June 6, 2013

Gearing Up for Next Generation Science

Guest blog post by Wendy Goldfein and Cheryl Nelson

As part of the Next Generation Science Standards, elementary teachers will teach engineering.

Really??? I’m not an engineer!

The problem solving skills, communication, perseverance and teamwork that students will learn while participating in these lessons have been identified as necessary skills for the 21st century worker.

I'll just let someone else handle it. Our Advanced Academic teacher does some of those lessons with our advanced students.

By applying the math and science skills they are learning in the classroom to solve real life engineering problems, all students will see why it is necessary to learn these subjects.

Are you kidding me? I have trouble getting my students to read on grade level and perform basic computation. My plate is full!! Just when am I supposed to fit this into my day?

Sound familiar? Many elementary teachers across the country, faced with new mandates to include engineering in their curriculum, are experiencing the same anxiety. However, it is entirely possible to integrate engineering into your classroom, even if you have an inclusive classroom with special populations. Engineering does not have to be an “add-on” to what you are already teaching. Rather, it requires you to look at what you are already teaching through a STEM lens and find the opportunity for an engineering experience.

How to Integrate Engineering Lessons into the Curriculum
Integration into science lessons are the obvious first choices, but you will be amazed at the number of engineering concepts that can easily be integrated into history, literature, and math.

In literature, students could be challenged to:
  • Design a house that can’t be knocked down by a tornado for the Wizard of OZ.
  • Create a zip line for Peter Pan.
  • Plan a prototype for a new castle for Cinderella.

All can be accomplished using every day materials such as cardboard, hair dryers, fishing line, and recycled paper towels rolls in an elementary classroom.

In math, assign students to:
  • Produce an index card roller coaster that requires right angles.
  • Build a spaghetti tower that must reach a certain height.
  • Develop a catapult made out of paint stirrers that launches “angry peeps” to a specified distance.

Engineering provides an opportunity for students to apply their mathematical concepts in an engaging project for even the most reluctant student.

And in social studies:
  • Construct a suitcase for colonists to Jamestown out of recycled cardboard that will meet certain dimensions and hold a specific weight.
  • Build a shelter outside for a small animal using only those materials that you find on the playground such as grass, rocks, and twigs in order to replicate an early settler’s choices.

Engineering adds a new dynamic to a history lesson and enables students to comprehend the challenges faced by people from another time period.

Ok, I follow the logic and that sounds great. But I still don’t have time to redo all of my lesson plans to include engineering. 

Engineering Resources for Elementary Teachers
Luckily, you don’t have to recreate the wheel and invent your own design briefs and materials. There are plenty of resources available to bring engineering into all of your subjects and new ones are being added daily.

  • Engineering is Elementary by the Museum of Science in Boston offers a comprehensive program with teacher guides and kits of materials. 
  • Design Squad at PBS has a wide variety of STEM lessons for grades 4-8
  • eGFI – For Teachers maintains a comprehensive list of lessons for grades k-12
  • CEE – Children’s Engineering Educators LLC has free design briefs and activities

Engineering in the elementary classroom is here to stay as a crucial part of the STEM equation. Obviously not every child exposed to engineering will become an engineer. However, the skills of collaboration, communication, and problem solving obtained from these real life lessons will eventually allow students to take their place in the 21st century workplace. Fueled by a business world concerned that they won’t be able to meet the future demand for such workers, this initiative has the support of the White House, state legislatures, and local school boards. It has become a national priority thought necessary to keep the United States competitive in the global market. Elementary teachers will play a crucial role in planting the seeds of enthusiasm for engineering concepts with children.

Wendy Goldfein and Cheryl Nelson teach 4th grade and have spent the past three years developing an engineering program at their school. They have presented their model for children’s engineering at the Atlantic City NSTA STEM Conference, the San Antonio NSTA Science Conference, and many other state and national conferences. They recently launched Get Caught Engineering, a website and blog that provides ideas, lessons, and resources for elementary teachers. Click to read their article, "Family Style Engineering," which appeared in Science and Children magazine. You can reach Wendy and Cheryl at getcaughtengineering@gmail.com or via their Get Caught Engineering Facebook page. Be sure to leave them a comment here to tell them what you think about their engineering ideas!

June 1, 2013

Multiple Intelligence Theory for Kids

You're probably familiar with Dr. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory, but have you thought about teaching your students about these concepts? You might wonder why anyone would attempt to fit this into an already packed curriculum, but after you read this blog post, I’m hoping you’ll decide to give it a try.

Multiple Intelligence Theory suggests that IQ is not one-dimensional and can't be described by a single number. Dr. Gardner proposed that there are at least eight different types of intelligence, each one with a corresponding area in the brain. He used terms like “mathematical-logical,” “bodily-kinesthetic,” and “visual-spatial” to describe these intelligences, but many educators have adopted more kid-friendly terms like "Music Smart," "Body Smart," and "Math Smart." My students really enjoyed learning about the “eight kinds of smart,” and this knowledge helped everyone appreciate each other’s strengths, especially when working in cooperative learning teams. If you'd like to download a free mini poster with all 8 kinds of smart, head over to the Multiple Intelligence Theory and Growth Mindset page on my Teaching Resources website.

Free MI Survey and Video Tutorial
When I set out to teach my students the basics of MI theory, I faced a problem. Most Multiple Intelligence Surveys were long and difficult to read, especially for elementary students. I looked for a survey that was short and included common activities that kids do, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. So - you guessed it – I created my own MI Survey for Kids! It’s not research-based, but enough kids have used it over the years for me to feel confident in saying that it’s an effective tool when presented as a fun activity rather than as a scientific assessment. The survey is pretty easy to administer, but because it appears complicated, I created a video that explains exactly what to do and where to find additional resources on this topic. You can request a copy of this free multiple intelligences survey for kids and watch the video from the Multiple Intelligences page on my website.

Step-by-Step MI Lessons
In addition to the survey, I developed a series of interactive lessons to help my students understand each of the eight kinds of smart. A few years ago, I decided to write a book to share these lessons with others. Multiple Intelligence Theory for Kids: Step-by-Step Lessons and Ready-to-Use Printables includes engaging, cooperative learning activities for students to help them learn about all the ways they are smart.

MI Theory and Growth Mindset
Some educators believe that the recent research about growth mindset means that MI theory is no longer relevant, but I disagree. However, I do understand concerns about praising kids for being smart, so I think it's important to have a full grasp of both theories to avoid fostering a fixed mindset in your students. I updated Multiple Intelligence Theory for Kids to provide information about how to use MI theory and growth mindset research together to empower students. I also developed a two-part webinar during which I shared step-by-step strategies for implementing both MI theory and growth mindset research. Interested? Click over to my TpT store to check out the professional development webinar pack for MI Theory, Mindset, and Motivation.

If you still have a few weeks of school left with your students, this would be a great time to test out the MI Survey for Kids and some of the activities. If you are already out, you'll find this kid-friendly Multiple Intelligences survey to be an excellent way to start off the new school year. It will help your new students identify their own strengths and it will help you get to know them better. Teaching your students how people are smart in many ways can be very empowering, and most students enjoy the process of discovering how they learn best.
Laura Candler

Laura Candler