Month: September 2013

STEM Skills Challenge Series

What if STEM stood for something different? As you know, the actual acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, but aside from content, the concept encompasses many more essential skills like: problem solving, critical thinking, team-building, self-esteem, self-motivation and more.

At a recent symposium in the Seattle area, business leaders were surveyed regarding the skills, attitudes, attributes, and aspirations that they feel are the most important to the success of students in the future. Among the results?

  • Critical thinking, learning, and analytical problem solving
  • Communication
  • Adaptability
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Self-direction and self-awareness
  • Technical skills and computer literacy
  • Fundamentals of education including math, science, and English
  • Creativity
  • Cultural competence and global awareness
  • Emotional intelligence

This series on STEM Skills Challenges will harness the power of STEM challenges and focus on these essential success skills that our students need to be effective in the STEM workforce.

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


STEM Essentials- Developing Effective STEM Units

In this series we have learned how to plan and develop an effective STEM unit.  Planning a unit like this is very time-consuming if done right, but the outcomes and student progress will be well worth the effort!

Here are the basic steps in the process:

Each step contains a basic explanation…and resources to help you plan an effective STEM unit!

Get the STEM Essentials Bundle Pack to help plan your STEM Units!


STEM Essentials- Redesigning and Debriefing

In this series, we’re learning how to plan a proper STEM unit.  If you’ve been following along, you’ll note that there are many moving parts!  So far, we have discussed how to develop a plan, craft different types of assessments, create a rubric, use the Engineering Design Process to plan the remaining lessons, and how to communicate results.

The last two steps that we’ll talk about is Redesigning and Debriefing.  These are separate steps focusing on different goals, but because they share some common elements and they both NEED to take place at the end of the unit, we’ll talk about them together.

After students have communicated their results and shared them with the class, it’s important for students to have time to redesign.  This doesn’t need to be a whole unit withing itself, but they should at least have an hour or so to work on improvements to their design.  This allows for a couple of things.  It allows:

  • Students to process what other teams have shared and leverage that new information into the redesign of their own product.
  • Any team that was unsuccessful to implement a workable solution based on new information shared (and thus generate some success)
  • Students a chance to take some risks that they wouldn’t have taken prior to presenting the project to the class.  They can push the envelope without any ramifications.  (This is where some GREAT learning can take place.)

And as a side benefit, giving students the opportunity to redesign their products shows the importance of collaboration and communication amongst the different teams (and also usually sparks more creativity!)

Debriefing shares some of these same elements, but it is not the same.  Debriefing takes place at the end of the project and allows the teacher to pull everyone together to talk turkey.  This is an opportunity for students to:

  • Share any new information that they have learned and discuss how it relates to the project
  • Ask clarifying questions that may help them further their learning or connect the dots
  • Discuss possible next steps or extensions of the project

This is an opportunity for teachers to:

  • Review key findings and objectives for the project
  • Clarify any misunderstandings that still may exist
  • Further tie the learning to real-life (I like to talk about STEM careers that would contribute to a project like the one just completed)

As an aside, the debriefing can provide the teacher with key information such as insight on how to make the project better the next time and informal assessment based on discussion.

Get the STEM Essentials Bundle Pack including Debriefing Strategies and the STEM Project Rubric Template!


STEM Essentials- Communicating Results

In working to create a comprehensive STEM unit plan, we’ve talked about how to develop a plan, craft different types of assessments, create a rubric, and use the Engineering Design Process to plan the remaining lessons.

One of the last components to is a mechanism for students to communicate their findings.  Although it’s last on outr planning list, expectations need to be communicated to students early on in the unit. It’s important for students to investigate and record their daily notes and data as well as create formal reports of their discoveries.

For this component, there are many options. Teachers who are techie can use a high-tech mechanism and set up a Moodle Site or a Wikispaces workspace for students that will allow them to develop and refine 21st century skills.

Teachers can also use a low-tech mechanism and ask students to communicate their results through Interactive STEM Notebooks that will allows students to focus more in effective communication. For those who k now me, I am a huge fan of Interactive STEM Notebooks!  They are incredibly authentic and that students can easily take ownership of them rather than to copy notes from the board.

Because of the many options available, the teacher should choose the best method of delivery, factoring in the age-appropriate skill level of students and the curriculum/ skills that will be the main focus of the project.

In addition to written communication, it’s a good idea to  have an oral component like a presentation, interview, or skit as well.  Combining written and oral reporting helps students to enhance their communication skills and make them more relevant as presenting and public speaking are important skills students need when preparing for the workforce.

Get the STEM Essentials Bundle Pack including General-Use Interactive Notebook Pages!


STEM Essentials- Decision Making

In this series, we’ve been investigating how to best plan a STEM unit.  We have developed a plan, crafted different types of assessments, created a rubric, and used the Engineering Design Process in planning the remainder of the lessons.

We’ve also discussed some of the non-linear steps that will help put some structure into your STEM project  like creating and using STEM Role Cards and teaching students how to develop great ideas.

Although this is a student component and not a teacher component as we’ve been discussing, it’s an important component.  After students generate a list of possible ideas, how should they determine which one is the best one to use?  Most student groups are likely to take a vote, flip a coin, or even come to a deadlock if no one wants to budge from their own idea.  Arming students with best-practice ways to make decisions is key and will help them with the project at hand as well as with life decisions.

One strategy that students can use to help make decisions is is simple Pro/Con Chart.  Requiring students to write down pros and cons will help them to clarify their idea more fully and communicate their data through writing.

Another great strategy is a Decision Matrix.  In this model, students are asked to think through their top ideas by answering key questions that will help them to determine which idea is the best solution.

Get the STEM Essentials Bundle Pack including the Decision Making Chart and Decision Making Matrix!


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