Fletcher Students Engineer Creativity at STEM Night

Students in Fletcher had an opportunity to showcase their skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math last week at STEM Night 2016. The annual event, coordinated by STEM Teacher Leader Denette Locke, included presentations and displays by students, instant engineering challenges before a live audience, and exhibits by community partners. STEM Night also served as a showcase for the school’s work on communication proficiencies this year.

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Preschooler Gabriel Webb, and his mom, observe Red Wiggler Worms in a habitat created by the preschoolers. The preschoolers have been learning all about worms through literature and hands-on activities. Their STEM Night display included observation journals, clay worms, three live worm habitats, books, a (candy) worm tasting station, and a sensory table with rubber worms and coffee grounds.

“STEM Night is a fantastic celebration of the higher-order skills our students use in science, technology, engineering, math and communication. It is also jam-packed with student-centered learning and leadership, all rolled into one event,” STEM Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. 

Many lessons leading to STEM Night included the use of the Engineering Design Process, which focuses on starting with a question about the problems or constraints of the situation, imagining possible solutions, planning for the task, creating a solution and improving the solution.

“It is essential that our students know how to apply this process to a variety of problems,” Locke said. “When we focus on teaching students a consistent approach to engineering design, they learn the tools to face any situation. It’s different than solely focusing on content, which might limit their ability to tackle new and different situations. Here, they have a formula for any scenario.”

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The event was also a culminating activity for this year’s school-wide work on communication proficiencies. Specifically, teachers have focused on supporting students in demonstrating proficiency in the area of clear and effective communication, including the use of organized and purposeful communication and using evidence and logic appropriately.

“The school’s year-long focus on the transferable skill of effective communication was evident at STEM Night,” FWSU Director of Curriculum Linda Keating said. “I was so impressed by students’ awareness of how important it is to communicate and apply content and skills in a way that really made their learning ‘visible.’ The students’ confidence, enthusiasm, and joy in presenting their projects was a clear testament to Fletcher’s commitment to STEM-based, student-centered learning and clear and effective communication.”

Displays throughout the school focused on civil engineering (force and motion), acoustical engineering (bird calls), bioengineering (nature and biology), aerospace engineering (designing a parachute and cleaning up an oil spill), agricultural engineering (sheep to shawl project) and chemical engineering (designing the perfect playdough).

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Several engineering “instant challenges” took center stage in the gym during the evening event.

“The goal of the instant challenges was to have fun and think logically and reasonably on the fly,” Locke said. “We know they have the skills. This was their chance to apply them in a setting that involves just a little risk-taking.” The challenges were timed and student worked in teams.

“I like having fun and I like science,” fifth grader Elise Towle said of the reason she chose to sign up for the evening’s instant engineering challenge. “We had to create a structure that would hold fifty pennies three inches off the table using pipe cleaners and a cup. We had to work together as a team. We tried hard and we got it done, but it just didn’t work to hold the pennies. We learned what we would do differently next time. That’s what good engineers do. They redesign when something doesn’t work.”

Fifth grader Elise Towle participates in an engineering "instant challenge" in front of a live audience as part of STEM Night.

Fifth grader Elise Towle participates in an engineering “instant challenge” in front of a live audience as part of STEM Night.

Several community partners also set up displays at STEM Night. The Society of Women Engineers, StarBase, the Four Winds Nature Program, Pinbox 3000, a working pinball machine and drones were just a few.

Fifth grader David Reardon flies one of the school's five drones used in fifth and sixth grade science.

Fifth grader David Reardon flies one of the school’s five drones used in fifth and sixth grade science.

Families who attended the event left with a variety of free science and math materials to engage in STEM learning at home, including games, take home engineering challenges, and the Time For Kids Big Book of Science Experiments

Third grader Magnus Riggs and his dad, Tucker, complete a home engineering challenge together over the weekend.

Third grader Magnus Riggs and his dad, Tucker, complete a home engineering challenge together over the weekend.

Target: (1) Leadership – FWSU Students and staff lead innovative, personalized learning opportunities, both locally and globally. (2) Flexible Learning Environments – FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Indicators of Success: (1) Student and staff leaders innovate and take risks when faced with new challenges. (2) Students and staff design and implement plans together. (3) Students and staff lead as engaged and responsible citizens. (4) The school calendar and school day is flexible and responsive to the needs of students. (5) Students engage in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings.

Action Steps: (1) Design multiple avenues for students and staff to lead, advocate, and serve within the school and community. (2) Ensure students take a leadership role in their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, and diverse resources to formulate solutions. (3) Shift teacher roles from director of teaching to facilitator of learning. (4) Demonstrate learning habits, communication, and problem-solving skills necessary for collaborative learning and leadership. (5) Provide students with access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls. (6) Develop opportunities for students to demonstrate transferable skills in authentic settings.


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Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

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