Supporting STEM Learning Through Literacy

The residents of Marveltown were used to unusual inventions. They embraced wildly innovative ideas and their town reflected the unusual creations of those in the town. Some of the inventions were practical while others were a bit outlandish. It is this imaginative mindset that enables the children of Marveltown to save their community from some inventions gone awry.

I recently read this picture book by Bruce McCall to a group of third-grade students who were embarking on some inventing of their own. Developing inventions was a part of a cross-grade level project that students were working on through their science, social studies, and English Language Arts (ELA) classes. This integrated approach allows students to see subject areas as connected rather than isolated.

As we read the story, we stopped to discuss keywords or details. We even took a brain break to gain some inspiration from the inventions in the story and share an idea with a partner. We took it a step further and added a hands-on component, messing with pipe cleaners and constructing a quick prototype of an invention idea. They returned to their prototype later in the story and made revisions based on feedback from their partner.

This futuristic story is one that connects well with inventions but also extends student thinking as they wonder, design, and build just like scientists and engineers. It’s easy to add simple materials to the read-aloud, not only to reinforce STEM thinking but also to increase student engagement. This and other children’s books are great ways to dive into STEM learning in the elementary classroom. We currently have wide selection of engaging children’s books that can support STEM learning in all grades, but particularly in the early grades.

STEM Disconnect
The integration of STEM learning does not fit for everyone. Believe it or not, there are some educators who feel completely disconnected to the STEM movement. Perhaps it’s because they aren’t content teachers of math or science or maybe they don’t have an affinity for technology. For some teachers, they may not find their place within the domains of science, technology, engineering, or math. Sometimes teachers of social studies, ELA and special area subjects feel like they are on the fringe of hands-on opportunities that can be implemented in math and science.

All of the components of STEM can be infused into every classroom through the use of children’s literature. Consider the opportunities that teachers have to read stories aloud to their students. Either through the textbook or from classroom literature selections, learners of all ages can be pulled in to a good book. We can use stories to highlight STEM content and make learning more concrete for students.

Connect to Content
With so many books out there to choose from, you may wonder where to get started. Books that focus on STEM topics like inventions might be a good fit or stories about scientists or their discoveries. Think beyond informational books and reach for quality children’s literature.

The Darkest Dark is a true story written by Chris Hadfield, NASA Astronaut. The author shares his childhood memories of being afraid of the dark to his adult accomplishments at NASA. Not only would his story prompt an interest in earth and space science, but it can also encourage students to consider the obstacles that successful STEM experts must overcome.

With attention on our environment, share stories like The Magic Garden by Lemniscates that focus on the wonderful things that live and grow in nature. The book can lead to a study of caterpillars, bees, or worms. Students might want to plant seeds or go on a nature walk after reading this book or a number of other environmentally themed stories. Think of all of the STEM learning that can happen when students explore the outdoors.

Develop Dispositions
There are also books that shed light on the dispositions that we want to build in our young thinkers, designers, and explorers. Fostering perseverance, flexibility, and teamwork can be introduced and reinforced through children’s literature. STEM stories can serve as models of taking risks, applying knowledge to new situations, and asking questions.

Math-minded stories like Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford follows an inquisitive character as she wonders what infinity looks like. She persists in her pursuit of understanding as her curiosity leads her through her family tree, music, play, and the stars. Creative illustrations may also lead students to explore art, line, and symmetry.

In Ada’s Ideas, author Fiona Robinson shares the story of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Ada learns about math, poetry, engineering, and aviation. Intent on building her skills and knowledge, Ada faces obstacles (including the demands of her own family) but continues to learn and grow. Her story is one of perseverance and triumph!

STEM Stories
You can find STEM in many of the stories that are probably sitting on your bookshelves. Books that connect STEM content and those that build dispositions of our scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technologists can support student learning in every classroom. Reading aloud and engaging learners in a variety of children’s literature is a responsibility of all classroom teachers. Refocus your selections on stories that can connect STEM learning for students by experiencing STEM in different contexts. There are so many great stories available to inspire learners and encourage STEM thinking in the classroom.

Interested in more ideas that connect literature to STEM learning? My new book Remaking Literacy will be published in 2019 by Solution Tree. Check out my website www.steam-makers.com for more information!


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.


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