview of each on this blog post. Each challenge is described in the post linked above, so be sure to check it out! 

Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.




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


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Summer STEM Challenge: In Pick & Pack, students arrange items with different point values into pre-defined car trunk spaces. They can’t have it all, though! They’ll use a criteria & constraints list to bring all of what they need and some of what they want, as they aim for the highest point value! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.



April 20, 2017

Summer STEM Challenge: Drippin' Dash

You are almost there. The end of the school year is calling to you like a siren song. The problem is your students hear it too. You don't want to waste your instructional time with "fun", but keeping students engaged as summer approaches is no easy feat. 

Summer STEM challenges are the perfect answer. STEM challenges keep students engaged in collaborative, problem-solving, brain-busting fun! I challenge you to find a better use of class time! 

Summer STEM Challenge: In Drippin' Dash, students design a water scoop purpose-built for stability and to hold max volume! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.



Premise

Working against a criteria & constraints list, students design a water scoop purpose-built for stability and to hold max volume! They'll test the stability in the Dripping' Dash Relay Race!

Have students design individually or in partners, and group them up into teams for the race!




Where Can I Find Out More?

If you're familiar with my work, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! 


Check out the video below to see Drippin' Dash in action:








Are There Other Challenges Like This?



Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 challenges for summer/the end of the school year! You can find the overview of each on this blog post. Each challenge is described in the post linked above, so be sure to check it out! 

Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.


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


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Summer STEM Challenge: In Drippin' Dash, students design a water scoop purpose-built for stability and to hold max volume! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.




April 8, 2017

Apollo 13: The Ultimate STEM Challenge

As I look back on my life, there were several seminal moments that lead to me becoming completely obsessed with the power of STEM Challenges. We're nearing the 47th anniversary of one of those moments. While I wasn't actually alive for the Apollo 13 mission (launched April 11, 1970), the 1995 movie that dramatized it made an impact that would inform the kind of teacher I became.

The Apollo 13 mission shows how seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with scientific reasoning and problem solving. Specifically, the carbon dioxide filter fix shows why STEM Challenges are so much more than just "fun."

The Apollo 13 mission showed how seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with scientific reasoning and problem solving. Specifically, the carbon dioxide filter fix shows why STEM Challenges are so much more than just "fun."


I didn't really know anything about the mission before the movie, so it left a huge impression on me -- all the problems the crew encountered, all the odds stacked against them at every turn ... problem after problem, yet the crew returned home safely on April 17, 1970, due to the power of scientific reasoning and resilient, determined action! Seriously, you can say all you want for survival instinct, but I think a lot of people would have cracked under the pressure.

It's been over twenty years since the film came out, but if you've seen the movie, you already know the scene I'm going to discuss. It should come as no surprise because it was the ultimate, extremely high-stakes, STEM Challenge! 

Houston, We Have a Problem

Carbon dioxide was reaching dangerous levels in the cabin. The crew had filters, but they were for another part of the ship and were the wrong shape. Thus, NASA engineers were presented with one of the most dramatic STEM Challenges ever.


The Challenge:





The Design:




It Works!




Incredible! This scene gives me chills every time. Isn't it awesome -- in the truest sense of the word -- that this group of engineers saved the lives of the crew with their design?! Imagine the pressure they must have felt, crunched for time and with such limited materials to make it work! But they didn't give up. They made it work! 

This story is so inspiring to share with students! Sure, most STEM Challenges don't require one to save lives in a uber-dramatic fashion, yet practicing thinking creatively and flexibly to solve problems ultimately prepares you for such unlikely "impossible" situations. 

STEM Challenges are fun, but they are so much more than that! The story of the Apollo 13 mission illustrates that point perfectly, don't you think?


P.S. 

Don't forget, we're also coming up on Earth Day, so don't forget to plan a STEM Challenge to mark the day! :)



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The Apollo 13 mission showed how seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with scientific reasoning and problem solving. Specifically, the carbon dioxide filter fix shows why STEM Challenges are so much more than just "fun."


Check Out These Posts from Other Teacher Bloggers:









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The Apollo 13 mission showed how seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with scientific reasoning and problem solving. Specifically, the carbon dioxide filter fix shows why STEM Challenges are so much more than just "fun."

April 6, 2017

Spring / Easter STEM Challenge: Bean Bind

Bean Bind is a bean-sorting STEM Challenge. While it ties in perfectly with Easter, it can really be used any time of the year!  

Spring or Easter STEM Challenge: In Bean Bind, students build a device to sort the jelly beans from other beans. Includes modifications for grades 2-8.



Premise

Working against a criteria & constraints list, students design a way to sort jelly beans from other types of beans. You can tell younger students the equipment at the bean factory malfunctioned, and they need to help the Easter Bunny sort it out! For older students, or if you don't celebrate Easter, simply replace the Easter Bunny with the factory manager.

You can do this as an individual, partner, or group challenge (individual or partners recommended).




Where Can I Find Out More?

If you're familiar with me, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! 


Check out the video below to see Bean Bind in action:








Are There Other Challenges Like This?



Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 challenges for Easter & spring (with plans for a few more coming soon)! You can find the overview of each on this blog post. Each challenge is described in the post linked above, so be sure to check it out! 

Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.



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


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Spring or Easter STEM Challenge: In Bean Bind, students build a device to sort the jelly beans from other beans. Includes modifications for grades 2-8.




April 4, 2017

Spring / Easter STEM Challenge: Carrot Carriage

Carrot Carriage is a fan favorite STEM Challenge! Your students will use an unlikely set of materials to create a sweet, new ride for the Easter Bunny! (Read on for ways around the Easter connection!)


Spring or Easter STEM Challenge: In Carrot Carriage, students design a vehicle made primarily of carrots for the Easter Bunny. If you don't celebrate Easter, not to worry! Carrot Carriage can be for Cinderella (imagine Fairy Godmother ran out of pumpkins), or for anyone else who might need a ride! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.

Premise

Working against a criteria & constraints list, students design a vehicle made primarily of carrots for the Easter Bunny. If you don't celebrate Easter, not to worry! Carrot Carriage can be for Cinderella (imagine Fairy Godmother ran out of pumpkins), or for anyone else who might need a ride!

You can do this as an individual, partner, or group challenge (partners or groups are recommended).


Not pictured: straws, ramp, ruler

Where Can I Find Out More?

If you're familiar with me, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! 


Check out the video below to see Carrot Carriage in action:







Are There Other Challenges Like This?



Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 challenges for Easter & spring (with plans for a few more coming soon)! You can find the overview of each on this blog post. These challenges will all post by April 9, 2017. Each challenge will be linked to the post linked above, so be sure to check back! 

Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.


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


PIN ME


Spring or Easter STEM Challenge: In Carrot Carriage, students design a vehicle made primarily of carrots for the Easter Bunny. If you don't celebrate Easter, not to worry! Carrot Carriage can be for Cinderella (imagine Fairy Godmother ran out of pumpkins), or for anyone else who might need a ride! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.

April 2, 2017

How I Became a STEM Challenge Fanatic

I started my career teaching 5th grade in 2000. Any classroom teacher will tell you that first year is a killer. Hanging on for dear life, I decided not to pursue a master's degree, or in fact any hobbies or social life outside of teaching; there simply wasn't time.

Fast-forward to 2008: Since I kept coming back to the classroom each fall, it seemed silly to do it for less pay than I had to, so I decided to look for a master's program. My peers suggested I choose something online and just "get it out of the way," but I couldn't commit to what appeared to be a miserable slog. Then I discovered Design-Based Learning (DBL).

Blog post describes how this teacher went from a master's in Design-Based Learning to STEM Challenge Fanatic


While I had always gravitated to hands-on engaging activities, this master's program completely changed my approach to teaching. In short, all the members of this K-12 cohort of teachers created a year-long curriculum in which a series of interrelated design challenges served as the context for cross-curricular, standards-based lessons that followed. (I know that's a bit of a mouthful!)

Translation: I created the Planetopia project. The premise was that in the year 2035, Earth had run out of room. The students were tasked to find a new, Earth-like planet (Planetopia) to colonize. in which my students completed challenges to create landforms, cities, creatures, plants, modes of transportation, etc. over the course of the school year. (I used this premise as the basis for my Earth Day STEM Challenge.)

What you see in the image below on the table is my second-grade class's Planetopia land parcels. On the black bulletin board are some of their creatures and work related to the challenges. The post-it note posters above show one poster for every challenge and the subjects and standards-based lessons connected to each challenge.

Kerry Tracy's 2nd Grade Class Planetopia Design-Based Learning Project
Some may not see the beauty in these basic materials designs, but the students saw Planetopia: a planet of their design that made them excited to come to school every day to learn, plan, and create their perfect planet!

Why I (Still) Love DBL

There are many reasons I loved using DBL in with my classes. From a planning perspective, the framework of the challenges could be used in any grade level by using the content standards as inspiration to tweak the challenge criteria. I did the Planetopia project with 2nd, 5th, and 6th grade classes. Teachers in my cohort created similar frameworks for K - 12. 

My students loved the challenges and it made them innately more interested in the content I needed to teach when I could relate the lessons back to something they built with their hands. 

But what it really boiled down to is DBL helped me find the joy in teaching again. Facilitating these challenges, seeing the students light up as they solved their own problems, giving students who weren't successful with traditional paper/pencil tasks a stage to shine upon and impress their peers...nothing can really compare to that in my book.


From DBL to STEM Challenges

DBL can be a little intimidating because it involves making a year-long, synced curriculum; most classroom teachers don't have time for that! STEM Challenges offer many of the same benefits of DBL in bite-size pieces. (Read my guest post for more on the benefits of STEM Challenges.) While you lose some of the benefits you get from the continuity and inter-connected nature of DBL, you gain some flexibility and practicality with STEM Challenges, opening you up to more challenge possibilities and, of course, saving some prep time. Score!

The STEM challenges I create are informed by my study of DBL, in an attempt to get as much bang for the instructional buck as possible! For example, even though they are STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) challenges, you'll almost always find activities/lessons for additional subject areas in my extension suggestions; I can't help myself. 

I also stray from the traditional engineering design process, in favor of a DBL tenet: students design and build BEFORE they research. This is crucial for a couple of reasons. If they build first, the result is more innovative designs, and it gives students a reason to want to research and do follow-up lessons. They want to know how to make their designs even better -- or why their designs didn't work -- so they are innately more interested in the content. 

On the flip-side, when you have students research first, their designs tend to replicate what they have seen. And since the students will all have seen the same, or at least similar, images, all the class designs are more likely to turn out stamped from that cookie-cutter. 

I choose the DBL approach: First iteration of the challenge; followed by lessons and research; followed by a second iteration or modification of the first design. I know you won't always have time to do it this way, but definitely try to make it happen as often as possible. You won't be sorry!


STEM Challenges: Get your Groove Back

If you've been feeling like you've lost your inspiration, STEM Challenges might help you get your groove back! It helped me remember why I wanted to teach and what kind of teacher I wanted to be. 

I have been so heartened and encouraged by the feedback I have been seeing from teachers experiencing the same influx of joy into their classrooms. 

My all-time favorite feedback on a STEM challenge resource says it best:

Feedback from the Halloween STEM Challenge Bundle

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Blog post describes how this teacher went from a master's in Design-Based Learning to STEM Challenge Fanatic







Earth Day STEM Challenge: New Earth City

Maybe Rome wasn't built in a day, but New Earth City can be! This challenge is perfect for Earth Day, but it can really be used any time of the year. Fun fact: my master’s degree is in design-based learning, which shares many similarities with the engineering design process. This city-building challenge was my gateway drug into the STEM Challenge world. (More on that can be found here.) 


Let’s get into New Earth City!


The New Earth City STEM Challenge is perfect for Earth Day, but can be done any time of the year! Modifications included for grades 2 - 8.




Premise

It is the year 2035, and Earth has become overcrowded. The students are part of a pioneering crew tasked with setting up the first city (New Earth City) on Planetopia, a fictional name for a recently discovered Earth-like planet in a distant solar system. Part of the mission is to set up the city to prevent or address the problems we are having on Earth so we don’t repeat our errors on our new home planet. This challenge is best done in teams or partners due to time and space constraints.

Video Walk-Through

This challenge can be pretty intense, or you can keep it simple. The easiest way for me to share the possibilities is to explain it in person. The second best option is to share it with you in video format! See below for all the info. you need.     





Materials

One thing I always like to stress is that the suggested materials are often quite flexible. You can substitute, add, modify however you like. Basically, I like to provide a mix of mostly malleable materials with a few things for support (craft sticks, thicker cardboard, even straws). For a challenge like this, I often request students bring in "clean trash" for design materials. We usually get cardboard tubes, bottle lids, and a host of other oddities that make for some interesting cities! 

One thing you will need for this challenge is pieces of cardboard or foam board to act as the parcels of land on which to build New Earth City. I recommend at least 12 in. 12 in. For younger students, larger boards are easier to work with. If you have the space for it, I'd get large foam boards at The Dollar Tree and cut them in half. 


Criteria & Constraints

City planning can be intense! Urban planning is an entire field, after all. Thankfully, you have all the power to control how intense you want the challenge to be for your kids. 

The Criteria & Constraints List is key to any challenge. It's the framework around what students must build and how. This is how we can adjust expectations and use a challenge for really any grade level we choose. You can find two examples from the resource with different levels of difficulty below. 

The one on the left would be good for 2nd - 4th, and the one on the right works for 5th - 8th. You can add or delete items to tailor the challenge for your students.



For this challenge, I sometimes let the students help me make the list (this was how we did it in my master's program), asking, "What types of things will we need in our new city to survive?" After a few minutes, whatever I wanted on the list that they haven't suggested, I simply add. Always keep in mind the types of extension activities and lessons you want to tie in. If you want to work on surface area of various solids, require students have at least one of each 3D solid you want them to measure/calculate.

Measure Results

Students will measure and record their building sites. Then they'll evaluate themselves check themselves against the Criteria & Constraints List.

Extend

Extend with measurement and geometry activities based on distances from various points on student city designs, surface area & volume of buildings and structures, etc.  You could have students research what is currently known about other Earth-like planets in the universe, and, of course, research what we can do to help our current planet survive for generations to come! 

Another fun idea is to play up the pioneer angle, and have students keep journals and write letters home to "Old Earth" about their lives in New Earth City. (More ideas will be shared in the video and even more are in the resource.)

New to STEM Challenges?

If you're wondering how to break down this, or any, STEM Challenge lesson in your classroom, check out The STEM Challenge Cycle.

The Resource

You can find the resource in my TpT store by clicking the cover below. Don't forget to come back on April 13 to see the video walk-through, and feel free to leave any questions in the comments below. 



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The New Earth City STEM Challenge is perfect for Earth Day, but can be done any time of the year! Modifications included for grades 2 - 8.