by Intermediate, Middle and Upper School Science teacher Adam Colestock
Parker’s 5th grade classrooms were abuzz with a flurry of activity last week as students engaged in a full week of STEM curriculum. As part of STEM week, 5th graders worked 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 the Open Roberta 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. Students modeled bridges, chairs, glasses, lifts, conveyor belts and more.
Sometimes the builds were scripted and sometimes students were asked to explore the materials on their own. Students would regularly take gallery walks around the room mid-build to learn from and appreciate what their classmates were doing. In addition to exploring construction techniques and various mechanisms, students also learned about to the sensorsthey 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 what they had learned.
During STEM week, the jumping-off point for the engineering design process was a student brainstorm in the library and a homework assignment, which asked students 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 take what they have been learning and apply it.
Throughout this weeklong project, students were sketching ideas, learning to be resourceful as they drew upon existing designs, modifying their designs based on new insights or freshly discovered limitations of the materials, supporting each other through encouragement and technical advice, encountering the frustration of a setback and persisting, iterating on and refining their designs and much more. Students shared their projects at a grade-wide expo the following week where Parker’s Robert A. Pritzker Visiting Scientist•Inventor•Engineer in Residence Professor Rick Stevens was on hand to provide his thoughts and insight on the students’ creations.