<![CDATA[WES STEM Lab - STEM Lab Lessons/Reflections Blog]]>Fri, 01 Jan 2016 13:00:42 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Grade 3 and 4 WES Vegetable Gardens - What a Harvest!]]>Thu, 08 Oct 2015 14:32:59 GMThttp://www.henryingwersen.com/stem-lab-lessonsreflections-blog/grade-3-and-4-wes-vegetable-gardens-what-a-harvestThe raised beds on the Southwest corner of WES were a busy place in 2015!  I have been working to create a unit of study that takes us through the spring, into the no-school summer months with family volunteers, then beginning again in the fall duirng the month of September.

​Late Winter/Springtime: 

3rd Grade students begin our plants and gardening unit by starting plants inside, exploring questions such as:

-What is the life cycle of a plant?
- How does such a tiny seed grow?
-What do plants need to gow?
- Does compost help a seed or not?
They then try to answer these questions with experiments. Later, we take our seedlings outside, plant them, and watch them grow

Early Summer and Vacation:
In early summer we had a Garden Club of student volunteers. We spent recess time once or twice a week building a pea fence and bean trellis, weeding, and turning soil. The group decided that any harvest would be donated to the St. Mary's food pantry, and that parent/family volunteers would be needed to care for the gardens during the summer months. We sent out a letter and around 6 families volunteered to help - during the summer they watered, weeded, and took the vegetables to the food pantry when they were ready.

Fall Harvest:
We used the garden to explore the questions:
- Do plants get food or make food?
- If plants make food, how so they do it?
- What are the different structures of plants and their functions?

Some of the fall harvest went to the WES Cafeteria for students and staff to enjoy during Farm to School Week. Congratulations 3rd and 4th Grade students for a great garden season!
<![CDATA[Magnetic Force - STEM Integrates with ELA in the Classroom!]]>Tue, 19 Nov 2013 01:43:45 GMThttp://www.henryingwersen.com/stem-lab-lessonsreflections-blog/magnetic-force-stem-integrates-with-ela-in-the-classroomPicture

In STEM Lab this month 3rd and 4th graders continued their study of "Forces and Their Interactions" by studying another important force in our universe - magnetic force. Boston Museum of Science's Engineering is Elementary unit called "The Attraction is Obvious"  is a great interdisciplinary study involving the science of magnetism, engineering design, and language arts. Many of the third , multi-age, and fourth grade teachers kicked off this unit by reading a story called Hikaru's Toy Troubles with students in their classrooms. The story was a great read and set the context for discussions in the classroom and lab about engineering, technology, magnetism, and magnetic levitation trains.  The story is also an opportunity for students to learn new vocabulary and learn a little about Japanese culture.

Magnet Stations
In the lab, we began by visiting some magnet stations to explore the questions:
"What are some properties of magnets?"
Is there a cause and effect relationship with magnetism? If so, what is it?"

My Reflections on the Lesson

I think that this particular Engineering is Elementary unit is a great fit with the new Next Generation Science Standards for grades 3 and 4. The study of the invisible yet common force of magnetism is as important as the study of gravitational force for elementary students, and the classroom was a noisy, yet focused and energetic beehive as the students witnessed the wonders of magnetic force. I wonder what properties of magnets they will apply when designing their magnetic levitation trains? Stay tuned...
<![CDATA[September/October  STEM Unit - Forces and Interactions]]>Fri, 04 Oct 2013 16:33:56 GMThttp://www.henryingwersen.com/stem-lab-lessonsreflections-blog/septemberocotber-stem-unit-forces-and-interactions
Grade 3 and 4 Force and Motion Inquiry Labs
Throughout September and into mid-October we began an inquiry into the question "How do equal and unequal forces on an object affect its motion?" In our STEM Lab questions are encouraged, and students are taught ways to engage their thinking and "follow the question" by:

  • Posing a focus question
  • Predicting with a reason ("I predict that....because...")
  • Planning, including how they will organize their data
  • Gathering data (aka the actual "experiment" or investigation)
  • Making a claim with evidence (What did you find out? What is your evidence?)
  • Drawing conclusions (What do you think? Why do you think that? What is your reason?)
  • Next question/reflection/idea

This is just one process scientists use, of course. The students work in teams and use their Science and Engineering Notebooks to keep track of their inquiry. So woven into many of the lessons is a scaffolded process of learning to use the notebooks independently.

Sheep in a Jeep 

This is a series of lessons borrowed from Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children's Books to Guide Inquiry. The lessons engage students in the question "How do equal and unequal forces on an object affect its motion?" Through team investigations students come to understand contact forces of push and pull and the non-contact force of gravity, and that these various forces cause different motion. They then explore friction as a phenomenon as well as the tendency for objects in motion to stay in motion until something changes the motion (inertia).
We began by reading the picture book Sheep in a Jeep as a way to get students thinking about different forces and motions. Investigative teams then used toy trucks, farm animals, ramps, calculators, and various measuring devices to explore questions such as:
  • If we change the height of the ramp, how will it affect the distance the toy truck travels?
  • If we change the surface the truck rolls on (floor, sandpaper, rug), how will it affect the distance the truck travels?

My Reflections on the Lesson:
There are so many skills that need to be modeled and scaffolded during these investigations! Following directions, sharing the work, accuracy in data collection. The Math part of STEM absolutely permeates these activities: measuring accurately, organizing, gathering, and then interpreting data, providing the data as evidence for a claim, adding numbers, finding the average are some of the math skills being applied during these activities.  

The Science Notebooks:
Modeling and scaffolding are crucial when getting started with science notebooks - lots of teaching needed here, so it's good to introduce the notebooks gradually throughout multiple inquiries so that the notebook does not consume too much of the lab time. But when students begin to use the notebooks to spark their thinking, support their reasoning, or activate questions, surprises, confusion, or any new thinking, the time invested is worth it. The notebook becomes an integral part of the inquiry. Indispensable, actually, when you're working over time on connected inquiries. 

Examples of Student Thinking:
 " I was surprised by how far the jeep went on the rug ... I thought it would go farther than the sandpaper but it didn't." 

"The car pushes against the tiny rocks in the sandpaper. The tile is smooth and there are no bumps to slow it down."
"The rug was bumpy. When the car goes up and down it slows it down, and the tile is smooth so it goes faster."
"The rough surface usually slows it down because it's kind of like a wall at the end of the ramp."
" I think the carpet is rough like little trees, and the wheels hit the little trees and it slows the truck down."
<![CDATA[September Engineering Challenge]]>Wed, 02 Oct 2013 15:33:54 GMThttp://www.henryingwersen.com/stem-lab-lessonsreflections-blog/september-engineering-challengePicture
The Challenge Activities: 
Welcome to our STEM Lab blog! I want to begin my first post by letting you know what we did for our first lessons in Grades 3 and 4 STEM Lab in September. I started with an engineering challenge. The performance expectation from the brand new Next Generation Science Standards was to:

"Define  simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost."

3rd Grade Challenge:
 Since the primary job of engineers is to brainstorm, design, and create, using whatever resources they have available, I gave the 3rd graders some 81/2 x 11 paper and a full water bottle. Their team challenge was to build a tower that held a full water bottle off the table at least 12 inches.  Check out this slide gallery to see some results:

The 4th Grade Engineering Teams

Performance Expectation:
"Define  simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost."

The Challenge:
Using only two pieces of newspaper, build the tallest free-standing tower you can.

  • Free-standing for 5 seconds
  • As tall as you can


  • Only two pieces of newspaper

Here are some results:

My Reflections on the Lesson:
These students love to create and build stuff! The lab was abuzz with activity: students brainstorming ideas, drawing possible towers in their notebooks, trying out their designs, and watching them fail. A big lesson I teach in engineering labs is that failure is necessary - it is an opportunity to find the design problem and improve it. I ask students to celebrate failure! I also noticed that they love the constraints - the constraints became a challenge that drove them to brainstorm ideas even more. 
I encourage students to communicate their ideas during the brainstorming before they build. Listening closely to other's ideas is the other part of brainstorming - say yes to ideas!

In one of the labs I noticed that a student had built a very tall (46 inches!) free-standing structure.
"How did you get the idea?" I asked her and her team member.
"I noticed the book on tall buildings you had in the classroom, Mr. I. So I looked through it for ideas!"
This is one of those moments that make me smile.

Some learnings I noticed :
  • brainstorming
  • cooperative teamwork, which involves listening/sharing ideas
  • geometry-which structures have more strength
  • failure as an opportunity to learn
  • perseverence
  • joyful tinkering