The Engineering Design Process

What does a STEM lesson look like in the classroom? How can I take a lesson and make it STEMish? These are questions I have asked myself quite a bit lately. They are common questions for teachers new to STEM education.

One model for creating STEM lessons is using the Engineering Design Process. The idea is to guide students through a process of discovery.

Engineering Design Process

As I reflect on how to drive my teaching more towards this model, I find myself focusing on the Imagine stage of the process. As we try to deliver as much information as possible to our students, this is an area that is often neglected.

One of my goals has been to turn some of my traditional lesson plans into STEM lessons. I have found that if my students are Imagining, the rest of the cycle falls into place. By Imagining, I mean brainstorming, looking at models or pictures and making inferences, researching, or discovering something on their own.

A chemistry example of this could be in the teaching of periodic trends. Traditionally I have used a lecture to teach students what the trends on the periodic table are and what causes them. I have followed that up by having them graph these trends. In an effort to have my students Imagine, I reversed this strategy last semester. The only front loading I did for the students was to give them the definitions of atomic radius, ionization energy, and electronegativity. I then challenged them with discovering the trends by graphing them. In groups, they analyzed their graphs and brainstormed causes for the trends. Rather than lecturing, I followed up the activity with a discussion that reinforced what they had discovered. This activity required the same amount of time as my traditional lesson.

Once I decided what part of the process students could Imagine, the rest of my lesson fell into place. Did they build a space shuttle or solve the world's energy crisis? No. Not yet. They did, however, take control of their own learning. They created a model for understanding the periodic table that we can improve upon throughout the remainder of the course.

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