Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fun with STEM!

About a week and a half ago a local parent group teamed up with the school district, our local 4-H club, and CSU to host a STEMasters training to build capacity in our community for supporting STEM education.  There were four different training options and I opted for the Energy Module.  I wasn’t sure what to expect going in but I have to admit it was a very engaging experience.  

At the end of the day our instructor admitted that she is not fond of speaking in front of a group.  Let me tell you she proved it!  From start to finish we built one thing after another.  We made so many things I had to make a list.  Here it is:

circuit - parallel and series
wind turbine
solar powered motor

Not only did we make all these things but we were given the opportunity to try our new ideas and test hypotheses like: “what kind of windmill blade design will generate the most electricity?” ; “how will electricity act when we set up different kinds of circuits?” ; “if I wire solar panels in series, will they generate enough power to turn a motor?”.  The opportunities for inquiry were endless.  Plus on top of it I learned more about electricity, solar power, motors, and wind energy than I have in my whole life to date.....and I had so much fun doing it.  

I can’t help but reflect on how effective this teaching approach was. Our teacher’s strategy was to give us some simple materials, a challenge (build a light switch with tacks, paper clips, and a fastener, for example) and let us go.  After the challenge was met, we started extending our thinking naturally:“can I make it easier to use?”; “what happens if I use different materials?” ; “how can I make a 3-way switch?” ; “Why does it work this way?”. Plus the classroom was set up in such a way that we could see what other groups were doing and compare products and methods.  

I am so glad that our parent group was able to coordinate this training and I look forward to conducting some of these activities with students.  Here is a short slideshow to show off some of our creations:)

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