I’ve had a lot of questions in the last few months about STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) in the classroom. Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Sara Stringer, has a great article that will help demystify this topic:
STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and covers an immense range of subject areas. Across the nation, STEM is of the greatest significance due to the function these particular topic areas perform along with the extraordinary influence they possess at many levels of society.
Scientific research thrives off the exploration of chemistry and biology, in addition to climatic initiatives such as sustainable and nuclear power. It is hard to come across an area of contemporary society not connected to these themes in some way.
Labs Lost to Educational Rigidity
Businesses such as Pacific BioStorage specialize in providing support to pharmaceutical companies, universities, federal research labs, and hospitals across the nation. The niche has grown in response to the needs of the laboratory industry.
Redefining the lab tasks that high schoolers conduct can be a significantly helpful response to the lack of interest in science in some schools. Revamping lab work can raise the affinity for scientific investigation and learning.
High school lab studies typically concentrate on solely the scientific method. A scientific, logical progression of procedures brings the student to the findings and engages them. Illustrating the complexities and logistics of science and research is a stronger approach to bringing students into the scientific community.
Given that a great many of these STEM business sectors link themselves to our federal and state governments to some degree, it is safe to assert that our country depends on them to keep running. Schools across the nation are making an effort to develop a more robust curriculum based in these subject areas.
Convincing students–and teachers–of the importance of keyboarding can be daunting. Youngers find it painful (trying to find those 26 alphabet keys) and olders think their hunt-and-peck approach is just fine. Explaining why keyboarding is critical to their long-range goals is often an exercise in futility if they haven’t yet experienced it authentically so I’ve resorted to showing–let them see for themselves why they want to become fast and accurate typists. To do this, I rely on a system they already know (or will be learning): the Scientific Method.
Let me stop here and point out that there are many versions of the scientific method. Use the one popular at your school. The upcoming steps easily adapt to the pedagogy your science teacher recommends.
I start with a general discussion of this well-accepted approach to decision making and problem-solving. If students have discussed it in class, I have them share their thoughts. We will use it to address the question:
Is handwriting or keyboarding faster?
I post each step on the Smartscreen or whiteboard and show students how our experiment will work:
- Ask a question: Is handwriting or keyboarding faster?
- Do background research: Discuss why students think they handwrite faster/slower than they type. Curious students might even research the topic by Googling, Is keyboarding faster than handwriting?
- Construct a hypothesis: Following the research, student states her/his informed conclusion: i.e.: Fifth graders in Mr. X’s class handwrite faster than they type.
- Test hypothesis: Do an experiment to see if handwriting or typing is faster. Pass out a printed page from a book students are reading in class. Have them 1) handwrite it for three minutes, and then 2) type it for the same length of time. Each time, calculate the speed in words-per-minute.
- Analyze data: Compare student personal handwriting speed to their typing speed. Which is faster? Discuss data. Why do some students type faster than they write and others slower? Or the reverse? What problems were faced in handwriting for three-five minutes:
- pencil lead broke
- eraser was missing
- hand got tired
- it got boring
Each student compares their results to classmates and to other grade levels. What was different? Or the same?
- Draw conclusions: Each student determines what can be decided based on their personal test results. Did they type faster or slower? Did this change from last year’s results? Did some classmates type faster than they handwrote? Did most students by a certain grade level type faster than they write?
- Communicate results: Share results with other classes and other grade levels. At what grade level do students consistently type faster than they handwrite? In my classes, fourth graders write and type at about the same speed (22-28 wpm) and fifth graders generally type faster than they write. Are students surprised by the answer?
Students complete three projects in two weeks to aid understanding of architecture, design, and three-dimensional thinking. They’ll experiment with spatially laying out a three-dimensional structure on a two-dimensional paper. When completed, they’ll discuss with neighbors while practicing good listening skills learned in class.
Start with a discussion of design. This includes size, shape, texture, proportion, scale, mass and color. We will apply these to rooms, buildings, and neighborhoods. Encourage students to think and analyze critically as they engage in learning.
In figures below, ask students which are two- or three-dimensions? How do they know?[gallery ids="50170,50171,50172,50173,50164"]
Design the Classroom
Visit Classroom Architect and demo how to design the classroom with drag-and-drop pieces (see figures below). Take suggestions from class on layout. Students must think about where tables and storage are relative to other items. This is an active learning lesson that encourages visual thinking. Develop a sample based on class input and show how to make corrections if necessary.
- Earthquake simulations
- Earthquakes for Kids
- Natural disaster videos
- Natural disasters—National Geographic
- Natural disasters–resources
- Tornadoes II
- Volcano Underwater
- Volcano videos
Videos, games, and more–preview them and pick what works for your age group:
- 17 Minutes of Terror--Curiosity landing on Mars
- 100,000 stars–simulation
- Build a Space Station
- Earthrise–the first time it’s recorded; a video
- Land on the Moon
- Moon around
- Moon—Garfield teaches the Lunar Cycle
- Moon—We Choose the Moon
- NASA City
- NASA For Kids
- Solar System in 3D
- Solar System Video
- Space in 3D
- Space Sounds
- Space station game
- Space Websites
- Space–explore it
- Stardate Online
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.
Space units are always exciting. Part of it’s the history, but a lot is that space is our final frontier, a wild untamed land that man knows so little about. I have a list of over 20 websites I use to support this theme for K-8. Here are 10 of my favorites:
100,000 Stars is an interactive visualization of the stellar neighborhood showing the real location of over 100,000 nearby stars. You can zoom in on 87 major named stars including our Sun. There’s a brief introduction and a longer tour students can take to get acquainted with the program. From there, it’s intuitive to use with many of the same browsing tools students are used to from other programs.
100,000 Stars is programmed by space enthusiasts at Google. The introductory music is mesmerizing. Put your headphones on and fly.
Kids love field trips. They’re out of the classroom, get to travel by bus with lots of kids and not enough adults. What’s not to like?
A few items come to mind: Cost, staffing, potential for disaster. And that’s just off the top of my head. There’s a way to provide the field trip experience with few of the risks, no cost, and a fraction of the time away from what is likely an overstuffed education day:
Virtual Field Trips, via the internet.
There are so many options for real-time webcams, conversations with experts (via Skype and Google Hangout), and the opportunity to visit locations that are otherwise inaccessible that classes have embraced this new approach to seeing the world. This enthusiasm has encouraged a cottage industry that often is far from the exciting, realistic experience teachers want for their students. When I search the internet, it seems any site with a camcorder and multimedia resources calls itself a ‘virtual field trip’. Truthfully, many of them are a waste of time. Sure, I like the pictures and the movies, but I don’t feel like I’m there, immersed in history or geography, with a life-changing experience that will live in my memory for decades to come.
Intellectually, I know there are good ones out there. Finally, after wearing through my favorite virtual shoes, I have a list to recommend. These next nine virtual field trips cover topics from geology to history to the human experience. See what you think:
What’s not to love about a website that starts:
Welcome to Earth! It’s a planet having an iron core, with two-thirds of its surface covered by water. Earth orbits a local star called the Sun, the light of which generates the food supply for all the millions of species of life on earth. The dominant species on Earth is the human being, and you’re one of the six billion of them! Humans have iron in their blood, and their bodies are composed of two-thirds water, just like the planet they live on.
Enjoy your stay, and try to stay calm.
360 Cities contains the Internet’s largest collection of uploaded panoramic images. Let’s pause here for a moment. Panos–those wide pictures that cover up to 180 degrees left and right. Right?
360 Cities does panos differently. Let me show you. Here’s one from my iPad:
- Adventure Island
- Antarctica Environ—find the animals
- Biomes of the World
- Breathing earth–the environment
- Build a habitat
- Habitat Game
- Landform Detectives—cool game
- Observe Different Climate Zones
- Ocean Explorations—life
- Ocean Currents—video from NASA
- World’s Biomes
- Virtual tours
If some of the links don’t work (links go bad very quickly on the internet), click for the complete 4th grade list, then scroll to ‘Biomes’.
Worry no more. Here’s your cure: learning disguised as play (inspired by the fascinating website, Playful Learning). Kids will think they’re playing games, but they’ll actually be participating in some of the leading [mostly] free simulations available in the education field. A note: some must be downloaded and a few purchased, so the link might take you to a website that provides access rather than play:
- Bridge Builder—learn how to design and test bridges
- Dimension U–games that focus on math and literacy–fee-based
- Electrocity—how does electricity contribute to the growth of communities
- iCivics—experience what it means to be part of a democracy
- Second Life—simulates just about anything if you can find it
- West Point Bridge Building Contest–build a bridge for the right price and win a contest
- Admongo–explore, discover and learn about online ads while playing a game
- Coffee Shop—run a coffee shop business
- Lemonade Stand—run a lemonade stand business
- California regions (only because that’s where my teaching centers)
- Natural Disasters
- Survival in the…
- General survival websites
- Virtual tours (some great sites here)