RAFT Activity Kit: Static Merry-go-Round

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Putting the E in STEAM

By Amanda Amburgey M.A, Maker Science Teacher, Bulldog Tech 

What is going on in this classroom? There are kids everywhere excitedly making, testing, remaking, retesting, hot gluing, hammering, there is so much duct tape!  This is what engineering looks like in a middle school science class.   This is excited, meaningful learning.  How did I get to this place where I feel comfortable facilitating such an active engineering process with my classes?  As a science teacher I have had practice with hands on, inquiry based labs, technology and math makes their way into those labs easily.  But, engineering had me stumped.  How was I going to be an effective engineering teacher as required with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) when I knew so little about engineering?  

This is where RAFT and their STEM workshops really saved me and gave me the courage to start engineering projects.  I started with a somewhat common misconception of what engineers do.  I thought engineering was going to be a lot of sharp mechanical pencils, hours of computer simulations, and very complicated mathematical computations that were just not within my grasp let alone my students.  This is not what NGSS expects at all and age appropriate engineering is both accessible and engaging.  

Professional development at RAFT exposes teachers to the sheer excitement of learning and making hands on solutions to problems.  Teachers they ask, “Can you make a device to protect an egg that will absorb the force of a 5 meter fall?”  The science, math and technology attached to this engineering challenge comes easier to most teachers than the thought of 36 kids actually making these devices and testing their results in their classrooms!  Raw eggs?  Ladders?  The horror of it all can cause a teacher to hesitate.  This is why RAFT profession development was so helpful for me.  I needed to feel what it was like to work with my team to create a device.  We got emotionally invested in our designs.  We needed to think critically and work through multiple iterations to get to a successful result.  Engineering is awesome!  Once a teacher has this experience, she or he will work their heart out to give it it their students as well.  (Note: I learned to wrap the raw eggs in a bit of plastic wrap.  It makes cleaning up so much easier!)

RAFT is the place to get all the building materials you need for your engineering projects without zeroing out your yearly budget.  The range of supplies needed for various builds can be staggering from making a mobile birds nest that will maintain proper temperature for life (lots of foam, cardboard) to making a Rube Goldberg inspired machine (wood, string, pulley systems, balls, etc).  No worries with RAFT you are covered in a few trips to the warehouse.  

Have fun putting the E in your STEAM class!