Stuck inside? During the cold months of winter, it is easy to get bogged down by the weather, gray skies, and cold temperatures. Whether we are at home or in school, we can engage learners in meaningful STEM learning that reflects the winter months.
Students can get involved in winter STEM learning through inquiry and engineering design challenges. These opportunities allow learners the chance to fuel their curiosity on different topics and continue to apply their creative problem solving skills throughout the year.
With many schools engaging in remote learning, the ideas shared in this post can be implemented in school or at home. Think of the ways you might explore the cold or build a better winter gadget as a part of STEM learning.
Explore the Cold
Think of all the cold weather things that students can explore during the winter months. This is a great time for inquiry-based learning and the discovery of why things are the way they are in winter. This ongoing exploration can start by generating a list of winter questions:
What do snowflakes really look like?
Why do animals hibernate in the winter?
What makes cars slide on the ice?
How long does winter last?
Where does the word blizzard come from?
Does the winter season look different across the globe? Why?
Students can explore these STEM-related topics independently, with a partner, or with the entire class. These can be posted to your class website or displayed on a wall in your classroom. Uncovering the answers to these questions can be an opportunity for students to engage in research, discussion, and experimentation. It might even be the springboard into a project-based learning experience or a genius hour opportunity for students. Students can share the answers to the questions by creating a video, blogging, or building a model. The open-ended nature of inquiry-based learning means that students can show their understanding in a way that fits their knowledge, skills, and interests.
Build It Better
Setting up engineering design challenges for students is a great way to keep their minds thinking and their hands actively working. Building something better allows students to reflect on things that already exist (products, experiences, processes) and figure out ways to improve them.
Slippery Sledding - With a layer of fresh snow, the kids are heading outside for a sled ride. Bundle up and grab your sleds or snowboards. Why do some sleds work better than others? Research (and try out!) different types of sleds or snowboards. Which materials work best? Plastic, metal, or something else? What shape makes for the smoothest ride? Sketch and design a better sled or snowboard. Students can even build a prototype as a part of the design process.
Shovel It - When the heavy snows come, it is time to bring out the shovel or maybe the snow blower. What features make shoveling the snow easier? How many different types of snow shovel designs exist? What makes one shovel more efficient over another? Can you design one that looks better, is easier to grip, or lighter when lifted? What could you add to a snow blower to make it run more smoothly? All of these design components can be researched and considered within the engineering design process.
Snow Fort - Once all that snow is piled up from shoveling, take advantage and build a snow fort. Surely, we all remember doing this as a child or with our own children. Snow forts can come in many shapes and sizes. You can build an igloo with snow bricks or dig a tunnel into a snowy dome. The possibilities are endless for learners who want to create a fun spot for winter. Expand on this activity and have students sketch and design a model for a snow fort. What shape will it have? How many people will fit inside? (This could be practical or a snowy “dream” house.) Infuse some math and have students include the dimensions for the fort. Tap into some technology tools and have students use Sketches School or Paper to create their images digitally. Student designs can be posted on the class website or even shared on social media.
Of course, STEM learning can be explored all year long. Design challenges and exploration in science, technology, engineering, and math can happen no matter the weather. Keep the STEM learners in your life engaged by incorporating these opportunities into the classroom this month!
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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