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Saturday, June 3, 2017

STEM Festival #3

It is June, which means school is out for me and I actually have time to blog!

I teach at a STEM Magnet school in New Mexico. 
Andy's Garden
We are lucky to have a beautiful space around us with lots of room to play, explore and just enjoy.  The forest environment has become a focus at our school.  We began the journey 3 years ago (my first year with this particular school) to become a STEM school.  We have been going along well, but the time has come to really change things.  Instead of being a school that enriches with STEM we are transforming to a school that truly integrates STEM.  The school year of 2017-18 we will have 3 required integration hours of STEM (starting small makes this a very reasonable goal).  I am very excited to get rolling with this and have lots of ideas I want to try out.  It will take a lot of work and reorganizing and changing of thought processes within the classroom but should be a cool journey.

How we work out initial ideas for the festival:
Every school has committees that teachers are supposed to join...because that is one of those unspoken teacher things.  I have been on the STEM committee for 3 years.  The committee works on organizing the festival.  Below I outline how our school goes about the day.  

How we begin the planning:
The festival planning begins long before the actual presentation day (about a month, sometimes more).  Each class is responsible for presenting something they learned during the year to other classes in an inviting and hands-on way.  Kids teaching kids.  It's so great to watch first grade take ownership of teaching 5th graders what they learned!  This year our class presented about defensible space.  That is the area around buildings that can be used to help reduce risk of forest fires spreading to homes/buildings.  They taught about the 3 zones of defensible space.  I made up a song that helped them remember all the spaces.  Click the picture below to find the song.  The kids originally learned about defensible space from a local community organization made up of forest service, fire personnel and scientists that had been working with our kinder and 1st grade kids.  We wanted to honor their teaching and pass it on to others.  
Once the classes at our school decide upon their topic, they begin figuring out how to present their ideas in an engaging way, preferably hands-on.  This year, my class decided to explain the zones by singing the song, displaying the information, and having the guests create their own defensible space with various materials.  The house pictured below was 3D printed.  The rest of the items were easily found in our classroom or in nature.
How we organize the day:
We were each given notice about what everyone was presenting and then could sign our classes up to visit our top 3 favorites, the rest were assigned.  There were 18 possible stations at our school during the festival.  So, no one gets to see all and as you see below each group would see 6 stations in total but they may differ from the other group's viewings.  I feel the hardest part of planning this festival is the schedule.  For us, it is important to assign each group where to go so there isn't overlap of classes and so no one has an empty spot where there isn't a group to listen to them.  

How we schedule it:
Our school starts at 8:45 and the STEM Festival began promptly at 9 a.m.  We get as many parent volunteers as possible and request help from EAs that might be available to walk classes around.  We explained the day to those able to help us travel with the kids but below is the time layout of how it rotated.  The "you" indicated below was the volunteer of the classroom.  The "I" was the teacher.  Each class is separated into thirds.  A third of the class presents to the class guests and two-thirds rotates to other presentations in other rooms.  
You will have group B and C.  I will have group A.
9-9:20                    1st rotation
9:20-9:40              2nd rotation
9:40-10:00           3rd rotation
You will have group A and C.  I will have group B.
10:00-10:20         4th rotation
10:20-10:40         5th rotation
10:40-11:00         6th rotation
You will have group A and B.  I will have group C.
11:00-11:20         7th rotation
11:20-11:40         8th rotation
11:40- 12:00        9th rotation
There is a problem we have found with this schedule.  The teachers do not get to see the other classes present.  The teachers are in the classroom the whole time helping the presenters of their classroom. Each rotation is 18 minutes long and has a 2 minute passing period.  This made the timing snug but no one seemed to have a second to be bored and get into trouble!  Next year, we will try to figure out a different schedule that might allow for teachers to view some of the stations along with their class.  Why does it matter if teachers get to see some of the stations?  Inspiration and encouragement of others makes for a great staff environment! 
Above my students are singing to the audience... yes on a table! Taking after their teacher!!! Ha.

What do student audiences do:
Each student had a passport with 6 squares on the front.  Each station gave a sticker or stamp to the attendees.  Then on the back of the passport were questions about what they learned during the festival.  Once completed at the end of the event all the students turned their passports in to the office for a drawing.  We were able to get donations from Lakeshore of various STEM prizes.  We had 2 prizes per grade level and they were pretty cool.  I wanted several of the prizes!  :) 

What about lunch:
At the end of the event all students got sack lunches and ate on the field for a picnic, weather permitting.  It was followed by a whole school recess (about 330 kids) and then students went back to their classes and wrapped up their days.  The festival happens on a Wednesday, which is our early release day.  It took up most of that particular school day. 

Some of the stations other teachers presented included: pollination of flowers from bees, student inventions, bee body parts, recycled material instruments, local fish (NM Cutthroat trout), magnet experiments, etc. 
Last year, my students presented about critically endangered animals (they researched them and wrote reports about them).  They created a stop motion video about how to help endangered animals.  When students learn about a problem they tend to want to solve it.  I love that because it gets us started on activism and global/local citizenship.  The video we created last year can be found by clicking the picture below.
Next year, I am sure we will change and improve more.  Although, each year has felt successful because students learned a lot, gained skills in presenting to others, and improved their confidence.  

Have a great June!!!

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