April 20, 2018
One of the many benefits of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects is the opportunity for students to decide how and what they’ll learn. Here are some of the choices STEM projects can offer:
- Which project to do, either individually or with a group.
- What role to take in a collaborative group.
- How to design a product for a specific purpose.
- How to structure the work in to make sure the project is done on time and within budget.
- How to share the product or results with others.
These options for incorporating student voice and choice are “cooked into the stew” of project ideas offered through the U.S. Department of Education STEM initiatives. Through this work, the U.S. Department of Education partners with other federal agencies to offer STEM projects that engage 21st CCLC students in thinking and acting like real scientists and engineers.
In NASA’s engineering design challenges, for example, students might work in groups to design miniature space exploration equipment, such as a parachute for a Mars landing or a crew exploration vehicle. Given the goal of, say, safely transporting two (Lego) astronauts and a tank of fuel in a vehicle of a given size and weight, students choose how to solve the challenge. How will they keep the astronauts in their seats? How will they design the hatch so it opens when needed but not when the vehicle lands? Students also can choose their roles on the project team: design engineer, technical engineer, operations engineer, technical writer or videographer.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services offers six progressively more complex Making projects. Each project takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Though every child will make the same project — such as a light-up name tag, wearable electronics or a scribble bot — the design possibilities are endless. Students can indulge their creativity to personalize their products.
NASA and the National Park Service also offer opportunities for students to engage in authentic citizen science. The data students collect will be compiled with the findings of other citizen scientists to shed light on climate change and other issues that affect us all.
The STEM initiative activities provide instructions for all these project ideas and more. Your 21st CCLC program can download them from the Y4Y website for free and start using them right away. On the website, you’ll also find ideas from the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for designing your own STEM projects that offer students meaningful choices in their learning. If your budding scientists have experience in project-based learning, they might even be ready design their own experiments and challenges — the ultimate in student voice!