S.T.E.M. (acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) seems to be everywhere these days. From science conferences to school programs, everyone seems to be talking about it. Some in the educational world are even trying to write in engineering standards so students have to be taught this branch of science. Now, I am not opposed to students learning about it, but lets make it a natural part of the curriculum. Curriculums are already bursting at the seams with things students have to know and be able to do.
Take for example the S.T.E.M event I was a part last week (it was a great event done by Greenbrier Intermediate School in Chesapeake, Virginia). For two hours, parents and students had over 30 different sessions they could attend to learn about the different components to S.T.E.M. There was even a space for the other M-movement (they had a really cool rock wall my kids loved!). When parents and students came to my session, they might as well have stepped into a third grade classroom! In Virginia, the topic of simple machines is taught in 3rd grade. One of the goals is for students to learn about the six simple machines with the lever being one of them. The lesson I did with parents and students is a perfect example of how science and engineering can go together naturally.
The activity I did for the event was called “Launching Marshmallows.” Parents and students followed a series of steps to build a launcher (aka-the catapult). Then, they got the chance to try out their launcher to see if it worked. They were then given time to make modifications based on what they had learned from the first launch. After making modifications, they were again allowed to test out their launcher to see if the changes made any difference on how far their marshmallow flew!
In a matter of minutes, parents and students used their scientific observations and questions and became engineers! An engineer is a problem solver who at various points in the project they are working on will design, calculate, organize, and communicate. Expert engineers are able to clearly define a problem and the constraints (such as time, materials, cost, etc.) that need to be solved to bring the solution to reality. But first and foremost, they are really great scientists!
In fact, there is a great deal of overlap between science and engineering. Some scientists design and construct things and there are engineers who also contribute to the pursuit of scientific discoveries.
Instead of adding on to our bulging curriculums, lets work with teachers to identify topics in our science curriculums that allow for natural integration of the design process used by engineers!
If you would like a copy of the steps for designing a catapult, just click on the contact page found at www.justsimplescience.com and I will share it with you!