Students had a blast last week in the STEM lab. I connected our social studies curriculum to STEM through a lesson where students made their own kangaroo pouches for a “lost” kangaroo joey.
We started by reading about Australia in a small book I created to give students some background knowledge. You can pick up your own copy in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. One of the chapters covered animals found in Australia, in particular marsupials that carry their young in a pouch.
After reading, we watching a few YouTube videos of kangaroos hopping about, with baby joeys going in and out of their mother’s pouch. We had a class a discussion about why this animal adaptation is so great for kangaroos. Then it was time for the fun part, revealing the STEM challenge.
The STEM challenge was to build a pouch for a baby kangaroo (joey) that had gotten separated from his mum. To add to the challenge I told students their pouch designs needed to be something they could pass to another group member. I mean come on, if you were in charge of a joey kangaroo you can’t watch it all day. What if you need to eat, sleep or pee? That joey needs to be watched by more than one person.
Watching students work through the STEM process amazed me as usual. Jumping at the bit to get started, students dove right in planning and creating. And true to form, what I had envisioned was the obvious solution was not created. Students were working with:
1 Oversized T-shirt
We used a stuffed animal koala I have in my room to test out the design. Ironic I know since koalas are also marsupials. After completing the lesson I was like, wait I should have just made this STEM lesson be about koalas, but too little too late and really it was fine. To add some heft to the stuffed animal we attached a full Clorox Wipes bottle to it.
When students were ready to test their designs, they would come to the front. Work together to get the pretend joey situated and then hop around the room like a kangaroo to see how it worked. (How much fun jumping like a kangaroo, they couldn’t do that if they were making pouches for koalas!)
There were many successes and a few failures. Each failure was met with a rousing, “THANKS FOR FAILING!” from the class. We have really embraced the idea of learning from failure and I have been promoting the idea that failing can be fun when it shows you what not to do next time. It was back to the drawing board for groups who’s designs didn’t quite work out the way they hoped.
It is amazing how quickly 45 minutes can go when students are having fun. We didn’t have a chance to fill out their recording sheets fully so we saved that for the next day. I wish I could say I planned it that way, but honestly, students just weren’t writing down as they went as I asked them to. It lead to a great discussion though about quality of work and how engineers need to take detailed notes to share their findings of what worked and what didn’t with one another. But that was another 45 minute lesson the next day.
STEM lessons have really transformed my class. Students love to create and explore to solve a problem, and it has taught me to be more hands off and act more as a sounding board or mentor as I check in with groups. Plus it has given students a safe place to fail and embrace the learn from those failures to make changes and try again. What a great way to put the power of learning in the hands of students. What do you think about STEM lessons? Do you have any favorites? Leave a comment below to share.