One of the challenges faced by elementary school STEM teachers is finding age-appropriate activities that build up a foundational scientific knowledge; too often, elementary STEM classes provide opportunities that are interesting in themselves, but are unconnected to each other or to the greater theme of the unit study. A classical approach to STEM, like we have here at Westminster, drives students to learn how to ask the right questions in their scientific exploration, a skill that is used not only in every scientific field but in other disciplines as well.
A glimpse into Mrs. Dormois’s 5th grade science class better illustrates that point:
Every student was given three objects, each of which was made of a different material. The challenge: find your objects again, once they are mixed together with the objects of the rest of the class.
Students’ first reaction was to use color and shape to find their objects, but those characteristics didn’t narrow down the options as much as they would have liked. Mrs. Dormois pushed students to ask questions: What other physical properties could show me the difference between two similar objects? What tools do I need to discover that property? How can I keep a record of my findings?
Soon students began asking for triple beam balances and measuring tape. Then some students thought of the properties of magnetism and buoyancy, and Mrs. Dormois got out magnets and measuring cups filled with water. Students then organized the information into a chart on their own.
If only you could have been a fly on the wall watching as students identified the physical properties that made each object unique!