At the end of last school year, afterschool staff got together and decided on some STEAM topics for the 2015-2016 school year. One of the most popular topics (after dinosaurs, which we ARE going to do this year) was towers. I couldn't figure out how to make "towers" into a full unit, or even a 2 week mini unit. I wanted to do bridges...which led me to Engineering is Elementary (http://www.eie.org/). Granted, we've used the EiE Engineering Adventures curriculum, which is made specifically for afterschool and other OST (out-of-school time) programs. EiE is made for regular school day classrooms and teachers, so we've never looked seriously at the curriculum. When I looked, and saw that the majority of the unit revolves around a story book, I really wanted the opportunity to do this unit!
Or course, we have to adapt a little. Our program is a lot more hands-on, with little direct instruction. We are also Kindergarten (and, in one case, transitional kindergarten) to fifth grade, not a single second grade class in a school day classroom. I put together a pacing guide, and we held a training, in which teachers took a close look, day by day, considered the challenges they would face with their age group, and decided how they would implement each lesson.
The results: Program assistants, front-line staff working with the kids say that the students respond very well to the unit. One of my fifth grade teachers said the lessons were a little short for fifth graders, but that they were very excited to meet the bridge challenge. One student even asked if he could bring in extra materials, and purchased a pack of Play-Doh for his group.
Yesterday, as I walked around our sites, chatted with students and program assistants, I saw wonderful things. Students were exited & involved, but they had also done the thinking and planning! I saw plans, sketches, prototypes, & heard conversations about Redesigning as they faced the building stage. I also heard students using, in a way that indicated they understood, the vocabulary and concepts of forces that act on a structure.
At one site (above), I saw two classes, 35+ students, in the cafeteria, but the noise level was low, and all were deeply engaged in their process.
At our smaller site, students of multiple ages in the same class helped each other make stable prototypes, especially when parts of designs were difficult for younger engineers. Even the youngest engineers were able to take part. The class below has a transitional kindergarten student, who is four, but she and her group were able to create a stable bridge design!
Today is the last day of the unit. I am eager to go around to the sites again and see what students engineered and built. Tomorrow will be our culminating event, to which you are invited, if you'd like to come and see what the students have learned, and also build some structures yourself, and see the forces that act as pushes and pulls on bridges and towers. Join us, and experience what a wonderful unit this has been for afterschool!