Our STEM Inquiries project provided a rich opportunity for our team of teachers to engage in a collaborative inquiry as well as to further strengthen and develop our professional knowledge on how to use STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in kindergarten through Grade 6 classrooms. Through the creation of a STEM materials and resources space (complete with a wide range of exciting and dynamic building materials) to use with our students during STEM periods, we have been able to actively capture our students’ interests by providing designated blocks of time for building and investigating using these materials, which has provided opportunities for engaging students in rich “minds-on” and “follow-up” discussions and questioning about STEM-related topics. Using these building materials has developed problem-solving skills, as well as deepened understanding of mathematical, engineering, scientific and technologically based topics of study, and has also engaged students in using a variety of writing forms to convey their understanding and knowledge, such as procedural writing, labelling, diagramming and reflective/feedback writing.
STEM learning at our school has been introduced in two different ways this year: through our school-wide STEM building challenges and through the creation of our dedicated STEM material and resource space. Since the STEM school-wide building challenges were organized in such a way to encourage our students and build their excitement about STEM activities through engaging in connected activities and through sharing their successes, we focused our attention on the creation and implementation of a shared STEM material and resource space within our school with the intention of continuing to support and engage both our students and teachers in STEM activities. We used our TLC grant to fund planning time for our team (through occasional teacher coverage for all team members) so that we could share resources and ideas, and especially so that we could order different kinds of STEM materials, manipulatives and resources. We are also continuing to add to our binder with lesson templates, resource ideas, and both fiction and non-fiction texts that encourage STEM thinking and “doing.”
Professional Learning Goals
First and foremost, our main professional learning goal was to collaborate throughout our inquiry process in order to gain a deeper understanding of how to integrate STEM into our classroom programs, with the ultimate goal of sharing our team-based STEM program to create a school-wide program. Second of all, we gained a deeper professional knowledge and understanding of all of these four areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) which has given us greater opportunities for more effective cross-curricular planning and integration. Lastly, because one of our goals was to be able to share the knowledge and teaching strategies that we have gained from this project with our teaching colleagues throughout our school, our final goal has been to further strengthen and develop our ability to share our knowledge through the creation of a comprehensive STEM binder as well as handouts/presentations, etc. This binder is still in process as we continue to add to it (and will continue to add to it next year).
Activities and Resources
We had monthly informal meetings, as well as an initial half-day to work together and a final half-day to work together. We used the longer periods of time to plan, as well as to decide which resources and materials to order for our STEM resource and material (manipulative) space.
One challenge was that we did not have a kindergarten classroom colleague on our committee, which made it difficult to know which materials/manipulatives to order for our youngest students at the school.
Another challenge has been being able to share our learning with other teachers, as well as sharing the resources and materials with other teachers. Although we have discussed our STEM space at staff meetings, etc., it has still been difficult to promote it to other colleagues.
Enhancing Student Learning and Development
Our students love to build, design and use the engineering process at our school. In addition to working on this specific project (to create our dedicated STEM space), we also assisted with the development of school-wide STEM building challenges. This project helped (and continues to help) our students build communication skills, perseverance, co-operative skills and creativity, and also has helped them to learn that learning is fun!
We continue to add to our STEM resource-sharing binder that we will store along with the building materials, resources and manipulatives in our STEM space. Our target audience is all of our teaching colleagues from kindergarten to Grade 6.
Our learning goals were met and our project was a success. Our students have loved engaging in STEM-based learning, and our own professional learning goals have been met because we have learned so much in terms of integrating STEM-based learning into our own classrooms, and have gained confidence in engaging in these activities with our students alongside our new-found knowledge.