My current project is focused on STEM activities for my Kindergarten and first grade students. STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics --seems to be a major push in lots of school rights now, and I wanted my kids to have a chance to explore these academic disciplines in a fun way. So, how did I do it?!!! I came up with the idea that I wanted to request a variety of building materials -- Magnatiles, plank blocks, Legos, stacking cups, and gear blocks-- and use them in engineering centers. Each center has a specific task card to guide students in what they should be building with the assigned material. However, there is a lot of room for students to use their own critical thinking skills, creativity, and problem-solving abilities within each task. Some of the websites I explored to add to my own ideas were these great Livebinders here and here.
I introduced the idea of becoming an "engineer for the day" with these YouTube videos to help explain what an engineer does. Kindergarten saw this one:
I also wanted to incorporate teamwork skills, which can be a struggle for this age group, so I created a teamwork checklist that we follow during the center activities. Students rate themselves at the end of the lesson and give themselves 0, 1, 2, or 3 teamwork points as a way to reflect on what they did well on and what they need to improve. The Kindergarten students helped me brainstorm the three skills: Passing materials, whispering and making a plan, and talking nicely and using manners.
Each child also has a center activity sheet to help with accountability for completing the center. Again, I explain the sheet at each center and assist as needed, especially with some of my English Language Learner students.
These engineering centers are particularly exciting for my Kindergarten kids who I teach "specials" (enhancements, rotations) to each day because they can complete the entire rotation of centers over the next five to six weeks. At this point in the year, I wanted to mix things up and have more of a challenge since the majority of my students are reading and can handle being a little more independent. I am creating groups to ensure that at least one really strong reader is in each group and am assisting when needed. My first graders will only receive one lesson so they will probably only get to explore one of the following five centers:
1. Magnatiles: Students work on building a house together. They start with a cube and use their imaginations to add the magnetic tile shapes to create the rest of the structure. On the activity sheet, students identify the shapes and colors they used and sound out the names of the shapes to write them down. In my opinion, Magnatiles are one of the coolest building materials around. If you haven't tried them before, you've got to check them out!!!
2. Lego Center: Students attempt to build a "pet carrier" for Bruno who is 5 blocks wide by 1 block high. They have to think about how he will get in and out and how he will breath. Initially, I was having students use the plank blocks for this center, but I could tell they weren't as familiar with these types of blocks and it was harder for them to build a tall structure so I switched the Lego and plank task cards....always tweaking and adjusting!
3. Gear Center: Teams works to create a new invention that will create wind in this center. They have to see how many gears they can get to turn and count the final number for their activity sheet.
4. Plank Center: This center is focused on having students build a bridge that a toy car can cross. Students practice using measurement and compare hand lengths to the bridge to determine how long it is for their center sheet.
5. Stacking Cups Center: Students attempt to create a tower using Solo cups. The task card stipulates that the tower must have at least four levels and use at least 20 cups, and students draw the tower on their activity sheet. Check out how great my kids did in the picture to the right!
Here are some more close-ups of the students' work on their center activity sheets (left and below). So far, we are having a blast and I am really enjoying seeing the students use their creativity to work together, use their brains, and have fun! My first grade kiddos start their lessons this week, and I think they will do an even better job due to having another year of maturity and problem-solving skills. I truly could use these centers all the way through third or fourth grade and may do that next year!!! Send me a comment if you have done any STEM activities or have any other questions! Happy Counseling! ~Angela