Elementary Teachers Explore STEM Practices and Content

By on January 18, 2017 in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education

Recently conducted a full-day science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workshop for the 5th Grade Team of Kimball Wiles Elementary in Gainesville, STEM teachertraining by Dr Diana Wehrell-GrabowskiFlorida. 5th Grade Chairperson, Natalie Wong wrote a STEM grant which was awarded through the Education Foundation of Alachua County under the Catalyst for Change Grant. With the awarded funds, Mrs. Wong purchased STEM equipment and materials for the school, as well as scheduled STEM teacher training for the 5th Grade Team which included Teachers of the Gifted. It was a great session, the team was extremely motivated throughout the training they definitely embraced the foundational principles of STEM, as well as teaching via inquiry practices.

We started off the day with discussing and modeling ways to develop a student-driven classroom, and teaching to develop and strengthen 21st century skills.

I then introduced the group to the engineering design process via conducting a mini engineering design challenge. The groups were given the task of building the tallest freestanding structure in 15 minutes using only 15 pipe cleaners. I particularly like this mini challenge for numerous reasons: quick, minimal materials, incorporates all components of the engineering design process, and it can be accomplished with elementary students and up. At the end of 15 minutes both group structures were freestanding, the tallest one measured in at 13 inches.

Throughout the day teachers were introduced to a wide-array of technology that can be incorporated into the elementary STEM classroom including: littlebits, Ozobot, Dash and Dot, digital scales and calipers, mini illuminated microscopes, and digital microscopes. I have found through the years that many of the schools I provide training have limited their use of technology to computers and robotics. During my trainings, I try and incorporate a wide-array of technology that is used in the work field (levels, digital measuring devices, and more).

Working in small groups, the teachers had the opportunity to use several different littlebit kits including the Korg Kit which was well-received by the group. After the teachers explored the littlebit Kits I introduced the team to Squishy Circuits, a project from the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas. Teachers used Playdoh® (which is a conductor), batteries, and assortment of low-voltage gadgets such as LEDs, buzzers etc. to make complete circuits.

I also introduced teachers to incorporating building materials and polymers in their nature of science lessons. Change up their lessons to focus on materials science, allowing their students to compare and contrast building materials, polymers, and more. STEM is about making connections with the real-world, allowing students to observe, explore and conduct experiments with newly invented materials is exciting and relevant.

We closed off the session with exploring the connections of architecture and geometry. Discussing the importance of patterns, shapes, and strength in buildings as well as in nature. Teachers were introduced to constructing 3 dimensional shapes with simple materials (toothpicks and garbonzo beans). These shapes can then be dipped into a soap solution to observe faces, vertices, and edges. These shapes can also be used to construct buildings, and conduct mass loading challenges as well as models of cities, bridges etc.

It was a great session, the teachers were thoroughly engaged throughout the entire session. They saw first hand the beauty and power of teaching via inquiry, and designing lessons that incorporate all four disciplines of STEM within a lesson. I see great STEM challenges in the near future for the students of Kimball Wiles Elementary. A big thank you to Mrs. Wong for writing the grant, and taking on the leadership role to bring STEM practices and content into the classroom. For more information about the science, NGSS, and STEM teacher training and interactive keynotes I conduct contact me via the contact page on this website. The following photos provide a snippet of the training session.

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