Spring Into STEM Learning
By Dr. Jacie Maslyk
A group of students gathers outside in a large grassy area. Their teacher is giving directions and assigning students to teams; launch team, diagnostic team, retrieval team, and evaluation team.
The students have spent several weeks learning about the science, technology, engineering, and math behind rocketry. They’ve studied Newton’s third law of motion–every action has an equal and opposite reaction. (Check out lessons and videos from NASA to enhance the learning for your students!) They’ve designed and built their own rockets and are now ready to launch them at a local park.
Students will launch their rocket and measure their lift-off height. Another team will retrieve the rockets while others will evaluate and document each flight. Students cheer as their rockets soar. Others shrug in defeat as some rockets malfunction. It is a learning experience that not only reinforces STEM content but also pushes important dispositions such as perseverance, thinking flexibly, and problem-solving.
The type of STEM learning is perfect for the spring as it gives students outdoor opportunities to extend their learning in exciting ways. After learning the content in their classrooms, students now apply that knowledge in an authentic experience by launching the rocket they’ve created.
While we can no longer gather together to conduct experiments or launch rockets, we can still take advantage of the springtime season and weave that type of learning into our instruction. Virtual lessons with spring-related themes that lend themselves to STEM content can be planned for the month of May. Hands-on discovery of STEM content is a great way to engage all learners whether face-to-face or learning remotely.
Pull in some spring-related hands-on learning that students will enjoy. Plan a unit around chromatography so students can explore color and light that come alive when the sun intersects with water after a spring rainstorm. With markers and coffee filters, learners can explore how colors can change and combine. When we choose simple materials, students can recreate the learning experience at home. Encourage them to create rainbows or head outside and capture one of their own.
Flowers are in bloom and animals are coming out from their winter’s sleep. This is a great time of year to explore animals and animal adaptations. Spring bunnies and newly hatched chicks, check out this sample project from Defined Learning with lessons, videos, and learning activities prepared for you.
Sometimes the month of April brings rain and storms. Students can study properties of water, surface tension, or other H2O-related learning. April showers can also bring blustery winds. Use the spring weather as a way to explore wind. Students can design and build kites or windmills or maybe even umbrellas. Once the designs are complete, students take them outside and try them out. Have them capture their flight on video and post it to your class website or learning management system to share with the class.
Take it Outside!
The weather breaks. The sun is shining. Nature is in full bloom. Invite students to take their learning outside. We can all benefit from the environmental learning opportunities right outside the door. Investigating the weather, exploring plants and insects, or learning about America’s favorite past-time offers STEM learning opportunities for all students.
- Weather Wonders: What’s the weather where you are today? Students will enjoy observing, documenting, and reporting on the weather in their neighborhoods. Students can use math skills to graph the weather, digital animation tools to sketch the weather or video tools to report on and record weather clips.
- Watch it Grow: Planting isn’t just for the outdoors these days. Hydroponic gardens are a part of many schools and classrooms, but with the weather getting warmer spring is the perfect time to dig into some gardening science. Mess with soil. Learn about seeds. Plant flowers or vegetables–maybe even start a school garden. You might even extend the planting project by having students design a way to protect plants from extreme weather or deter local pests from eating your crops. These STEM experiences can be done at home with the assistance of a parent or sibling.
- Creepy Crawlers: Bees, beetles, ladybugs, and butterflies; spring is the perfect time to learn about bugs. Whether observing these creepy crawlers in their natural habitats or doing online research, students can check out the insects that come out in the spring.
- Opening Day: Spring is also time for outdoor sports. Though we can’t head out to the ballpark just yet, students can learn STEM content behind baseball. Defined Learning has content created with a focus on STEM as it relates to this favorite spring sport. Discover how bats are made, the design of baseball parks, or how the materials used to make a baseball impact its speed. Students can uncover lots of new information that can culminate in a trip outside to play ball.
Get inspired by the growth, discovery, and activity of the springtime. Pull spring STEM learning into your classroom–or better yet, get out of the classroom and explore learning outdoors. Whether exploring the STEM behind baseball, investigating the weather, or digging into the dirt, students can advance their learning while engaging in hands-on discovery both in and out of the classroom.
About the Author:
Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at steam-makers.com.