STEAM Challenges

Cross-Curricular STEAM Challenges

Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, otherwise known as STEAM (or STEM if you’re a hardcore believer in the fact that art has no place in this type of learning) is a “buzzword” that is seen and heard a lot lately.

All kinds of groups and organizations are raising money for and encouraging schools to spend more money on programs supporting these subjects. Many of these programs are forced to take place after school because of the time constraints placed on teachers and admin because they are supposed to be teaching material that will assuredly be on a test come spring. But that’s another issue for another post…

Back to STEAM: the concepts covered in these subject areas requires problem solving, and problem solving requires a broad spectrum of thought. Because their brains haven’t been conditioned to think in a vacuum, many times young students can tackle problems that have stumped engineers and other adults whose jobs require problem-solving.

Because of this, we understand the importance of the application of STEAM whenever possible. In this regard, cross-curricular teaching and learning becomes incredibly powerful, especially for elementary students.

Unfortunately, many schools and teachers don’t know how to incorporate this type of learning into the classroom that just spoonfeeds students the answers.

Here are some ideas that allow parents and/or teachers to apply STEAM to situations that students may already be familiar with, like popular children’s stories.

In all of these scenarios, this “lesson plan” should be followed:

  1. Read the story
  2. Identify the problem and opportunity for solution (allow the students to lead the discussion)
  3. Brainstorm solutions (if research is required, this is the step in which to do it)
  4. Choose the best solution
  5. Test the solution (construct something using things like Legos, plastic cups, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, Q-tips, pipe cleaners, foil, straws (different sizes and colors), masking tape (different colors), duct tape, clear tape, string, glue, clay, foam wedges (for makeup), balloons, paper towel and toilet paper tubes (and any other recycled materials), cardboard and boxes, paper and card stock, cereal boxes, coffee cans, plastic bags, water bottles, coins, magnets, dried beans, balls, blocks, and anything else you can think of)
  6. Evaluate the solution (redesign/improve or go back to step 4) – take this opportunity to explain that “failure” is actually a step in the process that leads to success
  7. Presentation of the solution (this could be in the form of a contest with an announcer or a big show with a story and props)

The list of children’s literature below is a great place to begin:

  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff (STEAM challenge: build a bridge that will support the goats’ weight in order to get to the other side)
  • The Three Little Pigs (STEAM challenge: build a house that will withstand strong wind forces)
  • Dogzilla by Dav Pilkey (STEAM challenge: build a dog bone launcher)
  • Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Suess (STEAM challenge: build a castle – research medieval castles and what purpose each part of it served)

Make sure you allow the students time to research and explore; that’s where the learning takes place. Follow up with something written (or a discussion depending on the age) that allows students to describe the challenges and how they overcame them. In addition, you may encourage them to “fail” several times before they come up with a solution.

Helpful hint: if you have kids who are more artistic, allow them to draw pictures of their ideas. If you have “project managers” (organized kids who like to tell others what to do and how to do it), let them come up with the outline and the plan and help the others execute it. Try to recognize each kid’s gift(s).

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