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Do’s & Don’ts of STEM Challenges ...

Do’s & Don’ts of STEM Challenges – Kinder Edition

With the big push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and STEAM (adding the Arts to that mix) in our 21st Century classrooms, I’ve been exploring many options for integrating this into weekly activities. When working with kindergartners, this is definitely not an easy task, but with a little creativity and some really great resources, I’m off to a pretty good start.

Students testing their team's raft to see how well it floats.

Students testing their team’s raft to see how well it floats.

I am definitely not perfect at facilitating STEM activities with my students {yet!}, but I wanted to share a few things that I’ve learned so far.

Here’s a few Do’s and Don’ts for getting started with STEM challenges:

  • DO begin with small groups of students. Partnerships work best and then grow your group sizes from there. This will make it easier for you to manage and for students to share materials.

 

  • DON’T assume students know how to communicate. Oh boy, was this a huge mistake for me. Children do not inherently know how to share, use their words to communicate their needs, or take turns. Provide students with some sentence starters before you send them off to work together. I also find it helps for each student to have a “job” during the challenge so they all have something to do and are not arguing over materials. When working with younger students like my Kinders, there will always be tears and arguing over sharing, but this helps lessen those for everyone’s sake!
After some redirecting, this group finally created ONE raft together, instead of 3 by themselves.

After some redirecting, this group finally created ONE raft together, instead of three by themselves.

  • DO guide students through the STEM Design process. Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Test, Reflect. I would recommend no more than 1-2 steps a day when starting a project. Make sure your students really understand the expectations at each stage and set aside plenty of time for discussion about their ideas. That’s when the real learning will happen! {Click the graphic below to view and share my Prezi on the STEM design process.}
    stem-loop-prezi

    Click the image to view my Prezi.

  • DON’T try to do everything in your first challenge. Start small! Anyone else guilty of this? When I discover something new and exciting I tend to dive in headfirst rather than carefully planning my next move. This has led to some interesting moments in the classroom in the past, but I’m getting better at it! Start with challenge that has a basic problem, just a few materials, and could be completed in 1-2 class sessions. Once your children build stamina for group work and challenging task, then move on to something more complex.

 

  • DO preview the task for students. Break everything down step by step, especially the first time you go through the design process. To begin, I previewed the lesson using the STEM background and challenge cards provided in the Lakeshore Stay Afloat! Challenge (part of the K-1 Real-World STEM Challenge Kit). Once we began working, I then had my students record their thinking in a STEM journal to make learning more organized and concrete.
Students recorded their team's plan and test results in their STEM journal.

Students recorded their team’s plan and test results in their STEM journal.

  • DO look for resources from other educators! You are not alone in this endeavor, nor should you have to feel that way! Many teachers are finding new ways to integrate STEM into their classrooms and we can all work together to find what works best. Below are a few of the resources that have helped me along the way.

A few things to get you started…

STEM Resources

Lakeshore Learning K-1 Real-World STEM Kit – 3 Real World challenges, including the Stay Afloat kit mentioned above.

Lakeshore Learning STEM Stations K-1 – Great for science rotations or quick experiments.

Fairy Tales Problem Solving STEM Kits – Oh my goodness, These are AMAZING! They connect 3 beloved fairy tales to building challenges perfect for the primary grades. I received mine through Donors Choose.

Lakeshore Learning K-1 STEM Journals – I use composition notebooks for my students and then glue in tables or directions as needed, but these are a great “Grab & Go” version if you’re short on time.

STEM Bins by Teach Outside the Box – LOVE this girl! She has so many ideas for incorporating STEM in small chunks throughout the school day. She also has some great STEM ideas on her blog {you can check them out here}

I hope these tips and resources have been helpful and I wish you all the luck with integrating STEM challenges in your classroom! Feel free to share any of your favorite STEM resources in the comments below.

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