“Too often we give children answers to remember, rather than problems to solve.”– Roger Lewin
Sixth Grade Science Classes recently spent 2 weeks following their units on Plate Tectonics, Volcanoes and Earthquakes participating in the Engineering process to research, design, build, test and revise models of structures that are “earthquake proof”. Students worked in teams to compile information in a shared google doc regarding the methods used by engineers to construct buildings in such a way that they can better withstand movements of the Earth that are associated with earthquakes. As a class, we performed activities, watched videos, read an interactive survival adventure novel and had numerous discussions to build our knowledge. Students created a blueprint of their building and were tasked with using the most basic supplies to create their structure. While building, students “tested” their buildings, discussing aspects that were successful and unsuccessful and making revisions to their structures.
In the ever changing world we exist in as educators, working in a 1:1 environment where students have technology and information at their fingertips all day, we are challenged to meet the needs of our students in a different way than ever before. Utilizing the technology available in creative, yet appropriate ways has proven to be both exciting and challenging. Approximately ten years ago, the idea of incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts into our classrooms was introduced and has become increasingly popular as time passes. Students at all grade levels are being immersed in STEM activities, which allows them to build a variety of skills across disciplines.
As I facilitated various parts of this extensive project, I found myself in awe. Students were conversing with each other using academic vocabulary. They were working together to solve a problem where there was not one definitive answer or best solution. They were engaged in their conversations and work and were showing what they had learned by creating a model that displayed their learning. Using a shake table and tilt table built by Betsy Minton, students were able to evaluate the success of their structures by determining if their structures could survive shaking and measuring the angle that caused the building to topple over. Students were so effective at utilizing engineering design methods that they researched that the majority of the buildings were able to withstand the shaking of the shake table. In recent years, there has been a shift from delivering content, to allowing students to explore content, using it to solve real-world problems. Observing my 6th grade students research, collaborate, design, create, test and revise their prototypes made it evident that students are, indeed, benefiting from this shift.
Stacy Hill is currently in her 17th year in Science Education. Prior to teaching at Episcopal, she taught high school science, worked in East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and taught Gifted Middle School Science. She earned her BS from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi and her M. Ed from LSU.