My favorite part of the school year this year is probably teaching STEM/STEAM. The curriculum concepts, the thinking skills, and the personal skills the students have learned have made STEM days my favorite days of the week.
The last few weeks the fourth graders have been learning about basic physics concepts by building roller coasters. Each small group started out with online simulations. I absolutely love that technology allows us to simulate things we cannot always encounter.
Everyone’s favorite website, by far, was from Amusement Park Physics, from learner.org: http://www.learner.org/interactives/parkphysics/parkphysics.html. The students had to build a roller coaster that was both fun and safe. For the next four weeks, we discussed Potential and Kinetic Energy, Velocity, and Speed.
Students then went to their engineering journals and planned out their roller coasters. Each coaster must support itself, have two loops, and of course be safe.
After planning students received their materials. One pipe insulation tube cut in half, tape, and a marble. Students were allowed to use anything else in the room (boxes, rubber bands, paper towel rolls) to help their roller coaster stand. Being safe seemed to be the hardest challenge.
As students completed the first challenge they were faced with new challenges: created the slowed roller coaster, the roller coaster with the most loops, and “most fun” roller coaster. On the last day we took everyone team’s coaster and made large class roller coaster. The idea was fun, but 19 fourth grade students needed more time working together. I learned once all together they had forgotten much of what they had learned the previous 4 weeks. They learned they need to listen to each other more and there is a positive to some students taking over as leaders.