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Thursday, April 02, 2015


Tomorrow I've invited parents in to see the marble maze simple machine projects.

I hesitated to do this because the projects are not all beautiful to look at. In fact, at first glance, they look like a pile of recycled materials. Also, some of the projects don't work that well. Yet, the craftsmanship, problem solving, collaboration, and thought that went into the work was terrific. Some of the projects work in amazing ways too. Many students wanted to share.

As I embarked on this project for the first time, I didn't really know what to expect. I let it happen and followed students' lead. I deviated from the old-time everyone-does-the-same-simple-creation format to the new STEAM investigation and exploration format. The new format is much more real world, and richer with regard to deep thinking, creativity, communication, debate, and problem solving.

I watched and coached as students struggled with the problem which was to include simple machines into a marble maze creation. Some students readily grasped the challenge, managed their groups, and created. Others hesitated and struggled more with the task. Some projects were flimsy, but intricate. Others were simple and secure. Some students worked at home, during recess, and at lunch. Others worked only during the class periods. Some groups had terrific synergy and others were challenged with regard to supporting each others' ideas. Hence, there is great variation with the final projects.

Now that I've been through this project, I know a lot more about my young engineers and what they need for successful STEAMwork.

I let the groups happen, and for the most part this worked well. Students self selected good peers for creation. Some individuals and groups joined together or split apart during the process. In a couple of situations, this was not ideal. So next time, I'll be a bit more strategic with grouping by giving some voice and a little more direction too. Teamwork is an essential element of this project, an element more important than I originally thought.

Next time I'll make sure that each group has their own building space. That's somewhat tough in my smallish classroom, but I can make it happen. We also need greater protocols to make sure that students' spaces are secure. That was complicated since there's some structural work happening in our school building which may have affected some of the displays.

Supply Boxes
Everyone will receive a supply box with essential supplies, and they will also have access to other supplies in the STEAM center. This will help everyone have access to a fair share of needed supplies.

Like last time, I'll provide a multimedia introduction and resource web page to support the project. Many of the students who succeeded most with the project, took the time to revisit the web page and look online at project examples. The children who did this were highly motivated by the project problem.

I'd like to build in more time, but time remains a premium at school, and big, rich projects like these take time. I chose to stop the project before every group had finished simply because this project could last for weeks for some students. I might scaffold the project more next time so that stage one is easy for everyone to complete and stage two is there for the taking for students who are passionate about the project.

Team Meetings
Rather than having all groups in at once during lunch and recess, next time I'd like to have some small group meetings especially with groups who are facing greater challenge during lunch time.

Parent Volunteers
This is the kind of project that would profit from parent volunteers. Next time I'll know what to expect and be able to coach parents who are willing to contribute a few hours to help out.

Sharing STEAMwork with families requires an introduction to this open-ended, real-world engineering, design work. It's not the cookie-cutter project that many recall from their own school days, but instead a free explore based on scientific principles. It's the kind of work that builds students' ability to problem solve, design, create, succeed/fail, and see learning with a new confidence and awareness, the kind of confidence we need to build in our students to make them ready for the learning ahead.

If there's space and if I'm teaching science next year, this may be the summer to read Invent to Learn and to attend the Constructing Modern Knowledge workshop. When you reach in to teach STEAM well, there's lots to learn. And if you watch the students' STEAM learning in action, you would know that this is learning worth the time and effort it takes to do it well.

Related Posts:
Marble Maze Project Films
Open House Introduction