Although STEM Challenges aren’t magic, they’re the closest thing to it that I’ve ever experienced in my teaching career! There are so many benefits – developing critical thinking, problem-solving, growth mindset and more. But like so many things in teaching, the magic is in how you deliver the activity to your students. One approach will get all the academic and social-emotional goodness out of STEM Challenges, while another might get you nothing more than a fun & fluffy afternoon.
And if you’re going to devote your instructional minutes, you’ll probably want to get every drop of value, right?!
So let’s discuss setting a foundation — how should you introduce engineering practices with your students?
Step 1: Introducing the Engineering Practices
Before you dive into the design process, I recommend going over the 4 C’s of Engineering: collaboration, communication, critical thinking & creativity. This helps students begin to understand the point of these challenges is more about the process than it is the final product they design. This is a powerful concept and very different from what many of our students have experienced in school. You can grab a free activity for this here.
Step 2: Try a Classic STEM Challenge
Next, I like to jump right into a STEM Challenge to try things out. Science is doing after all! I suggest using a classic like a tower, boat, or bridge challenge. A simple index card tower can be the perfect starting point for you because the materials couldn’t be more simple! It’s also easy for students to understand the goals of their designs. The simplicity of the challenge will give you the opportunity to practice facilitating and helping students think deeper and work on scientific analysis. (More on these aspects coming next week.)
Step 3: Be Prepared!
Anything can happen during a STEM Challenge! Students may enjoy the process and be successful, or they might have an epic fail or meltdown. Students may collaborate brilliantly, or they may struggle, disagree and fight. This is all part of the process! Remember struggles encountered means there are skills that need to be learned and practiced. The struggle isn’t a problem — it’s the point! The key is to help students work through struggles in a productive way, so they get something out of the experience beyond frustration! Check out STEAM Café’s blog on classroom management for tips.
Ready to Learn More About Engineering with Your Students?
Speaking of being prepared, be sure to check back in next week. We’ll go over how to to break down a STEM Challenge in your lesson plans so you’ll be aligned with the engineering design process and NGSS!
If you’re ready to dive in now, here’s my free Secrets to Successful STEM Challenges webinar where each step of the process is explained thoroughly, including troubleshooting epic fails and student disagreements.
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