It’s 9 a.m. and students log onto their computers to an instructional video explaining today’s STEM lesson. The sun is shining. Nature is in full bloom. Students are surprised to hear they will not be executing any online quizzes or completing a packet based on their textbook. Instead, they walk into their own backyards to execute the lesson on their own.
Planting flowers, bug hunting and weather watching are all activities that can be done using social distancing guidelines and are acceptable during quarantine. For parents of young students, going outside during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing. As educators navigate changes this unprecendented school year, we know project-based learning will be an essential aspect of every curriculum. The right lessons can align PBL, STEM and a love for the outdoors.
While we can no longer gather together to conduct formal experiments, we can still take advantage of the seasons and weave outdoor learning into everyday life. Hands-on discovery of STEM content is a great way to engage all learners whether face-to-face or learning remotely. Here are five project-based lessons encouraging students to explore their own backyards.
- Weather Wonders: What’s the weather where you are today? Ask students to observe, document and report on the weather in their neighborhoods. Students will use math skills to graph weather trends including temperature and precipitation. Have them present their findings using digital animation tools or video tools to report on and record weather clips like a meteorologist. I’m a big fan of Weather Wiz Kids to lay the foundation for proper use of weather terms and weather-related experiments.
- GaleForce Winds: Use a rainstorm to explore wind. Students can design and build kites or windmills with some instructions from Defined Learning. Once the designs are complete, students take them outside and try them out. Have them capture their flight on video and post it to your class website or learning management system to share with the class. My students enjoy FlipGrid to record and reflect student observations.
- Watch it Grow: Mess with soil. Learn about seeds. Plant flowers or vegetables. Have students track and compare plant growth using Padlet to keep “quick notes” while observing, creating, and designing. This also gives students the opportunity to upload pictures and videos to support their findings. In addition, these can be shared with peers to collaborate and receive feedback with a 5-star rating system. Extend the planting project by having students design a way to protect plants from extreme weather, deter local pests from eating your crops, or test their creativity by asking them to become a florist to create a floral arrangement for an upcoming event. These STEM projects can be done at home with the assistance of a parent or sibling.
- Creepy Crawlers: Bees, beetles, ladybugs, and butterflies; encourage your students to learn about bugs. Whether observing these creepy crawlers in their natural habitats or doing online research, students can check out the insects that come out during nice weather. Have students create a digital science notebook using Google Slides or Google Docs to develop their own digital portfolio or site that allows them to contribute their work to the world! This too allows for collaboration, reflection, and student feedback throughout the process.
Assessing student projects
The final presentations and projects are where focus should be placed on personalization and creativity. Students have the freedom to show their learnings in a variety of mediums. Assessing your students during projects like the ones mentioned above is an ongoing process. Benchmark your students individually before the project begins with their “I wonder” statement which connects to the experiments’ predictions. Having students self-reflect using pencil/paper or digitally, affords not only the opportunity to have an on-going assessment, but it gives the learner an opportunity to have a visual of their growth in sequence. Never underestimate the use of comments in Google Slides and Docs as this is also a form of assessment for self and others. Google Forms is an additional resource for feedback, reflection, exit tickets, quizzes and more.
It’s more important than ever to be creative with lesson plans and student learning opportunities. Get inspired by the growth, discovery and activity of the outdoors. Students can advance their learning while engaging in hands-on discovery both in and out of the classroom.
Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public schools as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 23 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. She is an avid user of the Defined Learning project-based curriculum. You can contact Jacie through her website at steam-makers.com.
An educator for the last 23 years, Kristen Nan’s passion for building relationships with her students, colleagues, and community continues to ignite change for the better. In addition to her current role as a 3rd-grade teacher, Kristen is an author, national speaker, and consultant. With keeping a future-ready mindset at the forefront for every child, she has been recognized as an award-winning educator for innovative practices. You can contact Kristen through her website at kristennan.com
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