July 9, 2017

Top 10 Reasons to Start the School Year with STEM Challenges

As the summer winds down, and you're planning to begin another school year, the feelings are usually mixed, aren't they? The anticipation of a fresh start is energizing, but the end of wearing pajamas all day just 'cause you can feels like a loss to be mourned!

My advice: focus on the positive. The beginning of the year brings with it a chance to set a new tone and reconnect with all the things that made you love teaching in the first place, and I know that can sometimes be a hard thing to keep hold of with all the pressures in and out of the classroom today.  The reason I became obsessed with STEM Challenges is because it did help me find that idealist I once was. It made me feel like a good teacher again. I could see it in my students' faces, and that's why you find almost the whole of this blog devoted to STEM Challenges. I want you, and your students, to find the joy in teaching and learning again. So with that, here are my:




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In the event you prefer to read the Top 10 list, the video is transcribed below. Links mentioned in the video are included following the transcription.


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Think STEM Challenges are a little too much for the Back-to-School season? Think again! STEM Challenges are the perfect way to practice your class routines and procedures, set the tone for the year, and much more. Check out these top 10 reasons to start the year with STEM Challenges!


Video Transcription


Hi. I'm Kerry from Feel Good Teaching and back to school is just around the corner, and the perfect way to start your school year right is with STEM challenges. Think that idea sounds just a little bit nuts? Well, get ready to agree with me. Here are my top 10 reasons to start the school year with STEM challenges.


10
STEM challenges are a great way to practice your routines and procedures. You'll have your quiet down signal, your transition from one activity to the next, how to work appropriately in a team, how to manage materials, where those materials belong, and so forth.

9
I have to confess I can't stand ice-breaker activities, most of them. They always just feel a little bit too forced and a little bit cheesy, but STEM challenges actually feel like a really natural way to get to know your classmates. And for those of us with a little bit of social anxiety, STEM challenges are a really nice distraction because you really can't focus on all your stress when you're trying to complete the task at hand.

8
STEM challenges are highly engaging. I like to say they are brain-busting work disguised as fun. It really sets the tone for the school year. Your students right off the bat are going to know that your class is an exciting place where new adventures are going to be happening all the time and it's not going to be just paper/pencil tasks all the time. This is a classroom where multiple intelligences are honored.

7
STEM challenges are standards based. You're going to cover your next-gen science standards for engineering as well as many other subject areas, and I'm not just talking science, technology, engineering, and math. It's usually entirely possible to integrate some ELA, and sometimes even social studies, PE, and other subject areas. You'd be surprised.

6
STEM challenges help you get to know your kids quickly. As you're walking around observing the students working in teams, you're going to notice a lot of talents emerging that might take you weeks to discover otherwise. You're going to find your leaders, you're going to see how students handle frustration, you're going to see who works well in teams and who might need a little extra support there, and maybe you'll even discover one or two creative geniuses.

5
STEM challenges are a great way to develop growth mindset skills. You want your classroom to feel like a place that's safe to try, fail, and try again. STEM challenges are a great way to practice these skills, because if you are setting up challenges that are challenging, then at some point the students are going to experience frustration and indeed failure. I think it's so important that we establish that fail is not a four letter word in our classroom. It's a learning experience. It's really nothing more than a data point that we observe, and we analyze, and we move forward trying to address it in the next iteration of that design.

4
Which brings me to my next point. You might have formative assessments to do where you are working with students one-on-one. What do you do with the rest of the students in your class during that time? This is the perfect time for a second iteration of a design challenge. The reason I recommend doing a second iteration during assessments rather than just doing a brand new challenge on that day is that the students will already be familiar with their criteria and constraints list, and because they know what they're supposed to be doing they will be more engaged, and they will be less likely to need to interrupt you with any sorts of questions.

3
Now if you like to have class meetings to develop your classroom community, STEM challenges are going to be a great generator of topics for these meetings. Some things that might come up are how to deal with conflict within teams; how to make sure you're listening to everybody on your team and selecting ideas to move forward with fairly; and maybe even strategies for how to handle frustration or failure when things aren't going well with your designs.

2
This is one of my favorite reasons. Students love STEM challenges and this means when their parents ask, "How was school today? What did you do?", they're going to have some pretty amazing stories to tell them right at the beginning of the school year.  That's going to make you look pretty good, which is always nice, but there's an even better benefit. Once you get bitten by the STEM challenge bug, you're probably going to want to do STEM challenges at least once a week. That means you're going to need a lot of materials. If your students are going home every day telling their parents how amazing STEM challenges are, that's going to work out really well for you when you send home a request letter to parents asking for donations of STEM challenge materials like pipe cleaners, masking tape, and foil. And I don't know about you, but free pipe cleaners make me want to do a little happy dance.

1
But the best reason to start your year with STEM challenges is actually for you. STEM challenges have produced more feel-good teaching moments in my career than really any other type of activity. You know those moments, those ones that make you remember why you became a teacher in the first place. Those moments where you look out on your class and the student groups are huddled in, completely focused and engaged in what they're doing, unaware at how much problem solving and critical thinking, and flat out work they're doing because it's just so interesting to them. When you walk up and you actually speak to the students in their groups about what they're doing, their eyes are lit up with discovery. Those moments where students who might not be very successful in the traditional school tasks, paper/pencil tasks, have created something incredible that their peers are stunned by and so impressed, and they have that moment to shine and to feel like they belong in the school. That pride that swells up in you because you made this opportunity available to these students, and they showed up, and they invested, and they did the work.
Some challenges aren't magic, but they're pretty darn close. The good news is STEM challenges are a lot easier to implement than you may think. I've created a library of video resources for you and that includes some professional development, best practices, as well as specific challenge walk-throughs, and I've got more on the way. I even have a bundle of back to school challenges both in printable and in digital for those paperless one-to-one classrooms that you can use with Google slides.
Now you don't have to do one of my STEM challenges, but I hope I have convinced you to do some STEM challenges for back to school, and let me know how it goes. Please follow or subscribe if you're not already so you don't miss any STEM challenge videos this year. Until next time, have a fabulous week and may your school year be packed with feel good teaching moments. Bye.


LINKS MENTIONED IN THE VIDEO








July 8, 2017

Back-to-School STEM Challenges

The new school year is just around the corner. For some, that realization is met with excitement at the possibilities a clean slate offers; for others, the new school year might bring along pangs of anxiety or even sadness. Maybe you're still feeling burned out from last year. How could the summer already be ending?!

Most teachers have probably felt this way heading back to school at least once. For me, discovering STEM challenges reinvigorated my enthusiasm for teaching. There is something so powerful in facilitating challenges and observing your students become resilient, self-reliant problem-solvers that just makes you feel good. (Spoiler alert: that's why my new website is called Feel-Good Teaching. Keep an eye out; it should go live before the end of the summer! This site will redirect there when it's ready.)

Back-to-School STEM / STEAM Challenges are the perfect ice-breaker. Get students engaged in brain-busting work disguised as fun. These challenges work well to introduce and explore Newton's laws of motion and come with modifications for grades 2-8.


Everyone could use more feel-good teaching moments into their classrooms, so why wait? Back-to-school is the perfect time to introduce STEM challenges for so many reasons! (Top 10 Reasons to Start the Year with STEM Challenges)

Here are five STEM challenges you can start with that are perfectly themed for the season. They even use school supplies and apples as the main materials. Plus, they're a great way to introduce and explore Newton's laws of motion! 

Here's a quick overview for you:




Music Credit: "Electrodoodle" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


For more information on each challenge, click on the challenge titles below. Each has its own blog page where you can learn more details and watch videos of challenge walk-throughs.

Apples Aloft


Apples Afar


Apple Annihilator


Apple Ally


Apples A-head







If you prefer, you can also go straight to the bundles!



PRINTABLE VERSION

DIGITAL VERSION
(for use with Google Slides)


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Back-to-School STEM / STEAM Challenges are the perfect ice-breaker! Get students engaged in brain-busting work disguised as fun. These challenges work well to introduce and explore Newton's laws of motion and come with modifications for grades 2-8.





Back-to-School STEM Challenge: Apples A-head

The fifth challenge in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge series is Apples A-head (see Challenge 1, 2, 3, 4)If you've found your way here outside of the BTS season, not to worry! These challenges work great for fall apple activities and studies of forces and motion all year long! 



Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apples A-head, students build an apple-balancing device to be worn on their heads and test in a relay race. This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces & motion, and includes modifications for grades 2-8.




Premise


Working against a Criteria & Constraints List individually or with partners, students build an apple-balancing device to be worn on their heads and test in a relay race. This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces & motion! As with all the challenges in this series, materials are the symbols of the season: school supplies and apples!





Where Can I Find Out More?

If you're familiar with my work, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! However, if you do prefer to read it, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post. :)


Check out the video below to see Apples A-head in action:







This challenge has a print-friendly resource (left) and a digital resource for use with Google Slides (right).

Apples A-head is one of the five challenges in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge Bundle. 


And if that's not enough, you can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!


Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.




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Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apples A-head, students build an apple-balancing device to be worn on their heads and test in a relay race. This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces & motion, and includes modifications for grades 2-8.



Video Transcription

Welcome to Part 5 of 5. It’s our last Back-to-School STEM Challenge. This is Challenge 5 of 5. It is called Apples A-head. Let’s take a closer look at the materials, and I’ll be right back.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I’ll define each step in another video. I’ve added a pop-in cart to that video here, as well as a link in the description.

You might be familiar with some of my STEM challenges. I love to combine a STEM challenge with a little bit of PE, and this is one such challenge. The students are going to be making an apple-balancing device that they can wear on their heads, and they can use it to compete in a relay race. It has elements of STEM, elements of PE, and elements of strategy involved.

Criteria and constraints are pretty simple on this. The students need to all make their own headwear. It needs to keep the apple balanced on top of their heads, as they compete in the relay race, and it’s got to be easy to take the apple in and out of their devices so they can transfer them quickly. For the constraints, you have that the students may not touch the device or apple during the race, except during transfers.

If you have younger students and you want to make the race a little bit easier, I’ll allow them to actually touch the device, but not the apple. I also use smaller apples with younger students to make things a little easier. The students are not allowed to fully cover the apple. It must always remain visible.

If you have older students, you might actually want to increase the difficulty so, in that case, you use larger apples. Require that students make devices that allow them to balance two or more apples on their head at a time. You can require that every student in their group create a unique design, so no doubling up within the same group. You can definitely keep that constraint that students are not allowed to touch the apple or the device during the race, except during transfers to teammates.
Each student and team should make his or her own headwear. That way, they don’t have to transfer the headwear, and you don’t have to worry about having a lice fiasco during your first couple of weeks of school. Nobody wants that.

By now, you might be wondering, “Is she going to wear that the entire time she talks?” Yes, she is going to wear this the entire time she talks.

One of the things you want to do for a setup is you want to think about where you can hold the relay race, so make sure that you have that in mind. You’re going to need either cones, or you can use chairs, so that at the far end of the relay course, students will have something they can walk around.
You also want to think about what is the mode of the relay race. Are you having students just walk the course, which is probably recommended and it’s hard to go much faster with an apple on your head. But you might want to throw in some obstacles, like they have to turn around in a circle, or they have to hula-hoop, or squat, or jump, or whatever.

I recommend making sure that each group has its own timer, so I’ll let students use their cellphones if they have them for that. It just makes it easier on you as the teacher not to have to call out times and figure out who was first and all that. You want to be able to have each group know what their own time is because, when they do a second iteration, which hopefully they will, you don’t have to on this one. It’s a little bit lighter, but it is fun to see how you can improve your time by improving your designs, but also by improving your teamwork and your strategy.

The reason you want to have the students have their timers is, rather than determining their success based on, “Oh, our team came in first place," or "Our team came in third place,” it’s better to use your time, it’s more concrete, so the time it takes you to complete the relay course for each race. That way, you can compare over time how you’ve improved.

Again, you want to take a look, for your cross-curricular connections ...

If you want to save yourself some time and some prep work, take a look at the actual resource.
This resource contains everything you need, including modifications for use for second through eighth-graders. You’ll still need to gather the simple materials, of course, but the rest has been done for you. You’ll get aligned Next Gen Science Standards for Engineering and Physical science, links to my STEM challenge How-To videos to help you get the most from each challenge and the Apples A-head Materials List.

In Teacher Tips, you’ll find premise and set-up, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, directions for running the relay race, measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions, including links to videos and articles to help you and your students understand more about Newton’s Laws of Motion.

You’ll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list. You can tailor the challenge to your students.

For Student Handouts, there are two versions. Four-page expanded room for response for younger students and a two-page condensed space paper-saver version. You’ll also find a set of group discussion questions.

In the Extension Handouts, you’ll find two Apple writing templates, as well as map extension and process flow templates. This resource is available individually and is part of the discounted Back-to-School and Mega STEM Challenge bundles.

For one-to-one paperless classrooms, a version for use with Google slides is coming soon. Links can be found in the description below the video.

I really enjoyed putting seasonal STEM challenges together and if you want to see more like it, take a look in the links in the description below for my store, and you can see the 44 challenges I’ve put together so far, most of which are seasonal, but not all, and there’s a freebie in there, too.
Make sure that you like and subscribe. I will be back next week, but I’m not telling you with what yet, so I’ll see you then.


Back-to-School STEM Challenge: Apple Ally

The fourth challenge in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge series is Apple Ally (see Challenge 1, 2, 3)If you've found your way here outside of the BTS season, not to worry! These challenges work great for fall apple activities and studies of forces and motion all year long! 


Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apple Ally, students build an apple catcher to protect falling apples from damage! This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces, and motion, and includes modifications for grades 2-8.



Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apple Ally, students build an apple catcher to protect falling apples from damage! This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces, and motion, and includes modifications for grades 2-8.

Premise


Working against a Criteria & Constraints List individually or with partners, students build an apple catcher to protect falling apples from damage! As with all the challenges in this series, materials are the symbols of the season: school supplies and apples!






Where Can I Find Out More?


If you're familiar with my work, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! However, if you do prefer to read it, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post. :)


Check out the video below to see Apple Ally in action:








This challenge has a print-friendly resource (left) and a digital resource for use with Google Slides (right).

Apple Ally is one of the five challenges in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge Bundle. 


And if that's not enough, you can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!


Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.




PIN ME


Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apple Ally, students build an apple catcher to protect falling apples from damage! This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces, and motion, and includes modifications for grades 2-8.


Video Transcription

Hi guys, and welcome to part four of our Back-to-School STEM challenge series. We're almost at five, I'm a little bit sad about it. But let's leave that for next week. We're on part four, Apply Ally. The premise is that you are gonna have the students build an apple catcher. So the first thing they are gonna need to do, is build a tree trunk in the center of whatever their build space is. So I would say, definitely for the challenge you're gonna wanna use small apples. So we actually probably should pause here, and take a closer look at the materials.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I've defined each step in another video. I've added a pop-in card to that video here, as well as link in the description.
So as you can see, the Criteria and Constraints list is almost deceptively simple. The students are simply going to plant an apple tree and create a catcher that will prevent the apples from hitting the ground when they fall from the tree. You're gonna wanna give students a good amount of time on this, at least 45 minutes to build, and the students may not pierce or puncture the tree trunk. Now, if you have younger students you can just get rid of that constraint altogether in order to make it a little easier. But if you have older students you might actually want to increase the difficulty.

Some ideas for that are, to increase the area over which the students are building, so they have to create larger apple catchers. Instead of a box, have them use a foam board, or any flat surface to build upon. And increase the height from which the apples are dropped. And then another idea is to actually give the students four apples, and leave the apples in after each drop, so that when the fourth one is dropped there are already three apples in the catcher. That increases the strain on the design, and leads to some potential bounce-outs of the apples that students need to account for. And this is a great opportunity to study Newton's third law of motion.

Okay, so I don't really know if you can see this or not, but I'm just gonna tilt, so you can see this design. So it's just a lot of cross hatch of strings, and pipe cleaners, and rubber bands, and they've been paper clipped along the edges of the box. When the students build their tree trunk, they don't need to build out the top of the tree or the leaves, but some students are gonna want to, and it looks nice. So, no harm, no foul.

You wanna schedule 90 minutes for it, and you wanna have some spare apples on hand, and the reason for that is, they're gonna be closely observing, before each drop of the apple, to see if there are any scratches or dents, and as they're building and testing things could get damaged along the way, so just have a few on hand extra.

One way that you can test this is actually, partner up different groups. When teams partner up they're more careful to test in four different zones of the design, and they're also more likely to look for flaws that they want to exploit.

Then decide how you wanna measure success. So the way that I originally intended, and wrote it in, was that you would drop the apple from the height of the tree trunk. If you have younger students, then what I would recommend is having them test by jus placing. Just placing the apples in four different sections, and seeing if it stays. And that can be your cross for success. As you want to challenge the students, or as they are older, then you start raising the level from which you drop the apple. I wouldn't recommend going higher than the actual trunk of the tree ... Maybe with, again, with eight grade students you might have designs that can withstand that, but for the most part you're gonna be dropping ... you can decide. Mark off measurement lines, so just mark off every inch, and then you can have them do tests from different heights. So again, I start with just resting, can you rest the apple in four different spots, and if you can then you go up to the next level. They're gonna drop the apple and see if it falls through. Mine did.

So after each drop, if your students only have one apple they'll need to fish out the apple every time, and if you have some extra apples then you can just give them four, because they're gonna be doing four drops.

So you've probably noticed by now that we have a theme going. Of course when I thought back to school, I thought apples, and when I thought apples, I thought Isaac Newton. And then, of course, when you think Isaac Newton you have to think about the laws of motion, which is why so many of these challenges incorporate those laws of motion in.

So again, you're gonna wanna take a look for your cross-curricular standards, and get as much juice for the squeeze as you can out of each STEM challenge.

If you wanna save yourself prep time and planning time, take a look at the resource. 

This resource contains everything you need, including modifications for use with second through eighth graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials of course, but the rest has been done for you. You'll get Aligned Next Gen Science Standards for Engineering and Physical science, links to my STEM challenge How-To videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Apple Ally Materials List. 

In Teacher Tips you'll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, measuring results, and cross-curricular extension suggestions, including links to videos to help you and your students understand more about Newton's laws of motion. You'll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list, so you can tailor the challenge to your students.

For student handouts there are two versions, four-page, expanded room for response, for younger students, and a two-page, condensed space, paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts you'll find estimated measure mass handouts, as well as task card templates for student made questions related to the challenge. Use them for a game of SCOOT, a center for early finishers, or an option for sub plans. You'll also receive two apple writing templates, and math extension and process flow templates. This resource is available individually, and as part of the discounted Back-To-School, and Mega STEM challenge bundles. For one to one paperless classrooms, a version for use with Google Slides is coming soon. Links can be found in the description below the video.


All right, so I hope that you really liked Apple Ally, and that you try it with your students. And just be aware that this is a tricky one, this is challenging, so give your students some extra materials here, and give them some extra time, but don't shy away from the hard challenges, this is where all the good stuff happens. Make sure you like and subscribe. Next week we're gonna be talking about our fifth of five, it's called Apples Ahead. See you next week.