The Power of STEM Education
By Paul Larrea, Middle School Teacher
STEM education is essential for students of all ages. However, what is STEM? What does it look like? How can you implement a practical STEM lesson? My name is Paul Larrea and I have been a teacher for six years, mainly in STEM education in a middle school environment. Over the years, I have developed a STEM curriculum for each of the schools where I was employed and obtained a STEM certification on how to create a STEM program. This blog post is not meant for you to be an expert in STEM, but rather to give you ideas, tools, and strategies so that you can effectively implement a meaningful and engaging STEM curriculum in your own classroom or school.
Why is STEM education important?
So what exactly is STEM? STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is a hands-on approach where students are given a problem and working as a team, they need to create a solution to the problem by brainstorming, designing, and building a tangible item to that problem. This approach is an excellent way to keep students on task, motivated, and engaged. STEM education has a positive cognitive approach as well. It can enhance students’ 21st-century skills, including critical thinking, cooperative learning, analysis, creativity, communication, and self-regulation, all of which are valuable in society and sought after in the workforce. These 21st-century skills go hand-in-hand with STEM education.
The Engineering by Design Model
One of the models used in a STEM lesson is the Engineering By Design Model. The Engineering By Design Model is an approach used for students to track their progress and foster their 21st-century skills. The Engineering By Design Model is composed of the following elements: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve, and Share.
- The Ask phase is a question that the students need to answer: “What are you trying to find?”
- The Imagine and Plan phases are the brainstorming phases. During these phases, students are working together to generate ideas and draw their designs on how to fix the problem and generate a solution.
- The Create phase is the building phase. For example, students may build their own 3D tangible items.
- The Improvement phase is the trial and error phase. During this phase, students will need to test their prototype to make sure it works and see if improvements are needed. Students will need to be reflective learners during this phase.
- Finally, the Sharing phase is the presenting phase. Students will need to present their prototypes to the class.
WOW! That’s a lot of information to digest. Let’s do a recap.
👉 STEM is a hands-on approach to learning that fosters and improves essential 21st-century skills.
👉 STEM is about giving students a problem and having them work together to generate a solution to the problem.
👉 To keep students on task and formulate a STEM lesson, we use the Engineering By Design Model. This model includes essential elements to make sure the students are successful in achieving a solution to the problem and demonstrate mastery of certain objectives.
Now that you know the foundation, let’s see how it works in the classroom. I am going to share with you a STEM lesson example that I did in my classroom. Please note that there are many different forms of STEM lessons. My lesson is not the only example of a STEM lesson. You may need to modify and adjust to fit your classroom needs.
A Sample STEM Lesson to Try in Your Classroom
The lesson that I would like to share with you is geared toward middle school (6th-8th grade). This STEM assignment took about three days to do. The STEM lesson is building bridges. The problem that students needed to solve is:
“Working as a team, can you build a bridge that can hold the most weight?”
I gave them only a limited amount of requirements/materials. It needed to be a certain height, length, and width. The students could only use popsicle sticks to create their bridges. Here’s the process:
- Students worked in a team to brainstorm ideas on how to build a bridge. I give them samples and online resources that they could use to foster their ideas.
- Students needed to draw a rough sketch of their bridge design.
- Students needed to explain to me how they will build their bridge along with assigned roles.
- Once approved by me, the students could move on to the planning/creating phase and gather their materials.
- As the students began to build their bridges, I walked around the classroom to guide them, answer any questions, and support their bridges.
- Once done with the building phase, the students shared their work by presenting their bridge.
- To test to see what bridge held the most weight, I placed an unlimited amount of textbooks one at a time on the bridge until it collapses. (I have done this lesson each year. The record was 76 textbooks at once before collapsing!)
- The students needed to complete a lab report, an Engineering By Design handout, and a reflective handout.
The students had a wonderful time doing this assignment. Try it, or an adapted version following the Engineering by Design model, in your classroom this year.
Paul Larrea has been a teacher for 6 years. He has taught many subjects including STEM. He received a certification in STEM Education in 2020. He holds a BA in Education and working towards his Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership.
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