By Intermediate School Science teacher James Audrain
Parker’s 5th grade classrooms were abuzz with a flurry of activity as students engaged in a full week of STEM curriculum. As part of STEM Week, 5th graders worked during science classes and each afternoon in two-hour blocks to envision and prototype a project using the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robotics kits.
Students had spent the prior six weeks becoming familiar with the EV3 kits and coding environment in their science class to ensure they had the background knowledge and creative confidence to work on independent projects during STEM Week. In this lead-up period, students completed a series of mini-build projects to learn building and coding techniques, which included modeling bridges, chairs, lifts, conveyor belts and more.
Sometimes the builds were scripted and sometimes students explored the materials on their own. Students would regularly take gallery walks around the room mid-build to learn from and appreciate their classmates’ efforts. In addition to exploring construction techniques and various mechanisms, students learned about the sensors they could use to measure changes in the environment. Throughout the process, students documented their experiences in a STEM journal, taking pictures of their creations, reporting on their successes and challenges and reflecting upon the skills they had learned.
During STEM Week, the jumping-off point for the engineering design process was a student brainstorm and a homework assignment to look around their homes for ways that smart devices might improve everyday activities or tasks. Many creative and innovative ideas emerged, but the real goal of the week was to give students an extended and immersive grade-wide build experience in which they had the time and space to apply what they have been learning.
Throughout this week-long project, students sketched ideas, learned to be resourceful as they drew upon existing designs, modified their designs based on new insights or freshly discovered limitations of the materials, supported each other through encouragement and technical advice, encountered the frustration of a setback and persisted, iterating on and refining their designs and much more.
The students set up and demonstrated their projects to enthusiastic Intermediate School students and teachers in the Kupcinet Gallery.