There has been a lot of buzz around STEAM lately, which is STEM plus the Arts. What I'm really digging about it is how hands on everything must be, which is exactly what kids want and need to stay engaged and make content and skills really "stick."
In my social studies class, I try to pull in something STEM or STEAM every week, because let's face it, social studies can be a little
boring unengaging... well, it can sometimes not hold students' interests as well , even with passionate teachers teaching it. Not everyone thinks so, and of course there are students who love it, but topics such as agriculture, geography, and branches of government are not always the most appealing to some students.
|Students building pyramids using the "bottom-up" method|
|Students examining a secondary source to find out more.|
|Reading this book took time and teamwork. |
Students filled out a graphic organizer on comprehension as they went.
In terms of how all this actually plays out in the classroom, the beginning of the year requires lots of explicit teaching about how to ask questions, what primary and secondary sources are, etc. Once we get into the swing of things (a couple of weeks after school starts), the hands-on stuff really begins!
In this unit on Egyptian architecture, students were asked the question "How did the Egyptians build such monumental structures without the use of our modern technologies?"
First, the students speculated and we wrote their speculations down on the board. Then we looked at some primary sources. Primary sources for ancient cultures usually consist of artifacts (or pictures of artifacts). We also took a look at a secondary source, first, the textbook, and second, a book about how the Egyptians built the pyramids.
|In addition to inquiry and arts integration, collaboration |
is a very important part of adding STEAM to social studies.
This all gets written down on the board (or students may use a graphic organizer) so we can all see each others' thinking. We went back to the original question, "how did the Egyptians build the pyramids without our modern technologies?" and they attempt to answer how.
Now, the engineering part began. I showed them this infographic on building marshmallow and spaghetti towers, asking them to think about how they could apply the concepts to building a pyramid. Students hypothesized that they could easily use these techniques of the "pyramid" shapes and the "bottomless pyramid" shapes (which they began calling "spiders") to create a pyramid without the use of the "buttresses." (That worked out so well because we had already learned about the mechanics of an arch during a unit on Greece and how they were supported... that post is coming up later.)
|Students in the "tryout" phase. "Let's see how to do this..."|
Students are usually quite eager to begin making something and often won't "mess around" with the materials quite like I picture myself doing before I set to work on something. Sometimes they just head into the objective of building the pyramid. Either way, my students are aware that this is the time they have and we spend LOTS of time talking about appropriately using the materials. They love to have the "what not to do" conversation... and it's a conversation we have every week before I "set them free" in an activity like this. Mostly every single time we have the "What NOT to do" conversation, at least one suggestion goes something like "do no jump on tables, climb on your friends back, and act like a gorilla, while shouting at the top of your lungs." Why, yes, please don't do that. Ah, sixth grade.
Students on their second layer, using
the "bottom up" technique and techniques from
the "Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool
The interesting thing about this project was that one class wanted to work in smaller groups and the other class wanted to do it whole group. Luckily I have fairly small class sizes, so this worked. It took a LOT of teamwork to get their pyramid built, and before the latter class began, we calculated using dot grids how many layers and how many "pyramids" and "spiders" we would need. One can see how the whole brain is needed to figure this challenge out.
|A Production Line assembling different parts for the layers of the pyramid|
In retrospect, I think next time I will use toothpicks, though, spaghetti was cheap, plentiful (quite a few kids brought in donations) and it took some problem solving to figure out how to make the pieces pretty uniform, which is totally fine, but the toothpicks may make the pyramids more uniform next time.
The next day, I had the kids speak, then write about problems they ran into, summarizing what they remembered from the text, and how they applied the concepts to the project. This was great for speaking/listening objectives and writing objectives. Having the students try to cite evidence/examples from our discussions and the texts for what they think worked well and what didn't gave them practice in backing up their statements.
In addition, the pyramids "hung out" for a while until my amazing colleague, and their math teacher taught a lesson on scale and ratio on a map. We used the pyramids in conjunction with a map of the Giza Necropolis to map out the pyramids that the kids built (with some of the smaller pyramids serving as the queens pyramids, the whole-class pyramid serving as King Khufu's, and the smaller (but still larger than the tiny ones) as the pyramid of Khafre).
|This student was allergic to marshmallows, so we used Dots candies instead :)|