December 29, 2016

STEM Challenges: To Assess or Not to Assess...

Have you been wondering how, or even if, you should assess STEM Challenges?


The main thing I want to put forward today is that we shouldn't assess for sake of assessing or out of habit. Assessments should always be thoughtful and serve a worthy purpose. So, before making any decisions about assessments, ask yourself why are you doing STEM challenges in your classroom? What do you hope to achieve? What are your goals? 


Watch the video version of this post below.


My Goal List (more or less in order of importance): 


- I want students to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

- I want to truly challenge students, so they will encounter frustration and potentially failure. Then, I'll facilitate the analysis & fixing of failure points. Ultimately, I'm hoping these experiences lead students to not to fear failure, become more resilient and adopt a growth mindset.

I want to provide opportunities to demonstrate creativity.

- I will facilitate, not lead, so students know I believe in their ability to solve problems without my help, and they will build confidence and self-reliance.

- I want students to practice working collaboratively, making their ideas heard, and being willing to compromise and/or accept when the group wants to move in a different direction. 

- I want students to make connections to how STEM skills are used to solve real-world problems.

- I want to address Next-Gen Science Standards.


Should we Assess?

Once you have your list, you can determine if you want to assess, and if so, how you want to go about it. My goals would be undermined by assessing the design itself after a single iteration, so I simply don't do that. (More on this in a bit.)

Can I just ask, don't we have enough assessments already?! I'm not eager to add new ones. However, I understand that we want to make sure our students are accountable for participating, and in some cases, we need to justify use of class time for something that looks to the lay person like "fun". 

Regarding participation, I've only encountered two issues that led to issues with participation: 1) group size was set too large (my mistake) and there wasn't a way to actively participate for all in the group. 2) Someone shuts down because their idea wasn't chosen. This is an issue I try to work through with the group as I walk around and facilitate the challenge. Neither issue is helped by assessing the design.


What I Do:


- I look to see that students have made an honest attempt to adhere to the Criteria & Constraints List I provide to guide the challenge. 
- I listen to their discussions as I walk around observing their build time. I probe their thinking with my own questions. I take a few notes on this, but mostly so I remember points to bring up in discussion later, or for anecdotal evidence for conferences and report card comments.
- I take note if there are arguments or anyone is having difficulty working with classmates. I try to facilitate a cease-fire during the challenge (I only intervene if needed; they often work it out on their own) and I use class discussion/meetings to continue to further work on these issues.
- I have all students complete their own design analysis handouts, so I can see how each individual reflects on their designs. This is the only grade I record in the grade book, and it's a completion/effort grade.



Why I NEVER Assess a First Iteration Design:


I know how I was as a student. If I knew the design would be graded, I would play it very safe in order to protect my report card. Secondly, the first iteration is timed. If you were ever going to assess a design itself, it isn't fair to do so on the first iteration. As the teacher, I can't say out of one side of my mouth: Be creative, try new things, take risks, don't worry about failure and ten minutes later, give them a grade that says: J/K...not good enough. Your actions are telling. Make sure your actions support what you say you believe.

I wouldn't give students 10 minutes to write a story and then grade that rough draft as though it were a final draft. I also wouldn't teach a brand new concept in math and grade their practice like a final test. I treat first iterations of STEM challenges similarly. 

Frankly, none of my goals are well-supported by grading the actual design. I don't grade designs beyond their attempt to address everything on the Criteria & Constraints List because I believe all my goals are better met by focusing on the analysis of designs rather than the designs themselves. But if you insist on grading the design anyway, you should only consider it on a second or third iteration with lessons/research time in between. 


Final Thoughts:


I have given this a LOT of thought, but you might disagree with my conclusions; I don't mind that! Your goals may differ from mine, or maybe you have an opinion about supporting my goals through assessment that I haven't considered yet. I'm not so much trying to convince you my way is the right way as I am asking everyone to think through their goals and how they may - or may not - be supported through assessment. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter! We always improve through collaboration, so please share what you think about assessing STEM challenges in the comments or contact me via email (icon at top of the post). I'm all ears!




December 21, 2016

Christmas/Winter STEM Challenge: Frozen Fortress


WINTER - CHRISTMAS STEM Challenge: In Frozen Fortress, students build a fortress wall, aiming for the biggest - and most stable - wall possible! Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.




By now, I hope you're home enjoying a well-earned Winter Break! Maybe you're sipping on some hot chocolate, looking for some engaging ways to get your kids thinking deeply when you return to school. Keep this challenge in your back pocket! Wait for one of those tough days when you and your students need to shake the winter blues, and bust this out! It's a terrific change of pace your kids will love -- even if you choose not to go the messy route!

Premise

In Frozen Fortress, students build a fortress wall, aiming for the biggest - and most stable - wall possible! Size can be measured by # of marshmallows used, area, or volume. Stability will be tested through a "snowball" attack from an opposing team.


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 Frozen Fortress:









Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 for Christmas/Winter. You can find the overview of each on this blog post. This is the fifth of the individual posts. 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!





December 11, 2016

Christmas/Winter STEM Challenge: Snowman Stretch

WINTER - CHRISTMAS STEM Challenge: In Snowman Stretch, students build a snowman designed for maximum height or volume. Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.





You are almost to Winter Break, or maybe you're visiting after break and looking for a way to ease those late winter blues! This challenge is perfect if you're looking for very low-prep and very simple materials. In fact, all you really need is a few sheets of copy paper, tape, and scissors for this one. You can always add more, but you likely already have what you need already!  

Because this is so low prep, it's great for last-minute plans, sub days, indoor recess, etc.

Premise

In Snowman Stretch, students build a snowman, aiming for maximum height or volume. You can use this all winter long, changing out the base materials and tweaking the Criteria & Constraints list to keep it fresh!


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 Snowman Stretch:








Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 for Christmas/Winter. You can find the overview of each on this blog post. This is the second of the individual posts, and one will follow each week through Dec. 22, 2016. 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!





December 10, 2016

The STEM Challenge Cycle

STEM Challenge Cycle shows how to break a STEM Challenge lesson down into parts.


How long should a STEM challenge take?

Is there more to STEM challenges than just designing & building?

How do I plan a STEM challenge? How does it break down into smaller parts?

If you’ve found yourself asking any of the questions above, you’re in the right place! Essentially, you’re wondering how to best approach the lesson/activity flow. Like so many things in life, there’s more than one way to get the job done well, but I’d like to share with you a tried and true approach that worked for me. I have named this approach the STEM Challenge Cycle. Hopefully, it will save you a bit of time in finding/tweaking the flow that works best for you and your kids!

Below, you can find a short, animated video of what I have more-or-less transcribed below.




Overall Timing:

If you follow the same approach, the first iteration of a challenge typically takes 60-90 minutes with presentation, discussion, and reflection time factored in. Follow up lessons, research, and second iterations will occur on subsequent days. 

What follows are the steps of the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every STEM Challenge:

1. Plan

Give your students 5 – 10 minutes to plan what they’re going to design. You can let students think silently for a time, draw their ideas, discuss with their teammates, or use a combination of approaches. Consider mixing it up and not always using the same approach so students gain experience with different methods of planning!

2. Build

Students build their designs using a Criteria & Constraints List as their guide. Depending on the complexity of the challenge, the build phase can last anywhere from 15 – 40 minutes. During this time, the teacher acts as a facilitator by walking the room, checking in with groups and asking questions. Be careful not to be too leading or solve design problems for the groups. It can be a difficult balance to strike, but it becomes easier with practice.

3. Share

Give groups 2-3 minutes to present, explain, and demonstrate their designs. For those not finished, groups share how their designs will look and work when done. Groups can also take questions from their peers.

(Note: Sometimes, especially on tough challenges, I'll pause the build phase and interject a quick gallery walk/share session in the groups. This gives students a moment to walk away, see a few alternate ideas, and it can take the steam out of any building frustration (either due to the complexity of the challenge or of working with certain teammates! If you ever feel you've got a STEM Challenge going south, try this!)

4. Record & Reflect

Allow 10 – 15 minutes for students to record the results and reflect upon the challenge. All of my STEM challenges come with handouts for this purpose.

5. Discuss

Students should hold a broad discussion about the challenge either within their groups or the whole class for about 10 minutes. My challenges come with a set of 8 discussion questions – 7 are standard and one is a different quote to analyze and apply to the challenge at hand.

6. Extend

In the days that follow the first iteration, teach standards-based lessons that apply to the challenge, or have students conduct related research to aid in their next designs.

7. Next Iteration


STEM challenges work well as both introduction and culminating activities to both inspire students to learn about the content you wish to teach and to prove they have learned the content well enough to apply it in their designs. Holding a second or even third iteration is like creating drafts in the writing process: each iteration gives students an opportunity to refine their designs, apply new learning, and take new risks.

December 8, 2016

Christmas/Winter STEM Challenges: Sleigh/Sled & Slope

WINTER - CHRISTMAS STEM Challenge: In Sleigh/Sled & Slope, students create a ramp and sled designed to transport cargo safely and travel the maximum distance. Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.




You are almost to Winter Break! Excitement is in the air, but you still want to be somewhat responsible. After all, there really isn't any instructional time you can afford to waste. And there's the dilemma: how can you have fun and enjoy the holidays without wasting instructional time? STEM Challenges ... the answer is always STEM Challenges! :) 

Premise

In Sleigh/Sled & Slope, students create a ramp and sled designed to transport cargo safely and travel the maximum distance. This one comes with 2 versions: winter and Christmas, so if your school says Christmas activities are a no-no, I've got you covered.


Where Can I Find Out More?

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







Are There Other Challenges Like This?

Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 for Christmas/Winter. You can find the overview of each on this blog post. This is the second of the individual posts, and one will follow each week through Dec. 22, 2016. 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!





December 2, 2016

November Recap




I know you are going to miss some of the things going on in my blog, YouTube channel and TpT store. Who has the time to keep up with their own lives, let alone someone else's whole deal?!  Hopefully, these monthly updates will make it easier to catch all the updates and teaching tidbits to make your teaching life that much better! (Click: October Recap to see last month's updates.)

VIDEO ON TPT

TpT launched video. While it's still in beta, I've been loading the same library I have available on YouTube to TpT. I'll continue to use both YouTube and TpT to host my libraries, so you can access them in whichever place you prefer!

Click here for the winter/Christmas STEM challenge walk-through playlist.

Click here to see my video library on TpT.


PRODUCT UPDATES

I completed the final winter/Christmas update: Sleigh & Slope or Sled & Slope, depending on the version you choose. You are definitely going to want to re-download this if you own it or the Winter/Christmas 5-in-1 bundle, because  I added a lot of new goodies! You'll find new primary response pages with expanded room for response, new cross-curricular extension ideas and handouts, and more!



BLOG POSTS AND GUEST POSTS










LIFE

I was able to travel for Thanksgiving and met my 7-month-old niece, Maddy, for the first time. She is crazy strong, full of energy, and amazingly content. She is adorable and sweet and I can't get enough of her ridiculous, halting giggle!

COMING IN DECEMBER

I'll be posting video walk-throughs for the remaining winter/Christmas challenges on YouTube and TpT. I'm also hoping/planning to final finish at least one resource for the Speak, Listen, Draw series. I'm also planning to take a little time off to enjoy the holidays.


WHAT ELSE?

If you want to receive notifications of these monthly recaps, you can follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers. I send a monthly note linking back to this post so all the links are easy to find (see the image below)! You can also follow this blog.