*Note: My thoughts today… may change tomorrow…
STEM learning is on the rise! I’m excited to see and hear about the great work of so many educators and students as they experiment with learning opportunities in STEM! When I hear about the amazing learning that is happening in schools and classrooms… a large part of me misses being in the classroom working with students!
In this post, I would like to provoke some thinking around STEM activities… how we build activities for STEM learning so that students are building skills and knowledge that will provide access to postsecondary pathways to STEM.
STEM learning is not crafting… If students are building the same object using a prescribed “blueprint”… What are they learning? For example, building “wiggle bots” that are all identical may teach students how motors work… how to use tools safely… and provide students with a foundation of skills and knowledge for future investigations. However, to claim that this activity alone is STEM learning would be misguided. These activities should spark curiosities that result in deeper learning opportunities. How does a motor actually work? What are the scientific ideas that are applied in this context? How might what we have learned be used to invent other mobility devices? How might the wiggle bot be modified to complete other tasks? How might we create a mechanism that will better control the wiggle bot? It is critical for these “crafting” activities to get to deeper learning that is clearly connected to Science, Technology and Mathematics concepts!
There are a lot of STEM activities out there! In fact, some of these activities have existed in K-12 education for a long time! Another example comes to mind for me… the raw egg drop! If the activity results in parachutes alone and is completed only through trial and error… I wonder what this activity is really teaching our students? Don’t we already know that a parachute can slow down the egg? What other devices might protect the egg? Why is engineering done by trial and error? We didn’t build the CN Tower using trial and error… How does an engineer plan? I wonder if there are other deep learning opportunities… Gravity? Forces? Acceleration? Surface area? Geometry? Fluid dynamics? Measurement? Data analysis?
Activities with digital tools are also important for STEM learning! Developing skills in computational thinking and coding can be a lot of fun! Using tools such as micro:bits to make things can be a lot of fun! Introducing new tools will require lessons that may be “crafting” activities so that all students can be exposed to the foundational skills they will need. However, these activities must build into learning opportunities that extends into deeper learning opportunities… How might students create sensors that will measure variables in a scientific investigation?
Getting students excited about STEM learning is important… (I love hearing from students about the fun they had!) but without the intentional design of the learning experience to build a program that gets to deep learning in Science, Technology and Mathematics, these “fun activities” will just be fun crafts… I challenge us to think critically about these activities… and extend these activities to create new learning opportunities!