Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reflections on first STEM club

I'm not really sure what led me to starting a STEM club at my school. Maybe it was watching my own children create with the Makedo set they got for Christmas. Maybe it was the excitement of my students as they experimented with Scratch after the Hour of Code. Or maybe it was the influence of the people I follow on Twitter.

Whatever the reason, I wanted to offer something for students that goes beyond the typical sports and music offerings. I decided to start small by just making the club available for fourth graders. I also started with scheduling just four sessions--totally manageable!

But what to do? I don't have any budget for the club, so I decided to work with easy to get materials and what I already have. These are the sessions that my oldest son and I brainstormed.

Session 1: Toothpick structures
Session 2: Computer coding
Session 3: Boat building
Session 4: K-Nex

Our first session went wonderfully. We started with about 10 minutes of downtime for students to eat the snacks that they had brought, use the restroom, work on homework, observe the tadpoles in my room, and chat. Then, we watched the NASA video, "What is engineering?"

Our next step was to start building. The task was simple--build a structure that could hold a social studies book, using only the toothpicks and marshmallows. The kids jumped right in. They were so excited! (We did try some marshmallows, too.)

Before we tested their creations, I showed the "Success through Failure" video. This helped to cushion kids against the upcoming disappointment they might feel when their structures failed. After all, failure is good! We can learn from it!

After we tested, we watched the MIT Bridge Building videos. These are fantastic and the kids really enjoyed the addition of the LEGO minifigures. (Next time, I'll bring some of my own minifigures to use on our structures.)

And this is the most important part: Then we did it all again. This time, kids could choose from more materials--clay, cardboard, straws, and whatever else they could dream up.

The hour passed quickly and before we knew it we were cleaning up, talking about next time, and negotiating about what materials kids could take home to do more experimenting at home. I could hear the kids saying, "This was so fun!" as they went out into the hallway.

The whole thing has turned out to be really fun. Hopefully our next sessions will run smoothly as well!


  1. Great ideas and videos! I'm running an engineering summer camp at my school this summer - I'm going to bookmark these videos for possible use.

  2. An engineering summer camp sounds like lots of fun! I'm hoping to try to use some of what I learn from our after school sessions into regular class activities.

  3. Emily, not a comment on this particular post, but just in general. I was teaching with your figurative language power point today thinking about how it is one of my favorite products (although I've said that about other products of yours too!) Thank you for your work and I love your blog as always.