Full STEAM Ahead in the 5th Grade

By Intermediate and Middle School STEAM and Coding teacher Adam Colestock

Recently, the 5th grade developed capstone projects for their engineering and programming unit during STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) Week. For one week, they spent two hours every afternoon working on independent creations they designed, built and programmed in response to a menu of design challenges.

Project choices included:
Invent a musical instrument that somebody can play.
Make a tool that can aid you at school.
Invent something that will help somebody complete a task in the kitchen.
Create a way to store and keep something secure.
Make a device that can help take care of your pet when you are away.
Design an interactive game for others to play.

The students applied the engineering and programming skills they had been developing in science class during the previous six weeks as they worked with the LEGO Mindstorms invention kits equipped with motors, sensors and a plethora of pieces to choose from. As part of the unit, they were given a series of incrementally more challenging builds as they learned to build rigid and moving structures, connect them to motors, add sensors and program their creations. Through building a bridge, a swing, a music stand, a merry-go-round and other objects, they were thinking through important design features of real-world objects and learning how to use the materials they would have to work with during STEAM Week.

In addition to building, students were learning a block-based graphical programming language that enabled them to use loops, conditional statements (IF-THEN) and wait blocks to control the flow of their program. They could configure the blocks to allow the sensors to impact the flow of the program in response to changes in the environment. Students learned to program by reading through existing code and learning from the comments, then began writing and commenting on their own programs. Students kept STEAM Design Journals to record their designs, programs and developing understanding as the weeks progressed.

STEAM Week provided a wealth of valuable learning moments about engineering and design as students applied what they had learned, brainstormed, worked hard, got stuck, got unstuck, made mistakes, made breakthroughs, were resourceful, helped each other, programmed, thought creatively, identified and solved problems and more. The 5th graders shared their creations with each other this week at their STEAM Expo where they walked around and enjoyed interacting with each others’ innovative designs.

Click here for photos from this project.
Click here for GIFs of the projects in action!
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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.