OUR INTERESTING STEM JOURNEY

Author: Daniela Lungoci

STEM education is based on four important pillars: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The interesting and diverse activities are excellent opportunities to foster the development of a healthy and innovative mindset, to train students, and to inspire tomorrow’s inventors. This is a quick overview for any teacher who is interested in trying the STEM approach in the classroom. Giving children the opportunity for STEM education is a chance for a better future!

Why STEM Journey? We need to acquire skills in:

Engineering by discovering how to get inside the mind of an engineer, which implies participating in hands-on design challenges. Engineers are creators in everything from biology to computer programming. Naturally, they need technical skills to succeed. The engineers make the world a better place.

Computer Science is also a big part of the process. Children must learn how programmers deal with problem-solving by participating in interactive computational-thinking activities.

Natural Sciences, hence the importance of getting involved in interactive activities. This way, students learn how scientists solve problems using the scientific methods. Children must learn how to observe, collect data, and complete a science project.

Furthermore, just like real space scientists, students explore, observe, and investigate celestial bodies. They come to the realisation that space is bigger and even more fascinating than they may have ever imagined.

What expectations do we have?

We expect a journey of change ahead of us, that will also keep us moving forward. I want to promote their knowledge about Science and use it in an integrated way. This way, I can develop my students’ creativity and increase their interest and curiosity for STEM subjects. It is a good opportunity to promote cooperation and teamwork to make learning accessible to all, to enhance their ICT skills. Improving the quality of their lives by asking questions, thinking outside the box, and solving various problems is essential.

The BEGINNING

February 1, 2020, meant the launch of a new challenge for us: we could barely wait to participate in the “2020 STEM Discovery Campaign”. We made a plan to organize the events and we started with joy and interest to carry them out.

My students are in the 3rd grade. They are the class of intelligent, energetic, and creative “Little Engineers”. It is true that they are fascinated by science and technology and always eager to study. I use experiential learning, learning by doing and I challenge them to always learn and keep their interest in discovering the world around them. In order to maintain their attention and involve them in the studying process, they need these practical activities to learn actively: to observe, to analyze, to design, to apply, to experiment, and then even to create. All of this helps them understand how things work around them, what society needs are, what their role is, and how they can help to solve problems.

Week 3-7 February 2020

Magnetic forces

1. For three months, responding to the challenge launched by the organizers of the 2020 STEM Discovery Campaign, we organized various activities in the classroom and outside the classroom. I started with exploring the forces. The first studied was the magnetic force. An avalanche of questions erupted from “What’s a Magnet?” to “Can magnets lose their magnetic properties?”.

“The Story of Magnus”

We began a journey through time, to Ancient Greece, with the aid of the chronovisor and listened to “The Story of Magnus”. Then followed a long series of experiments that attracted students to the world of Science: they found out how a magnet can do other magnetic things, how a magnet can levitate, they discovered how they can align objects without touching them, electromagnetism, they built a simple engine, etc.

Their research continued at home and in the next hour, they presented curiosities about magnets and magnetic force. They built a magnetic maze game. Here we presented material about our activity: our presentation.

“Bear day”

2. That week, I carried out a project, in partnership with the Museum of Natural Sciences Suceava. We participated in an interesting activity called “Bear Day”. It aroused our interest and then motivated us to continue studying the life of bears. In the beginning, some fundamental notions of ecology were approached, with reference to the main types of terrestrial ecosystems and seasonal aspects of wildlife. We were fascinated by the dioramas: “Herd of wild boars”, “The brown bear from Bucovina”, “The roar of the deer”, “The pack of wolves – winter”.

Science is fun

What was completely fascinating that we were able to study a bear skull in order to delve deeper into the world of science. We met different species of bears and had fun finding out about their lives. The bear came out of the den this year, in early February, and saw its shadow. He happily told us that Spring was near!

After we watched captivating movies featuring bears in their habitat, built masks, and celebrated them happily. Students continued their learning at home and carried out an educational project in which they studied the life of these wild animals and in which they used everything they had learned at the museum.

We were happy to discover the lost world of dinosaurs in the amazing panoramic projection room and on the interactive floor and to understand how technology has changed all aspects of our lives, making our learning fun and educational.

The week of February 10-14, 2020

Newton’s Laws of Motion

This was followed by the discovery of Newton’s Laws in other interesting experiments. With the help of apples and oranges, but also other objects around us, we experimented with the three laws of physics. We also discussed the law of gravity. I prepared 6 cards for them: 3 with the statements of the laws and 3 with images to associate them. It was very simple. On this Youtube channel, we watched an interesting learning material.

The rocket

We built a rocket out of a small plastic container from a medicine box and an effervescent tablet was the fuel. Then, we did an investigation because they are perfect for proving Newton’s Laws of Motion. First, the rocket rises because it is driven by an external force (Newton’s first law) caused by the accumulation of gas produced inside the container. This causes the lid to explode, launching the container into the air. The rocket travels upward with a force that is equal to and opposite to the descending force that propels the water, gas, and lid (Newton’s third law). The amount of force is directly proportional to the amount of water and gas released from the container and how fast it accelerates (Newton’s second law). It was very fun!

At home, they received a sheet on which they had to continue the experiment observing “What happens if you add more or less water?”,“Can you think of a way to measure the height reached?”, “How many launches can you get from a tablet, adding more water after each launch? ”,“ What if you add weight to the container? ”, “If you don’t change the amount of fuel and make the rocket longer, will it fly higher?”.

Week: February 17-21, 2020

Static electricity

Experiments to find out what static electricity is followed. We prepared balloons, wool material, aluminum can, ruler, scissors, papers…. We tore a piece of paper until it went “from a molecule to an atom”. Then, we experimented and proved the existence of static electricity. The challenge was to be able to move some pieces of paper on the table without touching them, with the help of a balloon. After a moment of silence, one of the children responded immediately. He came in front of the class and demonstrated it. He received a lot of applause.

Continuous exploring

After they rubbed a balloon on a piece of wool, then brought it closer to the other balloon and noticed that they were attracting each other. So then had fun rubbing the ball on hair and seeing it rise, or rubbing it with the piece of wool and bringing it closer to the wall, then seeing it stick to the wall for a short time. They took an aluminium can and then, after rubbing the balloon on their hair, brought it closer to the can and noticed that it was moving. Opposite electric charges attract each other and similar electric charges rejected each other. On this website, the children experimented in the virtual laboratory.

Week: February 24 – 28, 2020

Copper oxidation

Copper’s element symbol Cu is derived from the Latin “cuprum”, which translates to “metal of Cyprus,” indicating where it was mined in ancient times. Today, copper appears in products from cookware, electrical wires, and plumbing to jewelry and sculpture. Under certain conditions, these copper items can be affected by oxidation.

The challenge

The problem was to find a solution to save some copper money that had oxidized.

The story “The King and the Alchemist”

One fascinating challenge was a new time-traveling trip to the court of a king who wanted to turn everything into gold. I let them read the story “The King and the Alchemist” and they read it breathlessly. The alchemist disappeared from the king’s court after turning his sword from iron into copper and we do not know if he managed to find the right solution. And they continued the story themselves because they wanted to have magical powers and turn iron into copper.

The experiments

We had prepared different substances beforehand: water, salt, vinegar, 0.5 RON coins, 0.05 RON coins, 0.01 RON coins, soap, ziplock bags, iron nails. The students made all sorts of solutions and put the coins and nails inside the respective bags. We left them for 1 hour and the surprise was huge. Some had managed to find the alchemist’s secret potion !!

Another time, I “took them to New York” by taking a virtual tour to the Statue of Liberty. We were a little worried about its green colour, therefore, we talked and tried to find the necessary substances to save it. We succeeded and we felt wonderful. The materials which were very helpful to me can be found here.

Date: 3 February – 4 March 2020

Optional – Space Science and Robotics

“Little Engineers”

And since the beginning of this school year, I introduced an optional Space Science and Robotics course for my students, using Lego kits, Ozobot, Snap Circuit, and other materials I received from courses organized by ESA, we had activities involving Electronics and Robotics. The children gathered electronic materials (wires, screws, LEDs, motors, neodymium magnets, batteries, copper or zinc sheet, letcon, soldering gun…) in an “engineer’s kit”, following my example, and carried it proudly with them while experiencing fascinating things. Every Science class was thoroughly prepared.

The world of robots

So the discoveries continued. The children were eager to come to school because they enjoyed learning new things that are relevant parts of the times in which they live. I did coding activities within the European EU Code Week initiative, on Meet and Code and that’s why it was easy for me to continue the activities to facilitate access to coding and digital literacy, in a fun and engaging way. During this time, I taught them programming concepts and languages, how to program ozobots, robots, and rovers built using LEGO WE Do 2.0 kits. The European prize that we won at the Contest organized by Lego Education and STEM ALLIANCE motivated us to move on to learning other programming languages… We were preparing for competitions, but sadly…


AFTER MARCH 11, 2020

The problems

The news of the interruption of the school year came unexpectedly. In our region in Romania, zone 0 in terms of the pandemic was declared. It hit us hard and overwhelmed us with emotions. Naturally, it was not a solution to give up our dreams and continue the days while experiencing fear and terror. It took us a while to organize.

The solutions

1. At school, we are a strong team, lifelong learners. We understood that it was time to get involved in order to continue the studying process and, but finding solutions to attract the parents of the students, to learn together for the benefit of the children was necessary. I made the parents of my students understand how important it is for them to be our partners in this type of online learning because we already had a successful collaboration.

2. I had a well-defined goal: to continue the online instructional-educational process in a better way. The desire to succeed made us, in the engineering style, ask ourselves some questions and look for the best solutions for this problem. I read different materials and watched some tutorials on youtube regarding distance learning.

3. I talked with my colleagues, with teachers from my country, but also with those from other countries. Then, I made a quick assessment of the computer devices that students have. We were not discouraged by the lack of tablets and computers, we took over our parents’ phone, which often had to be shared with siblings, we made a schedule and thus, learning could continue online. However, these are children who are acquainted with the digital world, with whom I started to change the way I carried out my activities about 3 years ago. Our creativity was stimulated. It made me think about solving the problem of better time management and changing the stages of a lesson. It was a real challenge! The time that was to come was drawn.

4. Although I used many applications in the classroom and used learning, experimentation, and collaboration platforms like Go-Lab, PhET, eTwinning, Flipgrid, Edmodo … my students did not yet have Gmail accounts. In order to be able to better organize our online school, it was necessary to do that as well. We created the virtual class on Google Classroom and with the help of the ZOOM platform, we managed to “meet”. I sent the links to tutorials or materials to parents, so that they could understand how online educational platforms work. From them, the students also learned how to accept invitations to participate in activities, how to access the materials I post, how to download material in word format so that they can fill it in and then send it back to me or even write on their own notebooks and then upload the pictures of the homework online…

5. In our class’ Viber group, we communicate and help each other. We were happy that we had managed to pass the challenge well. I understood that the 21st century is in the digital age, the age of the Internet where one of the skills we need to develop in children is the digital one. Technology is not about the phone and tablet used without purpose and measure, but about everything around us: resources, energy, medicine, space research, transportation, fun … and learning. Time was no longer patient with us, bringing us adaptations and solutions. The world we live in is changing, reshaping our future.

6. Beyond knowledge and notions about robots, programs, programming, I saw that it is very important to develop children’s thinking, to encourage them to express their ideas, to collaborate, to communicate by making themselves available to those around them. And the long-awaited day at the beginning of the week came and the question arose: “Do we have Science on our schedules today?”.

Week 16 – 20 March 2020

“Forces and Movement”

1. We last did the “Forces and Movement” chapter and they couldn’t wait to see how they would do it online. We had just discovered Newton’s Laws. After the gravitational and magnetic force, the traction and pushing force followed. I prepared an integrated activity for them, challenging them to become bridge-building engineers, in which I introduced them by having them solve a Crossword in English, which contained elements from the construction of a bridge. They translated the words and then, on a sheet, they had to recognize and associate the types of bridges that existed using the translated words.

The questions behind the stories

1. The pupils analyzed the conditions that must be met for the construction (from the favourable location to the necessary materials and its testing). Also, on Google Classroom, I translated and posted 2 sheets containing the history of 2 famous bridges and sent them the corresponding videos on Youtube- ” Golden Gate Bridge “and” Tacoma Bridge “. We read the stories and carefully analyzed the data presented. Then, it was time to see the movie. No sound could be heard while watching the second movie. The downfall of the bridge made them ask questions and feel the need to take responsibility for anything you do. An interesting brainstorming ensued.

2. On Zoom (I use both platforms for real-time communication at the same time), we talked about the traction and pushing forces, drawing the way they work on a bridge with the help of free body diagrams. They got the sketch of a bridge that they were going to study and a challenge on the“materials” section. Their homework was to build a bridge with the help of 2 A4 sheets, leaving a distance of 15 cm (-3 models)  between the “banks” (2 equal stacks of books), and to test them by putting coins until they fall apart, noting the observed data in the engineer’s notebook afterwards. I had quick feedback: on the same evening, many of them sent me some great projects!

3. On Wednesday, since it was time for our optional class, they each designed a bridge that they tested in the “Truss Me” application, applying what they learned thus far, which they then made from different materials: toothpicks, straw, branches, cardboard … depending on the chosen location. The helpful materials can be found here.

Week 23 – 27 March 2020

“Movement, Speed, and Distance”

The lesson called “Movement, Speed ​​, and Distance” followed. The children had studied the important forces: gravitational, electromagnetic, and air friction. They knew that force is pressure or traction. The students gave interesting examples of pressing the doorknob to open a door, by applying a force on the door. Also, the application of force to open a drawer, to move an object from one place to another… but they had many questions awaiting. They knew that forces appear when two objects press against each other, but they discovered that forces act even when they do not even touch !! The pupils responded immediately by exemplifying forces that act without objects touching: gravity pulling you down when you jump in the air, or magnetism lifting an object off the table.

Forces

They discovered the force of friction with the air is affected by speed. It is a force that tries to slow us down: the faster we go, the more air resistance we feel. Some forces are the same regardless of the situation. Gravity, for example, will pull you down, whether you move or not. Then they discovered the action of forces in pairs. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you press something (action) it pushes back (reaction). Naturally, the example that came to mind was a race car, the wheel tries to push the road back (action), and instead, the road pushes the wheel and the car forward (reaction). They studied cars and understood how important their shape is and so they understood why a race car has that specific shape (Important in reducing air resistance).

PheT: forces and motion basics

I prepared a quiz for them so that I could see if they understood the notions. It can be found here.

Week 30 March 3 April

STEM for all

During this period, we wanted as many children as possible to enjoy STEM activities. So I decided, together with my colleagues Ana Clara Grecu and Mariana Lazar, coming from different corners of Romania, to travel, despite the fact that our roads were closed, not to be discouraged. We prepared our minds and hearts for a new journey in the world of STEM. Passionate about flying, I proposed to the children an activity in which we tried to help them discover its secrets and therefore, we lead them far into the past, present, but also in the future.

The Romanian aviation pioneers

We made our first stop at the Aviation Museum in Bucharest. We found it open. The museum was eager to receive us and show us the treasures it harbours. We started the tour by getting to know the pioneers of Romanian aviation and discovering, with amazement, how many sacrifices they were able to make to follow their dreams. Our colleagues from Valea Doftanei knew a lot about an aviator, Aurel Vlaicu, who had flown with different types of planes built by him, first in our country and then in other countries, enjoying a well-deserved glory. And Traian Vuia presented us his prototype “Vuia I”. About him, the major newspapers of the world in France, USA, England wrote that he would be “the first man to fly with a heavier-than-air aircraft, equipped with its own take-off, propulsion and landing systems.”.

Military planes

Then we saw the military planes during the First World War: the fighter jets, bombers, but also ground attack planes. We then discovered with astonishment that during the Second World War, Romania had planes built by Romanians. One of these is the fighter jet that attacks other aircraft in flight – IAR 80, but also IAR 37, 38, 39 – a reconnaissance, observation, and light bombing aircraft. We also discovered the MIG 21 plane in the museum – an aircraft equipped by the Romanian Air Force, during peacetime. The pupils studied them closely in order to discuss their performance.

Romanian Air Force

Then we watched a movie presented by the Romanian Air Force and we watched the flight of some of today’s air heroes, who fly F16 planes – those that are now owned by our army, performing air police missions. Many pleasant memories flooded in, seeing the young pilot passionately talking about flying and fulfilling a dream. I had the chance to be next to him many years ago, as his teacher, when the dream of flying was a long series of questions… Now he helped me find answers to questions I knew our students would ask us today: How to lift a plane in the air? What is flying? How much does an airplane weigh? How fast does a supersonic plane fly? …They understood that dreams can come true if you believe in them and take care of them. So that they grow while you protect them.

Steps in the FUTURE

We continued with a film about the launch of a new space plane in 2018. Virgin Galactic made history when it launched its first aircraft into space – VSS UNITY. It was not exactly a plane, because it was taken to a very high altitude by another plane, from where he rose. It had a rocket engine! The future has already begun and it is good to train our students in exploring the world around them by showing them how easy it can be, reminding them of their duty to protect the world.

The aerodynamic forces

Students fascinated by the explanations received about the aerodynamic forces and did not contain the questions about how they act on an airplane during the flight. I watched a short film about the flight and all the factors that influence it. We then implemented what we learned and moved on to practical work, in which we built paper airplanes, experiencing what we learned about aerodynamic forces.

Our prototypes

We also prepared videos for them to build prototypes of airplanes, but we encouraged them to build new models, using their creativity. Not long after the end of our meeting, pictures of their prototypes, skillfully worked, have already started to arrive, and skills and messages that made our hearts rejoice. Now we must wait to meet in order to test them together.

Week 22 – 26 April 2020

Sounds

In the week of 22 – 26 April, we studied the “Sound” lesson in Engineering class. All noises are made with the help of vibrations. Vibrations appear when something moves back and forth. When things vibrate in order to make the sound, they are usually so small and are moving so fast, that you can’t see anything moving at all. But you can probably feel it. So did my beloved pupils, when they held up their hand up to their throat and say their name, they all fell that sort of buzzing in their neck. That’s the vibration!! Their vocal cords are the ones vibrating there. They can also feel and see the start of a sound when they play the guitar. Air is made up of very tiny particles who end up carrying the vibrations through the air, so sound can travel!

When a guitar string moves, the particles in the air around the string start to move, too. And then they bump into other particles, making those noises. These particles carry the vibration through the air until it hits the students’ ears, and they can hear the music.

The experiments

1. We discovered what a sound is and how it works by building a music box, and a membranophone.

2. Afterwards, they analyzed the Knock code and the Morse code. They decoded a message in the Knock code. Then, they tried to listen and send a message using the same code. It was our motto: “I do what I have to do today in order to be able to do what I like tomorrow!”

Building and testing the wired phone

3. They understood why it was harder to hear people when they were farther away. The sound of their voice gets harder and harder to hear until eventually, you can’t hear it at all. But there is a way to talk to our friend from several meters away, without yelling. The pupils received instructions to build a wired phone using 2 plastic cups and a long string. They were thrilled it worked. We talked about echoes, vibrations, and, of course, we ended the activity with a song loved by them, played on the new instruments: “I lost the DO on the stave.”

A new instrument – xylophone

A child said that he likes to play the xylophone. So, for our next class, the homework was to build one using glasses. The glasses should have the same size, but the quantity of water should be different. More liquid in the glass inhibits vibration and deepens the tone, while less liquid lets the vibrations ring free. Add food coloring to the liquid for variety, and try different liquids, such as juice or milk, noting the changes in tone. It is known that this activity plays a huge part in developing creative thinking and honing musical skills while illustrating the concept of sound as vibrations.

Happy BINGO project

Einstein is a famous forerunner who always amazes us with his discoveries. We are, as he said, “passionately curious”. Therefore, I thought, as I saw the warm weather, that we should discover a little more of the world around us. “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.”

The explorers

I listened to him and followed his advice. The requirements of the BINGO game I prepared were to search, to collect, to build, to name, to follow, to listen, to associate, to look, to express one’s opinion… Everything was happening in the yard of their house. And because we all live in a village, we prepared a BINGO for Science class. They had 30 minutes to go outside and search for the required things. Moreover, they even had to take a picture of what they discovered. I received many messages that the activity delighted them and made them understand what a precious gift life is.

NOTES…

Unfortunately, we only meet virtually, but we smile, socialize, learn, ask questions, and answer. In addition to this, we learn to reinvent ourselves together, to go through less desired moments, to face them easier and we help each other to be in solidarity. So, we must also find solutions in the crisis conditions we are experiencing now and not let the curiosity and creativity of the students be lost. By encouraging students to take part in activities that attract them, we arouse their enthusiasm to put themselves at the service of others. Thus, they might make the Earth a better place to live in.

The children have a lot of energy and contagious optimism that strengthens their immune system, helping them overcome moments of panic. Arousing their interest is what motivates them to continue the research. So, they can be the future STEM specialists, who will push the boundaries of Science, Technology, and Innovation above, who will make themselves available for other human beings by fighting poverty, pollution and climate change, discrimination, and hatred.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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About Lungoci Daniela

My name is Daniela Lungoci and I am an Elementary School teacher at Gymnasial School Ipotesti, Suceava. I enjoy turning my classroom into a place fit for learning, creating, experimenting and that’s why I am looking to provide my students with interesting and diverse learning experiences. Because I care about the future, I understood that change begins with the involvement of the teachers and of the community. I enthusiastically participated in international ERASMUS+ training courses, in the 35th ``Project Science`` Workshop, organised by the European Schoolnet, in Astronomy and Robotics courses organised by ESA and ROSA in the Netherlands and Belgium. I won the contest organised by the Leiden University (Space Awareness 2017) and a I receveid Excellence Space Science School Quality Label I subsequently got a telescope for the students at my school . I wrote two projects about space on eTwinning, in which I collaborated with a large number of european and asian teachers. Both received the ``European Quality Label``, and the second project ``3,2,1 Let’s go through the Universe with Paxi`` was awarded in the Ukraine and in Armenia by eTwinning. Last year, I participated with 2 projects in the ``Meet and Code`` activities...

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