Something I have been more interested in doing this year is attempting to put more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) lessons into my daily curriculum. STEM and STEAM have definitely been buzzwords this year for teachers but the idea of integrating this type of learning into the classroom can be a bit daunting at first. The hardest part of creating these types of lessons is losing the control as a teacher and not knowing if students will find answers to a problem. There is much more prep work involved in creating these lessons. Also, there are so many time constraints with giving students time to explore in a jam-packed day of teaching. It can be a real mess! However, the greatest part about it is the excitement and curiosity of the students in these tasks and the amazement as a teacher to see students build better knowledge of the content through experimentation rather than simply the old-fashioned sit-and-get.
One lesson in particular that I really enjoyed doing with my students this year is introducing Force and Motion. Right before winter break, we had Santa send all of us first grade teachers a special code via text message. We put these codes on our boards and watched as our students figured out they must be Nearpod codes! If you use Nearpod, you may know they now have Homework slides. By doing homework slides, students can move through a Nearpod lesson at their own pace (this is also great for reading or math station time if students need extra support from the teacher or extra practice on a particular skill). Through the Nearpod homework slides, students realized that Santa was giving them an assignment due to his toy-making elves going missing. He needed some toy cars made in time for Christmas. They had to use art skills to sketch their photo and fill out an Elf application and we “faxed” the applications to him that day. He then dropped off Legos and gave them instructions that they could use whatever Lego materials they needed but would need to create cars that could go at least three feet down a ramp and could be pushed at least two feet.
Using engineering and math skills, students worked in small groups to create these toy cars and measured how far they could go. It was interesting to see such creativity and students failing but trying again and again. Some students really struggled to work with others so this was very important practice in working with others to accomplish a task. Some of my students who struggle the most academically were the ones who excelled in this assignment! How awesome for them to feel successful and confident in this setting, which goes to show that later in life students are going to need to be creative team players and problem solvers, not great test takers. I think of this too when I think of how we even came up with this fun activity.
Creating this STEAM lesson worked best because there was collaboration involved with us teachers. As a first grade team, we sat down and brainstormed ways we could create a STEAM lesson. We sought parent help and teacher support to find the necessary materials. We bounced ideas off of each other on how to integrate technology to help us engage students and introduce the activity. Something I would do differently next time is allow students to sketch out their designs beforehand using a resource such as Educreation.
All the extra work involved in creating a STEAM lesson was well worth it. The kids had a blast!