Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

The Power of STEM Education

By Paul Larrea, Middle School Teacher

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 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.

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:

  1. Students needed to draw a rough sketch of their bridge design.
  2. Students needed to explain to me how they will build their bridge along with assigned roles.
  3. Once approved by me, the students could move on to the planning/creating phase and gather their materials.
  4. As the students began to build their bridges, I walked around the classroom to guide them, answer any questions, and support their bridges.
  5. Once done with the building phase, the students shared their work by presenting their bridge.
  6. 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!)
  7. The students needed to complete a lab report, an Engineering By Design handout, and a reflective handout.

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