As Valentine's Day was approaching, I was trying to select a fun STEAM activity that would really get students working together and communicating. We have had so many snow days recently and I know it takes a bit of time to get back into a regular routine. So, no time like the present to revisit how we work together to create! As I was looking for inspiration, I stumbled upon (through someone sharing on Instagram) of Brooke Brown's Maker Mats, so I knew that I had an activity - a Valentine STEAM/Maker challenge! I really liked her mats, but knew that it wasn't quite what I was looking for the activity. So, I took the concept and created my own mat. We had recently done something similar with our Winter Brick Building task cards, so I knew the students would be up for the challenge.
For this activity, I gave each group a bin containing one type of resource. They had to use only that resource to create their objects - they could not mix with the resources from other groups. I had two bins of Plus Plus blocks, two of Brain Flakes, and two of pattern blocks. Some groups appreciate having a bin of one resource to use, while others share that they feel the challenge would be much easier of they had one of the other resources. With both groups that I did this activity with, I made a point to share that it might seem easier with one of the other resources, but each resource has it's highs and lows for the challenge - some of the tasks are easier and some are harder and it is not the same for each resource.
For this challenge, I told the students they could work as a group at their table (no more than 4), or they could choose to work in two groups at their table. The students have done really well when given this option because they know that they cannot work by themselves, but they have choice in how they work. Most times they actually choose to work as a whole table! After they had selected how they would work, the students could choose any square on the mat to begin their work. I told them it didn't matter to me which one they chose or which order they went in, but they had to decide as a group and they had to have a teacher sign off before they moved on to the next square. I was a little nervous with how they would work together after several weeks of snow days here and there, but they did really well and created some great things!
I love when students share their stories behind their creations. When I do activities like this with a class, I tell the students that they need to check in with a teacher before they can move on to the next building task. This has really helped them with thinking through their designs and not just throwing something together to move on to something else. Sometimes it is so hard to capture the thinking and demonstration that goes in their designs with just a picture. They each bring their talents and ideas to the table to work with their peers to create something new and there is such a special dynamic when you watch it all play out and see an object that has a fantastic story behind it. These STEAM and Maker opportunities may not always be tied directly to the curriculum content, but the creativity opportunity it provides opens news ways of thinking and working with others when the content comes in to play. I have to say, I am very lucky to work with amazing teachers who provide students with these learning opportunities!
Glow STEAM in Action
At the end of the hour, we asked students to clean up their stations and reset the classroom for the next class. Some classes were able to do this quickly and we invited them to use a highlighter to write what they loved about the day. You can tell some students were completely worn out from the fun (and heat!), but they had some great things to share.
I try my best to be as environmentally conscious as I can be on a daily basis (I am a big fan of recycling and reusing!), but sometimes we all could use the reminder to do a little bit more to protect our planet. I know I have been making an effort to no longer use plastic straws when dining out - it seemed weird and awkward at first, but the more I do it, it doesn't feel that way. I believe it has been said that it takes 21 days to form a habit...I don't eat out that often, but it is getting easier to simply move the straw to the end of the table and drink straight from the glass. Sometimes Earth Day is that gentle reminder each year that we can do better as long as we choose to do better about our environmental decisions.
As Earth Day fell on a weekend this year, I asked the teacher I usually work with on Fridays if an Earth Day STEM activity would fit in to anything they were doing. She told me they were actually studying animal adaptations, so it fit in well with what they were learning. I found this video that we watched about kids taking action against pollution found in the oceans. The video was very powerful and the students definitely had thoughts to share on the issue!
When the classroom teacher and I were planning this activity, we had originally wanted them to do some brainstorming before building. When I arrived for STEM time later in the day, the teacher informed me that they have spent over 3 hours that day doing state testing, so we decided to not do our brainstorming worksheet and let their brains just create. And to be completely honest, I think it was the perfect decision for the end of a Friday after a long week of state testing. They needed to explore (we hadn't used Brain Flakes, wooden planks, or Plus Plus yet in STEM activities) and have some confidence in doing what they do best - create!
I am so proud of what these kiddos came up with knowing how brain-drained they were at this time. They had so many great ideas! Some of the conversations I had with students included:
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