It’s been absolutely great this year being back in a primary classroom. Co-teaching a wonderful class of year 3/4 students has been an absolute highlight and being back in the trenches of team planning, PLC’s, assessment, curriculum and everything in between has certainly been engaging and enjoyable.
Recently as a 3/4 teaching team we decided to ramp up the digital technologies component of our planning and through this engage our students in a STEM Challenge linked explicitly to our science focus of the term which was focused upon the Victorian Curriculums Science Learning Area and in particular Science Understanding: Physical Sciences.
For what was a six week, group based challenge posed to the students it ran extremely well. In short, the students loved it, it reaffirmed the concepts taught at the beginning of the term, and gave them an applicative approach to demonstrating what they knew as well as space to find out new things. This being said, there were a few stand out items of note that I quickly came to realise. Things that I had perhaps assumed going in to the challenge itself and the students meeting the expectations that I had outlined.
It’s easy going in to a challenge such as this ‘assuming’ that the students will be fine and met all expectations that are set for them. You’d assume that even though they’ve been classmates for 6 months that they’ll work well in a group and be super organised and everything will be fine. You may even be confident feeling that afterwards when presentations and speeches are given, that students will be a certainty to showcase what they have learnt throughout the process.
In thinking back I now feel I was somewhat blinded by the excitement that the students showed at the beginning of this challenge and therefore ‘assumed’ that this was going to be a “learning experience for the ages!”. As great as it was, it wasn’t, and there are a number of things I would, and will, certainly do differently next time. Such as…
Model, tell, show, share, discuss, draw, and highlight what exactly you’re hoping to see come beginning, middle and end of the challenge / STEM process. Students need explicit instruction. Period. It’s all good and proper to believe they’ll know what to do and that when they’re in their group they are working on certain aspects of their challenge, and that they’ll draw on prior knowledge to assist throughout. However, like in most lessons taught, that is not the case.
Prior Knowledge Counts for A Lot.
Again, here I was ‘assuming’ that students would draw upon previous learnings and knowledge to complete and do an array of things. The following being just a few examples;
- students knew how to build and construct a house (or anything for that matter) using cardboard and other materials.
- knew how to create a digital presentation.
- knew how to present aforementioned presentation.
- work collaboratively.
- work independently.
- would intrinsically draw upon previous learnings and prior knowledge.
- seek assistance (from anyone) when required.
- know how to sketch and draw 2D shapes with detail.
That’ll do. This comes back to the explicit teaching and assuming that students know what they ‘should’ know that will assist with the work.
Now in saying all of that… when students DO tap in to their already developed knowledge and understanding and apply this, WOW!
Prepare to Be Amazed.
STEM, and perhaps this challenge in particular, was/is a clear ‘case in point’ that students will absolutely astonish and amaze you when you give them the freedom and space to do so. I have referred to the following quote countless times since I have heard it as it rings so true.
“Watching kids in schools is like watch balloons deflate. School just sucks the creativity and curiosity right out of them” – Gary Stager.
I cannot argue with that. We’ve all seen the clips of Audrey and his Rube Goldberg machine and Caine’s Arcade (if you haven’t i’ve embedded them below), both 2 clear examples of how when we as educators ‘let go’, kids will always try, trial, and do as best they can in whatever it is that they have set out to achieve!
Never Underestimate The Big C’s of Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity.
For me personally and in this instance, critical thinking was a big one. Not all students, most for that matter, have the necessary skill sets, capabilities and strategies to problem solve and, well, think critically to evaluate and analyse for the better. This was two fold in my situation in that prompting and being explicit through asking probing questions was not yielding the answers I was wanting to hear. Secondly, seeing students become ‘stumped’ when things did not go to plan and becoming ‘lost’ as to what to do next was a little mind boggling. Again, that ability to evaluate and analyse a situation seemed to be at times missing. That there however is not the students fault. They simply have not been taught the skills to do so.
I’ll be sure to share the learnings, happenings and growth during from our next STEM Challenge but for now, please check out exactly what it is our students engaged in.