To break it down a little more, STEM incorporates the skills of the scientists, techs, engineers and mathematicians. How do these humans solve problems? How do they succeed in their fields? They practice discovery learning. They are confronted with questions, tasks and problems, and they have to use reasoning skills to seek out the answers. They research and develop models. They think creatively. They use their reasoning skills to succeed in their careers and life.
So, those who break down a STEM class into regimented subject matter are not actually teaching STEM. If a teacher designs a project and requires students to follow a subject structure, students will miss the overall goal behind STEM. For example, suppose a teacher creates a project around the declining population of monarch butterflies, and she breaks the requirements down according to the subjects-
Science- Research the declining monarch populations.
Technology- Create graph using Excel
Engineering- Create a model of the migration routes.
Mathematics- Calculate percentages of population declines.
While this lesson structure does meet all of the requirements on the surface of STEM, students will be missing the deeper value and overall goal of this subject. On the other hand, a teacher would be on the verge of reaching the goals of STEM if she were to simply pose the problem and the question- Monarch butterfly populations are declining at an alarming rate. How can we help? Beginning a lesson in this manner will spark curiosity and concern. Students will have to think creatively and use the very same skills STEM professionals use. Students will have to research, develop ideas and network to accomplish goals. They may face both defeat and success. They may have to modify their approaches. They will have to practice. Students will experience what it is like to be faced with a problem, to learn and then to apply their knowledge to find success. This is the true purpose of STEM- creating active learners that apply their understanding to think critically and make changes in our world.]]>
The lesson begins with an activity involving newspaper puzzles. Either as teams or individuals, students create a puzzle by cutting up an old newspaper. Once the puzzle is complete, students exchange their puzzles with classmates challenging them to reassemble the pieces. Every time I conduct this activity in my classroom, my students are fully engaged and excited about the process. They are eager to use their reasoning skills to reassemble the pieces and take pride in their abilities in creating their puzzles. I typically allow my students most of the class period to complete this activity, leaving enough room at the end of class to reconvene for a class discussion. During this discussion, the goal is to identify the strategies used to reassemble the newspaper and how this process relates to the processes scientists used to develop the theory of continental drift. In order to complete the puzzle, students must use clues from the shapes and the images on the pieces, just as scientists used clues from the shapes of Africa and South America and the whereabouts of fossil remains.
Following this activity, the students discovered the main content of this lesson. They read the comics about Alfred Wegner and convection currents. We examined specific periods, such as the Jurassic Period, and discussed the continents’ locations and the conditions present at that time. All of this information was meant to serve as a foundation for the main activity at the end of this lesson.
To conclude the Continental Drift Lesson Plan, students embarked on a research project based on a specific era in Earth’s history. Their mission was to choose a specific era, such as the Jurassic or Cretaceous, and follow the criteria listed on the rubric. Criteria included researching the climate conditions, the wildlife present at that time and the locations of the continents. To communicate their scientific findings, the students created a giant poster that included a visual representation of the continents’ locations, the information they discovered about their era and a definition of continental drift. When all of the projects were complete, we hung the posters in the hallway in chronological order, creating a visual model of the history of the continents’ motion.
Each year, this lesson proves to be an effective introduction to the concepts behind our planet’s formation. My students develop a lasting foundational understanding of the basic concepts and easily build on this foundation throughout the Earth science unit. Download the Continental Drift Lesson Plan and Activity on this site and on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Cool School Rap- Continental Drift Lesson
Teachers Pay Teachers Link]]>
As a modification to this, I challenged my students to demonstrate their understanding of Newton’s laws of motion by building a car powered by a balloon. Prior to class, I had already gathered a variety of supplies- straws, cardboard, balloons, scissors, bottle lids, tape, old CDs and paper plates- and placed them in a supply box. I began the lesson by completing a simple Google Image search for balloon powered cars and projected the results on the front board. As a class we discussed design ideas and noted the materials necessary to complete the task. Students then broke into teams and began developing design ideas. During this process, there was an eagerness in the classroom. The children were excited to begin the creation process.
Once a team developed a clear plan and sketches of their ideas, they were allowed to begin the building process. They energetically dove into the supply box to gather supplies and cooperated throughout their car’s creation. I circulated the classroom monitoring progress and offering tips and guidance. Some groups struggled to create wheels that actually rotated, while others struggled to stop air from escaping their balloon prematurely. I encouraged my students to conduct multiple trial runs and to resist getting frustrated through the modification process. In the end, three out of the five groups in my class successfully build cars powered by balloons. The pride they felt was obvious as they cheered their car on down the school hallway. I know this was a memorable and fun experience for my at-risk population, and I will surely repeat this lesson again in years to come. This lesson is inexpensive, engaging and a perfect way to get students excited about the subject matter. It is a great way to incorporate inquiry and creativity into the science classroom.
This activity can be downloaded on both this site and Teachers Pay Teachers.
Cool School Rap Link
Teachers Pay Teachers Link]]>
Prior to the activity, I prepare five or six trays modeling the penny puzzles pictured in the “Penny Puzzle” comic. Each tray is numbered and contains sealed paper lunch bags with the same amount of pennies in each, a certain number of loose pennies and a card with the total amount of pennies written on it. For the activity, students will break into teams based on the number of trays prepared. I usually prepare five or six trays. I begin the lesson by projecting and handing out the comic. We read it as a class and discuss the strategies used to solve the puzzles. As modeled in the comic, each team will have to examine the contents of the tray to determine how many pennies are hidden in each bag without peaking. I require my students to write out the equation being modeled prior to solving the puzzle. Once they solve the puzzle in their given tray, the students put all of the contents back the way they found it and pass it to another team.
The next part of the activity requires the teams to make their own penny puzzles. This proved to be a bit of a challenge for some of my teams, and they needed some guidance. Many of my students referenced the comic to examine how the characters created puzzles, and in the end, every team was able to successfully create a penny puzzle to test on classmates. As they did in the first portion of this lesson, the students passed the trays around and attempted to solve their classmates’ puzzles.
Through the entire activity, the classroom was abuzz with energy and excitement. My students love this activity, and it has always proved to create a solid foundation for my students’ understanding of two-step equations. Once I move on to actually solving written equations, I reference which terms represent the penny bags and which terms represent the loose coins. This helps my students identify which terms get added or subtracted and which get divided. This is a very effective introductory activity, and I recommend it to anyone introducing algebra. The download on this site provides the comic, teacher instructions and a follow-up practice worksheet.
Download this lesson plan on this website or on Teachers Pay Teachers
Cool School Rap Link
Teachers Pay Teachers Link
I teach seventh and eighth grade math and science at a charter school for at-risk youth where accommodate the needs of a wide variety of learners. Throughout my career as an educator, I have learned a great deal about restructuring the curriculum and modifying it in ways that help my at-risk students meet the grade level standards. I have incorporated everything from center-based and inquiry-based learning to performing educational songs and raps in front of the class.
One issue I am constantly facing with my students is their aversion to reading. They avoid textbooks, pleasure reading books, informational websites, and magazines. My students are notorious for skipping any test question that looks like a paragraph. Ten months ago, in response to this need for literacy in science, I began drawing one-page comics that would highlight key points of certain topics. The Cool School Rap is an educational comic series that breaks down the science curriculum for middle school students in an attractive and easy to read format. Aligning with the Common Core Standards, the characters guide students’ reading through word bubbles, diagrams, captions and illustrations. This curriculum places a strong and consistent emphasis on inquiry and includes an inquiry activity at the end of each topic. Each comic posted on this site is accompanied with the content standard it fulfills.
The Cool School Rap has my students excited to read. They peer over my shoulder while I sketch and gather around when I bring in the finished copies. The Cool School Rap is a medium I can use to educate such a wider population, and I am fully capable of drawing comics for each topic and in each grade level. My plan is to continue drawing comics that align with the new Common Core curriculum and to continue posting them on this site, making them available to students far beyond my classroom. New comics will be added every week! I know this is what I am meant to do, and I am just getting started.
Thank you and keep learning!!!
Laura L. Balliett