For the past few times I’ve been meeting with teachers, I’ve been introducing them to STEM Challenges. These challenges have the participants work together to solve a problem I pose. Sometimes the problem has a fictional story attached to it or connects to the real world, but all of the challenges have the teachers working as engineers to find a solution.
Once the problem is introduced, I tell them the criteria and constraints that go along with the challenge. For example, there might be a time limit, only certain materials available or limits on the amount of material to be used, requirements that need met, etc. Participants get to ask questions about the challenge, imagine their ideas, plan it out with team members, create their solution, test it out, and then improve upon it, which is known as the Engineering Design Process.
So far, participants I’ve worked with have designed packages to keep a glass ornament safe, earthquake resistant buildings, towers made out of index cards and a foot of tape to hold a stuffed animal, boats to save the gingerbread man, windmill blades to lift a cup of washers, sails to catch the wind, Trojan horse carts to roll down a ramp, and built cup towers using only a rubber band and strings.
Through all of these challenges, I noticed the participants were engrossed with the challenge and trying to do their best to solve the problem. When their design wasn’t working, they were very eager to go back to the drawing table and figure it out how to make it work. When they were successful, it was a great scene to watch. Participants were high-fiving, cheering each other on, applauding one another, jumping up and down, and making sounds of joy and excitement. After the challenge, I posed to them that if this is how you are feeling, can you imagine how excited your students would be doing the same thing?