Sometimes, in the thick of things, we have to come up with innovative ideas to get students wrapped up in the lessons we teach or the books we’re reading. And as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and coincidentally, invention and innovation both begin with the letter I and they’re synonymous, according to ye old Merriam-Webster. Mrs. King, our beloved 5th Grade English teacher, has been doing exactly that this year by incorporating STEM projects into her book units.
“I decided to start doing STEM projects with my students to help them better understand the material we’re reading and engage in class,” Mrs. King said.
She also took this as an opportunity to collaborate with her colleagues, so with the help of 5th Grade science teacher, Mrs. Bernhardt, they came up with a couple of projects based around the book City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, as well as the concepts they’ve been studying in Science.
“Dune, one of the characters, works in the pipeworks/sewers underground and must help to repair them and their leaks while also working on a way out of Ember to save humanity,” Mrs. King said. “So the activity was to get students to move water from one cup to another using straws.” The challenging part, of course, was making water move (two feet!) from one cup to another using only those straws.
“They also had duct tape to help repair any inevitable water leaks that formed along the way,” she said. And to make things more difficult, Mrs. King added, students “had to move the water from one cup to the next horizontally. A lot of them wanted to hold one cup in the air, but we didn’t allow that.”
Students in Mrs. King’s class have also been working on another project to complement their science curriculum, which is currently focusing on surface area. They’ve been competing to build a box that has the greatest surface area possible with only two sheets of paper.
“There’s a secret box in the City of Ember that has the information necessary to help Dune and the others leave Ember because it’s falling apart,” she said. And projects like these help students visualize, in hands-on ways, what’s happening in the book.
“Part of it is reeling in my non-readers,” Mrs. King said. “I’ve overheard my students say things like, ‘Wow, I never thought we’d do stuff like this in an English class,’ and I know there are some students that are likely more excited about Math and Science than they are my class,” she said.
“Anything I can do to help get, and keep, their attention, that’s my whole goal,” she said. “I want to get them interested in reading and literature, and if STEM projects can help, I’m all for it.”
Not to mention these collaborative, cross-curricular projects seem like good old-fashioned fun!