Maximising the potential:
“For our prosperity to continue, the government believes we need high levels of skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and citizens that value them.” (Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2015).
STEM is a hot topic in primary schools and I will be discussing how to develop STEM in your class and a situation where it worked for me. Here’s six STEM principles for the classroom:
- Make it real– the situation/problems should be believable and immerse the children
- Guided by a design process– students define problems, conduct background research, develop ideas, and then test, evaluate, and redesign.
- Hands-on inquiry – learning is open ended, within constraints. (Constraints usually are available materials).
- Pupils should be a productive team
- Apply maths and science skills– learners encouraged that science and maths are not standalone subjects but part of problem solving.
- Not one answer– there should be multiple correct answers, this will develop creativity in your classroom.
When it comes to STEM, challenges arise in that: teachers might be unfamiliar teaching STEM related lessons; national tests focus more on English, Spelling, Grammar and Maths (only the “M” of STEM); it may not be prudent to create a project based lesson with various outcomes as the class are not ready for it at that point. This can be explained by following the STEM process. Within a STEM project learners should research a topic, develop a plan and draw conclusions from research results. Following that, pupils will then record data accurately. Throughout the whole process learners should have skills to troubleshoot a problem as well as the knowledge to fix it. With these skills in mind STEM lessons may lend themselves to end of unit/ topic lessons, rather than weekly lessons.
Old Hall Minecraft Mania
STEM is an abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Basic STEM skills are:
- Communication and cooperation skills to listen to customer needs or interact with project partners.
- Creative abilities to solve problems and develop new ideas.
- Leadership skills to lead projects or help customers.
- Organization skills to keep track of lots of different information.
It was with all this in mind that I embarked on our Minecraft project.
Last year I did the unthinkable, I invited Minecraft into my lessons- and I haven’t looked back. Like many teachers I had often overheard the incessant whispering or ‘Steve’, ‘Creepers’, ‘Villagers’ and ‘Pigs’ and I had decided it was enough! I was going to sort out this Minecraft thing once and for all!
It was at this point that I looked into Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi, this comes with the ‘Noobs’ software (available at: https://www.raspberrypi.org/). After a few hours of getting used to the controls I could see the potential. So I thought I would test the waters a bit by exploiting the children’s love of this ‘sandbox game’ in explanation texts. They would explain to this novice (aka me) the different features of the game, controls, how to play, getting started and even what it is. Heck they might even make some progress! Win win!
Now strictly speaking the writing in itself was not a STEM lesson but it did use it. This is because there was a real life situation for my children of explaining to their Neanderthal teacher what this was all about. Further, the children had to develop their ideas with each other to make sure each section achieved its purpose. Within a week, I had some excellent writing from the children in my Year 5 (age 9-10) class, which they were incredibly engaged with, as they were ‘the experts’.
Also, I then decided to continue with this thread of enthusiasm by using Minecraft in Topic as we needed to design an Anglo-Saxon village; I must say I was impressed. Within twenty minutes, every child in my class had created a house, with rooms inside and fashioned their own windows (no glass allowed). This is where Minecraft really aided me as yet again it was a real-life scenario, the children followed a process, hands on inquiry there were certain constraints but there should be in any project, they were a productive team, using perimeter and area skills, tenuous like but still there and there were multiple correct answers. So far, so good I managed to tick off all six of the STEM principles.
I couldn’t wait to continue to use more Minecraft and technology in my lessons and I was sure the children agreed with me so I decided to exploit their weakness to Minecraft with a net creating activity. To brief was simple, create a net for a 3D shape for a Minecraft figurine, I gave the class some measurements and away they went. I allowed them to work in pairs but I wanted each child to have a completed net by the end of the 3 days. They were away! I couldn’t stop them, some of the time they wouldn’t accept help from me in case I ruined it. Also, as I counted it all six principles had again been achieved, and more importantly every child created a net that the figurine would fit inside; this really consolidated their learning on 3D shapes and nets in a more creative way than I could otherwise manage.
To sum up, this digital building block game has been a gift to my lessons. I have enjoyed even more engagement from my class and this has led to a deeper understanding, which they can take home and practise whilst playing on their games. More importantly, the children really enjoyed this! Granted I may not do this for every lesson and yes Minecraft does have some pitfalls such as growing crops in saltwater? However, hopefully the children will go home and switch on the goggle box and make the connection that they explained to the ‘philistine’ of a teacher what Minecraft is and how it is played.
Perhaps they will create a pyramid when we cover Ancient Egypt, or a rainforest when we learn about the Amazon, or even a replica of the Indus Valley! Who knows! What I do know for certain is without creating an opportunity for these connections it definitely won’t happen.
So what? What are the next steps? Well knowing how gifted my children at designing and building these digital models I could write a description of an area and see if the children could recreate it using inference and deductive skills. I could use Minecraft to inspire some writing. My pupils could create a scene from their favourite book, favourite monument around the world, or even build a perimeter and area problem for their friends to solve. I must be honest, and I know it sounds somewhat cheesy-pie but the possibilities are endless for the curriculum. The more I type the more I can think of ways this game of digital building blocks could be utilised in the classroom. Also, with the recent developments of Microsoft buying Minecraft and the educational version MincraftEdu I’m sure there will be developments over the next few months.
For more ideas of how Minecraft has been used in the classroom you can view:
@thecommonpeople – Adam Clarke has lots of great ideas on his Youtube channel, from getting started and controls to lesson ideas.
Mr Parkinson’s Blog:http://mrparkinsonict.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Minecraft
@MattPEducation ‘s Blog which shows English and Maths strands and how they can be achieved. http://5tanfieldlea.weebly.com/blog/minecraft-literacy-and-numeracy
How else can STEM skills be addressed?
An area of STEM that has not been discussed discretely is engineering, Minecraft obviously lends itself to engineering in a technological sense but not a practical one. As engineering isn’t a standalone subject in primary schools, how it is taught will vary. But engineering projects that are commonly used include:
- Build a bridge out of drinking straws
- Design a vehicle that could drive on land and sea
- Make a simple electronics circuit including a bulb and a switch
- Design and make a Christmas card with moving parts
Ultimately engineering in primary schools could be the gift that continues to give as it allows children the opportunity to put maths, science and design technology theory into practice in a way that cements their learning. Other ways that engineering could be developed are:
- The FIRST LEGO League: an annual robotics challenge where teams of nine- to 16-year-olds, compete to design a solution to a problem using Lego Mindstorms. There’s a Junior League for six- to nine-year-olds.
- Young Engineers: a school-based engineering club that also runs national competitions, including Krazy Racers – using K’Nex to create a unique passenger vehicle.
- Imagineering: after-school clubs for eight- to 16-year-olds, where children use kits to make working engineering models.
- Leaders Award: a competition for children aged five plus, they interview a person working in STEM and then submit a report – which could be a video, podcast or drawing – about what they have discovered.
Thanks for Reading!