If you follow us on Facebook (Golden Apple STEM Institute iTEAMchicago), you know that Bill Nye’s great keynote at the NSTA Conference in Chicago in March, in which he encouraged everyone to talk about climate change every day, prompted us to do a daily post on climate change, offering teachers curricula, resources, and information on climate change that they can use in their classrooms.
It seemed only natural to frame this month’s iTEAMchicago photo contest on the same theme, so we posed the question, “How have you changed the climate in your classroom to make it more inquiry-based?”
We weren’t expecting one, but teacher Renee Edwards-Rutherford of Keller Middle School in Robbins, Illinois, sent in an essay with the photos she submitted. It describes the activities she designed to give her sixth-grade students a fun way to be scientists and engineers. We thought you’d enjoy seeing the lessons she came up with for her “Strange Planet” unit.
“Students were able to design their own strange planet. They were able to use materials such as googly eyes (to represent life on their planet), cotton balls (to represent clouds/storms), balloons (representing planets), trash bags (to represent atmosphere), and various other items.
Students were asked to explain their planets and the features chosen to build their strange planet.
Next, students simulated four different types of space missions: Earth-based observations, Flyby, Orbiter, and Lander. Students used view-finders to make observations from afar. For the Earth-based observation, students observed from the other side of the room; for the Flyby, students walked by the partner planet; for the Orbiter, students walked around the partner planet; and for the lander, students took off the atmosphere bag and made close observations.
On another day, the students worked in their mission groups to analyze research about each planet, comet, asteroid, and the moon. I told them they were to choose a mission, tell why they are exploring it, and which type of mission (lander, orbiter, or flyby) they will do. We collected class data of missions and had a class discussion of each. Then, I gave them a $450 million budget to design their own space mission. I told the students that they were all geniuses, who graduated college and are real astronauts. They really bought into the process!
The climate of my classroom has evolved to be more inquiry-based because of projects such as the one above. Students are able to apply their knowledge, explain what they had chosen for their Strange Planets, and then design their own Space Mission. Students have enjoyed the process of being creative, understanding huge concepts, and being able to design their own space mission with a budget.
I have also created units that reach all learning styles and interests. Students are able to move at their own pace. Therefore, the lessons are differentiated and reach each student’s ability and work ethic. Students also really enjoy the freedom of not having to sit at a desk for the entire class period. Discussions flow a lot easier when they are coming up with their own projects and are applying the skill instead of reading what other people do in that career. They are living it!”
We congratulation Renee on winning the iTEAMchicago photo competition. We love the engaging way she’s developed to stimulate her students’ understanding of space science and the work of scientists and engineers.
And, in the process, her activities address NGSS standards, including ESS1B Earth and the Solar System, Middle School ETS1 Engineering Design, Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, and Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, to name just most obvious of them.
We also love how Renee incorporated art into the science, tapping children’s innate creativity and progressing from STEM to STEAM!
There’s also something to look forward to. Bill Nye has a new book about climate change and energy that should make its appearance this fall. We promise to review it.
Please let us know in comments how you have changed the climate in your classroom to make it more inquiry-based.
You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.