Year: 2013

Strengthening Rigor in STEM: Putting the R in STEM…Wait, What?

As we embark on our journey to make our children and students more critical thinkers and problem solvers, we often come upon really fun activities for students to engage in.  (Those who know me are cringing because they know how much I hate the word “fun”. Fun implies that nothing is being learned, so I much prefer the word “engaging”.)

Unfortunately this hazard transfers to students because the engaging activities that we’re asking them to participate in really are…um, well, fun.  And that’s great, but we want to make sure that we don’t lose site of the goal to learn so we need to introduce our R into STEM- Rigor.

How do you Strengthen Rigor in your STEM projects?  In this series, we’ll explore different ways to keep students engaged yet ensure that they are learning and stretching both in content and STEM Skills.


STEM Skills Challenge- 10 Challenges to Build STEM Skills Employers Value

In this series, we’re focused on the soft skills that employers desire in top candidates.  Otherwise known as 21st century skills or the 4C’s- collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication- these skills rank consistently at the top of the list.Here’s a recaps of the STEM Skills Challenges that will help students to further develop their soft skills.

With these skills, students will no doubt land themselves at the top of the list when going out into the workforce!

Get the STEM Skills Challenge Bundle Pack with all 10 Design Challenges!


STEM Skills Challenge- Save Fred

With employers valuing soft skills like the 4C’s (creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking), students need to develop these skills to be good competitors in the workplace.

This week’s challenge stresses teamwork and collaboration as students work in teams to rescue a gummy worm named Fred and outfit him with a life preserver to keep him from falling into the water.

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Save Fred Teamwork Challenge!

Not sure about purchasing the entire bundle yet?  Give the Save Fred Teamwork Challenge a try!


STEM Skills Challenge- Smooth Sailing

 Throughout this series, we’ve been talking about the importance of soft skills and how many employers are looking for these key skills when interviewing and hiring.

Recently, a Gallup poll conducted a survey asking Americans whether soft skills should be taught in K-12 schools.  When it comes to teaching critical thinking skills, an overwhelming 80% of those surveyed believe they should be taught.  The other 4C’s communication, collaboration, and creativity were highly rated as well.

This week’s STEM Skills Challenge will help to build those skills as students design and build a sailboat that will “sail” at least four feet in under one minute.  The catch?  Students will only be allowed to use paperclips, index cards, aluminum foil and tape.  Once teams have designed their boats, students will test them on a table top or a tile floor by placing them in front of a fan. Hopefully, the team has collaborated on a successful design and it’s smooth sailing!

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Smooth Sailing Engineering Challenge!


STEM Skills Challenge- Souper Structures

 USA Today College and other leading publications report that employers strongly value soft skills.  The reason?  Many employers say that they can teach the content that is required for a particular position, but can’t teach those skills that take time to develop and mature like: teamwork and interpersonal skills, problem solving and analytical skills, and written and verbal communication.

In this week’s STEM Skills Challenge, students are challenged to build a structure that will support a can of soup.  It may sound like an easier challenge, but with only craft sticks, paper, paperclips and glue at their disposal, students will need to work effectively as a team and use their problem solving skills  to plan, design and build their structures.

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Souper Structures Engineering Challenge!



STEM Skills Challenge- Build a Better Boat

 In a recent article by CNBC on Job Skills Gap: The Basics Become a Problem a survey of 500 top executives was conducted.

Of those surveyed, 92% agree that there is a job skills gap and 44% of respondents say the gap is in “soft skills”. (And not to digress, but the second most common answer at 22% was lack of technical skills.)

Specifically, the article defines soft skills as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.  They didn’t actually use the phrase “21st century skills”, but I’m sure you recognize them as such.

So, for this week’s STEM Skills Challenge, we’re going to build a better boat and build our 4C’s (soft skills).  In this challenge, students will use the provided supplies (plastic wrap, straws, tape, and washers) to design and build a boat that will hold 10 one inch diameter washers for at least 30 seconds without sinking. Water will be required to test the boats, but with inquisitive scientists who are focusing on the 4C’s, you shouldn’t get wet on this ride!

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Build a Better Boat Engineering Challenge!


STEM Skills Challenge- Spacesuit Spuds

As we focus on STEM skills that can be achieved through short (or long) duration projects, we’re aiming to develop skills that employers are seeking.

According to The 9 Attributes Every Employer Desperately Wants, Forbes magazine examines the skills that make a candidate great.  Among the list, some great core STEM skills like natural curiosity, uncompromising excellence, unlimited versatility, self-awareness, and creative problem solving.

This week’s challenge allows students to explore the thee core STEM skills as the explore high-impact space debris by designing and building a spacesuit for their astronaut (potato) and testing its effectiveness.

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Spacesuit Spuds Engineering Challenge!


STEM Skills Challenge- Crazy Catapults

 Even though the STEM acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, there are a wide range of skills that this acronym encompasses.

Employers are quick to mention that these are the core skills that they are starting to look for in well qualified candidates. Those “soft skills” are the focus of the STEM Skills Challenges.

This week, students will work with partners to design and build a catapult that will launch mini marshmallows towards a designated target.  In this challenge, students will need to make good materials choices as they can only use a certain number of materials.  As students experiment, they will work to build a reliable and well-designed catapult, but also establish consistency in hitting a designated target like a bulls eye.

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Crazy Catapults Engineering Challenge!


STEM Skills Challenge- Plastic Cup Pyramid

 In aiming to provide students with engaging STEM challenges that push the envelope on developing students’ critical thinking skills, this series also aims to develop the STEM skills that employers seek in the workforce.

This week’s challenge is the Plastic Cup Pyramid.  Students will work to design a mechanism that will transfer plastic cups from their current configuration into a pyramid.   This is a great challenge to build communication and teamwork skills.  Now that’s a challenge!

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Plastic Cup Pyramid Engineering Challenge!


STEM Skills Challenge- Newspaper Table

 Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing the importance of teaching STEM skills and weaving them through your curriculum.  They teach our students how to be persistent problem solvers, how to deepen 21st century skills and how to become leading contenders in the workforce.

Forbes Magazine researched the 10 most critical skills that employers are looking for in candidates and found that the majority of these critical skills are STEM skills. The top three skills? Critical Thinking, Complex Problem Solving, and Judgement and Decision Making.

This week, students will get to practice all three of those skills as they work on this week’s Skills Challenge.  Students will work with a team to build a sturdy table out of nothing more than newspaper and masking tape that will hold the most weight.  Much like the real world, teams will be challenged to use only the resources provided and work within design and time requirements.  May the best team of designers win!

Get the STEM Skills Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Newspaper Table Engineering Challenge!


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