It’s easy to get stuck in your curriculum. Especially math. Where everyday you’re just plodding through, from one problem to the next. You feel it, the kids feel it, it’s boring. And when things get boring, that question parents and school teachers dread rears it’s ugly head,
Why do we have to learn this?
I hate that question.
But really, when your slogging through random (to them anyway) problem after problem, they start to ask, what is all of this for? Is it even worth my time?
And where is the wonder that should be a part of education?
At least, I want it to be a part of my children’s education.
So I do what any sane homeschooler does and I binge-read as much as time allows and I discover STEM. And I try a few lessons with my kids and while it isn’t love at first sight (lesson?) I am intrigued and want to dive deeper. And then Pinterest gets involved and now I feel overwhelmed by the amazing looking STEM activities out there that I know I can’t do. Too messy. Too much prep. Too…well, mostly those two reasons. Why do you have to make me feel so inadequate Pinterest? Why?!
Then I ignored Pinterest and looked at what STEM really was about. If you would like to create your own STEM lesson then read on. Don’t worry, I wrote it for you as a busy homeschool mom, not to teachers who spend years learning about standards.
I made a poster you can print out to help you turn your math lesson into a STEM lesson. Read to the end of the page to download.
Turning a Math Lesson into a STEM Lesson
If you don’t know already, it’s really hard to come up with a completely original idea. It’s much easier to start somewhere. Math lessons are very easy to find. Chances are, you have a math curriculum right now. For the purposes of showing how to create a STEM lesson, I am going to use a lesson from the homeschooling program Math-U-See. It’s actually a sample of their curriculum as I don’t actually own it. You can read the original lesson here.
If for some reason you don’t have a math curriculum you can also find math lessons from:
NCTM–National Council of Teachers – of Mathematics
Math Geek Mama (very homeschool friendly)
I’m sure there’s a bazillion more but those are the first two places I go.
Question 1: Can You Make the Problem Inquiry Based?
The best inquiry based problem will have:
- Multiple solutions
- Multiple ways of getting to the solution
- Multiple skills being used
These are the best inquiry based problems. The Pinterest-worthy ones. This isn’t always possible and that’s okay. A good (not perfect) inquiry based problem is much better than a skills based list of problems.
Making the Math U See lesson into an inquiry based lesson
If you read the lesson, it’s a pretty straight forward lesson. Students are basically practicing adding numbers to the number 9. The lesson has a method to teach students how to add a number to 9. I am going to ignore that part because teaching methods is not what inquiry based lessons are for. I’m just going to concentrate on the adding numbers to the number 9 part. That will be my objective.
Objective: add numbers to 9 (ex: 9+1, 9+2, 9+3…etc.)
New Problem: I have an egg crate that holds 18 eggs. It is half full. I have more eggs, but I’m not going to tell you how many (it’s a secret). What are all of the possible number of eggs I have (the secret eggs)? What would the total number of eggs be?
Is this a better problem? Definitely. It’s going to take students some time to evaluate what is being asked of them and how to do it. They will still end up adding numbers to 9 to solve the problem, but that’s not readily apparent at first. But is this an inquiry based problem? Let’s look at the criteria.
- Multiple solutions? I don’t think so. I think there is only one set of answers to this question.
- Multiple ways of getting to the solution? Yes. From the very hands on of manipulating eggs to being able to pair off the numbers in your head. However, there are not a lot of paths.
- Multiple skills being used? If you count the thinking, planning, carrying out part, then yes, there are more skills being used.
- Interest? While not particularly interesting to a 7 year old, certainly more interesting than adding numbers on a worksheet.
While this is not the best inquiry-based problem. It’s a good enough beginning to move on to the next question.
Remember, your child’s education doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy to be good.
Question 2: Can You Add a Science Element?
Science is the study of the natural world. Science is also really interesting. Why is the sky blue? Why do birds migrate? Kids are always asking science related questions. Let’s add that natural curiosity to our lessons. As a bonus, science and math go really well together and it’s very easy to add a science element to math and vice versa.
Some general science topics students typically find interesting include:
- why anything works the way it does
Think about what your students have been learning about in science (or asking questions about) and see if you can incorporate that into your lesson.
Adding science to the Math U See lesson
Eggs are kind of sciency right? Kinda. But I think we can add a bit more interest. I’m going to keep the egg crate but instead of eggs in it, I’m going to plant seeds. So, now we have an egg crate with 9 seeds. The students job is to figure out all of the possible combinations of seeds we already have plus the secret seeds and the new totals.
I think my kids would really enjoy the planting the seeds part 🙂
The main objective was to practice adding numbers to 9, but after adding this science element, we can extend the lesson significantly. Now we can track the growth of the plants. Limit how much water some get and see if they grow differently…etc.
Question 3: Can You Add Technology?
This is easily the hardest part for me. I’m kind of a low tech person. The only reason to add technology to a lesson is if makes the lesson better. Not just for the sake of adding technology. When I use it in my homeschool it’s for one of these reasons:
- It cuts back on clutter (manipulative apps are my favorite)
- It makes something easier so that a younger child can solve a harder problem (like recording a student explaining their answer instead of writing it down)
- It makes something tedious, fast (like graphing a lot of data)
- To check your work
- To present outcomes in a pretty way (like making an info-graphic for a blog post 🙂 )
Adding technology to the Math U See lesson
I used an app called Math Maker (I couldn’t find it on android, only iphone) to create the visual representatives of each problem. If I was doing this with a student I would also have them write the number sentence next to each one. The app is pretty easy to use, but I wish it had a way to make the background just white or some other solid color.
Once their picture was made, students could share their findings with their family. Sounds like a good dinner activity.
Students could also use a calculator to check their answers.
Question 4: Can You Add Engineering?
A very simple definition of an engineer: engineers make stuff. As a lesson designer (an education engineer) the question for you is, What can my student make to enhance this lesson?
- Test limits
Adding engineering to the Math U See lesson
In this lesson, we may explore questions like;
- Is the egg carton the best place to grow seedlings? Maybe we need to build something else.
- Where shall we put the seedlings when they’re ready to be planted outside? Should we design a garden space?
- Can we design an automatic watering system for the seedlings or plants?
Question 5: Can You Add Math?
Umm, Danielle. I think you made a mistake. Remember, we started with math. Why do we need to add math?
You’re right. But to our original problem, we have added a whole lot more lesson to our lesson and it deserves a second chance to see if there’s any more math we could add to our lesson. We don’t want to miss any great opportunities, right?
Also, our math goal was a skill based goal. Adding numbers to 9, that’s what we are practicing. But Math is a lot more than that. After reading Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching(aff. link) by Jo Boaler I realized that I was putting too much importance on skills and not enough importance on the main goal of mathematics, finding patterns.
Are there any patterns to highlight or discuss?
Adding more math to the Math U See lesson
The pattern in this problem might be, “Did you find an easy way to add to 9?” They found some strategy to add to 9’s or they would not be able to solve the problem. It might even be the method the Math U See lesson purposely taught (take one from the other number to make the 9 a 10 and then add the numbers together) but it doesn’t have to be.
If I was describing the pattern I would say, to add 9 + 5 I take one from the second number and the answer is in the next tens place. Essentially it’s the same method as in the Math U See lesson but it feels different to me as the thinker. My daughter pretends that it’s 10 + 5 and then subtracts 1 from the answer. When my son solves the problem, he thinks in number bonds and sees the 5 splitting into 1 and 4.
Even more interesting than noticing the patterns is in discussing them and seeing the different ways that each person interprets it.
Bonus Question: Can You Add Art?
Sometimes you might see STEAM as the acronym instead of STEM. In those lessons, art has been added. What do artist do? Like engineers, artists design. Where engineers focus on structure and limits, artists focus on beauty and expressing an idea or emotions with what they make.
Adding art to the Math U See lesson
Maybe the seeds we plant are flowers that the student picks. Questions to bring out the beauty and emotions could be:
- What do you like about this flower? Color? Symmetry?
- How do you want to feel when you look at your flower garden? Energized? Peaceful?
- How can you arrange your garden so that you will enjoy it the most?
Other ideas to add art to the lesson:
- Draw the plant as it grows
- Take pictures of the plant and make a wallpaper for the computer (hey, now we’re adding technology too!)
Should Every Lesson be a STEM Lesson?
Here’s the formula for the perfect number of STEM lessons. Take the number of STEM lessons you are comfortable with, do you have the number, now add 1.
I’m mostly joking. Mostly.
There is no right answer. Some seasons we do a lot of STEM lessons and some seasons we actually use a curriculum (shocking, right?). It all depends on my energy level and the kids’ interests. I suspect I will be moving closer and closer to using STEM lessons more. I mean, look at all of the great discovery we added to this one simple lesson.
Have I convinced you? Are you ready to dive into STEM. Or at least get your feet wet.
If so, don’t forget to download the free poster.