Brand-New Activities for a Brand-New Audience
Debuting next month in Texas, Learning Undefeated is expanding its mobile laboratory programming for the first time to include elementary-school activities focused on engineering design concepts. Developed by James Hong, a new Instructional Designer for Learning Undefeated who joined the team in February, in collaboration with the Texas Education Agency, the 11 cross-curricular activities are aligned to the Texas Education Knowledge and Skills standards and will debut with the Texas Mobile STEM Labs program for the 2020/21 school year. These modules were approved by TEA as model activities to introduce the engineering design process to K-8 students.
To conceptualize the new curriculum for students as young as five years old, James and TEA focused on creating a set of activities that could marry storytelling with critical STEM principles. Through extensive research and brainstorming he was able to craft engaging and interactive laboratory investigations that support students to employ critical thinking skills. James is currently in the final stage of obtaining his doctoral degree from the University of Virginia in education curriculum and instruction.
“The goal for using stories is in these activities is to encourage teachers to think about STEM activities as more than just replacements for science class,” explains James. “Often, the conversation around integrating STEM into a school’s curriculum treats STEM it as its own separate entity or something to integrate within science class. The goal of these resources is to show that STEM learning can be part of any class.”
Created for Students with Teachers in Mind
This curriculum is tailored for K-8 students, emphasizing creative problem-solving skills. James employed stories like Jack the Beanstalk and The Three Little Pigs to demonstrate common issues that students must work together to solve.
“Using storybooks for STEM just makes the science and math more explicit, rather than the more widely used implicit practices,” he describes. “What we’re providing supplements what teachers already do and structuring those lessons around engineering design. These types of interactive activities are already employed in the classroom with great success, and teachers possess all the skills needed to employ these tactics.”
Each activity presents an engineering design challenge ranging from designing prosthetics to creating a tool to remove invasive species. After experiencing the modules, students will be able to relate science, technology, engineering, and math to what they experience in their daily lives, along with their other areas of study.
Activities topics range from building robots out of everyday materials to city planning to biomimicry and also incorporate classic children’s’ books like Jack and the Beanstalk and What if there Were No Bees? “Students practice their reading skills and then engage with the story in a hands-on manner through the engineering design model. What this means is that they are given a challenge based around the story that they just read, and must create an artifact that has criteria, constraints, and a budget.”
Grades K-2 activities are 20-30 minutes in duration and Grades 3-8 activities are 45-60 minutes in duration. Learning Undefeated will provide the materials needed to complete engineering design challenges focused on brainstorming, designing, and testing. All activities focus on students designing solutions to problems and allow for collaboration and exploration of the content. Each activity comes with a lesson plan, rubric, and PowerPoint for teachers to reference during their instruction. These modules are available on our website for any teacher to use; they can be accessed on our site at www.txmobilestem.org.