Every day our students travel to school. Whether by bus, car, walking, or another mode of transportation, there are many ways we can safely arrive at our destination. But what about our peers in different countries? How do they get to school? How does extreme weather affect their travels? Let’s find out with a real-world STEM connection lesson!
Real-world STEM activities can help students to contextualize their learning and see its practical application while providing them with the valuable skills of critical thinking and problem-solving while building confidence, creativity, and teamwork, all of which allow students to tackle future global challenges (Hunt 2021).
For this STEM lesson, fifth-graders were challenged to build a prototype of a safety device for one of their peers featured in the video “How Children Get to School Around the World!” (see Online Resources). This video shares travel experiences for students in five areas of the world who travel by various methods including “The Tuin,” a rope bridge, bamboo ladders, Chadar Trek, and a zipline. The complete STEM lesson took place over two 40-minute class periods in the STEM lab and began with a review of extreme weather by viewing “Extreme Weather on Our Planet” by National Geographic (see Online Resources). Because students in fifth-grade have previously learned about extreme weather and its impacts, this portion of the lesson should only take about 10 minutes.
Next, students made a list of modes of transportation they use to get to school (e.g., bus, car, and walking). They were then posed with the question, “How would extreme weather affect our travels to school?” During discussions, students came up with several answers including, “If we have a snowstorm, we stay home because the bus doesn’t run because the roads are icy;” “If it floods the bus doesn’t run either because the road is covered with water;” and “If it’s raining too hard, I don’t want to walk to school because it could be dangerous with gushing water on the sidewalk.” This led to our guiding question, “How do your peers around the world get to school and how do you think extreme weather affects them?”
As students watched the video, “How Children Get to School Around the World,” the video was paused after each section to allow for discussion by asking the mode(s) of transportation and how extreme weather would affect travel to school. When the video concluded, I presented the STEM challenge: Using one of your peers in the video as inspiration, create a prototype of a safety device he/she could use to ensure safe travels to school during extreme weather. Students were shown the allowed materials to build their prototype per team, which included 6 craft sticks, 2 coffee filters, 4 pipe cleaners, 3 sheets of paper, pencils, markers, scissors, a foot of tape, and string. The cost of the materials averages less than a dollar per group. Safety review of using scissors was also given in that students were told they could only use the scissors while sitting, only cut the given materials for the challenge, and to not walk around the room with the scissors (keep the scissors at each workstation.).
Students were then placed in pairs or groups of three to ensure equal participation during the STEM challenge. Be sure to monitor that all students participate in the design and building of the prototype equally. This can be done by walking around the room and asking what each student is contributing to the prototype and redirecting if necessary as well as assigning group roles: recorder, materials manager, and building supervisor.
The featured video was then rewatched with students focusing on the following questions:
At the start of the next class period, the goal of the STEM assignment was reviewed along with what materials were allowed for the build. Students were given 20 minutes to complete their prototypes. When a team completed their prototype, they would present it to the teacher as they were evaluated using a rubric that focused on the team explaining how their safety device would be used if a student encountered extreme weather using the featured mode of transportation. In our school, students do not receive grades for STEM lab; therefore, the rubrics were used to evaluate students’ level of success at defining a simple design problem reflecting a need that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials and time. Students created a variety of prototypes including a solar powered compact sled with heat insulation to be used to travel across icy areas during snowstorms; zipline harness with rain shield and inflatable crash pad to be used to travel by zipline during a rainstorm; large zipline basket with rainproof cover to allow more students to cross along a zipline at a time; and a solar powered aerodynamic sled with side wind protection to move across icy paths during snowstorms and can also fly across cracked ice.
During the class presentation time, each team could choose to present their safety device to the class or opt for the teacher to present the group’s safety device. When teams presented, students were given the opportunity to positively comment on designs as well as to ask questions. Students often commented on the unique aspect of designs such as how one team added an additional safety measure of a parachute to a zipline harness should the harness fail for the students in Acacias, Colombia, or how one team chose to add sticky material to the bottom of supercharged hiking shoes when the shoes touched ropes for the students in the Pamoseang Village, Indonesia, whose rope bridge can often have pieces wash away during flooding and would therefore have to traverse along ropes. Students also asked questions including, “How would the sled be compacted to make it easier to carry for the students who traveled along ice during the winter months in the Lingshed Village, Indian Himalayas?” and “How heavy is the parachute for the kids in Atuleer Village, China, to carry because they have to climb a lot of stairs?” Allowing time for discussion is crucial in a STEM lesson because students are allowed to share their ideas about science content as well as to share what they think about other students’ ideas to progress toward a shared understanding of scientific phenomena.
Through this STEM lesson, students were able to apply their knowledge of extreme weather to a real-world situation. “I didn’t realize what kids have to face just to go school,” one student commented during the lesson. “I didn’t think what I could make could really help other people until I really thought about it,” another student stated. “Just think of what we could do in this world if we all worked together,” a student said at the end of a presentation. Real-world STEM experiences, such as this one, allow students to understand the impact their knowledge and ideas can have beyond the classroom walls to solve the challenges the world faces today.
Download a planning sheet, rubric, and discussion guide at https://bit.ly/3KRTGHu.
How Children Get To School Around the World! www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oOHh4RclW8
National Geographic: Extreme Weather on Our Planet www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/extreme-weather-on- our-planet
Hunt, E. 2021. Ideas for developing global citizens through STEM activities. Headteacher Update. MA Education Limited. www.headteacher-update.com/best-practice-article/ideas-for-developing-global-citizens-through-stem-activities/233705/
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