This week we learned all about Posing, Wobbling and Flowing as a concept of teaching and learning professionally. When I was reading about the P/W/F theory on Monday evening, everything I was reading came back to the idea in my head of STEM education. As an elementary teacher I have a lot of subjects to worry about (reading, writing, math, science, social studies and social skills) so it sometimes seems overwhelming to try to focus on all of them at once. Therefore I feel like I go through the process of posing, wobbling and flowing on a regular basis as I try to juggle and perfect each of the subjects that I teach. However as I was reading through the assigned readings this week my mind kept landing on the idea of STEM education because it is something that transcends a lot of the subjects I teach and in fact integrates many of the subjects I teach together.
Therefore this week I spent time thinking about and noticing how I am posing and wobbling through my STEM understanding so that I can reach the flow stage and be even more successful than I already am. The pose that I am considering (and have been considering for the past two years it seems!) is how to best integrate STEM into my existing curriculum and how to enhance my curriculum with my knowledge of STEM teaching. I feel like this is a good pose because it is broad enough that there are many directions in which it could go and therefore many places to wobble and try to find flow. This pose is important to my teaching because I want my students to be as prepared as possible for their academic futures. As it has been said many many times, “we are preparing students for jobs that do not even exist yet.” I feel that STEM education teaches students valuable skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication and grit. All these skills will be extremely necessary for my students moving forward as they are provided experiences both inside and outside the classroom that they may never have experienced before. I find that STEM education is (sometimes) less about the content of the lesson and more about the process of learning. Through STEM education my students can learn valuable learning skills that can help them adapt and change their thinking as the world around them changes.
I wobbled through this idea of STEM education this week as I had my class run through an Engineering Design Challenge. Students were given instruction on the various levels of soils in our earth, as well as erosion and soil compaction over the past few weeks. Students did labs to explore these concepts and shared their findings with the class. This week, now that they had learned all the background knowledge and material, they were expected to work together to build a real life model of a Tarpul (a suspended bridge that spans a river) so that they could help students in Nepal cross a river to get to school during the rainy/flood season. I wanted students to put their knowledge and understanding of the concepts covered in class to a real-world context (something that STEM education supports) and so I figured that connecting it to floods in countries like Nepal made a whole lot of sense. However, I wobbled this week and struggled because making that connection between topics covered in class and the real world proved to be a lot more difficult than I imagined. I ended up having to spend an entire class period explaining Nepal to my students, showing them pictures and videos of what the country looked like, what a Tarpul was and why Tarpuls might be necessary in remote villages. While the students were fascinated by the country of Nepal, what I thought would be a 5 minute introduction turned in to a 50 minute lecture and exploration about the country. This wobbling taught me that I need to think more deeply about what my students know already, about their background knowledge, before I try to make connections to their everyday lives.
Once the project got started the students were engaged and working well together. Students had many ideas about how to build their model Tarpul and they were excited to get started. One of the first steps of the Engineering Design Process is to think and create a plan of action based upon research. However, what I noticed this week was that the materials and activity was so engaging, that students were forgetting to plan their designs, and use all the notes and research we had collected over the past few weeks to help inform their designs. I realized that I needed to make a more explicit connection between the science topics we had just discussed in depth, and the design challenge that the students were expected to complete. Rather than seeing the two ideas as totally connected (as I did), my students saw this design challenge as just a fun activity. I ended up seeking out a colleague of mine from my STEM program at Arcadia and we discussed how to strengthen the connection between the science content and the design challenge. I ended up adding a section to the design challenge where students would have to defend their design using the vocabulary and content we had covered in science before they were allowed to actually build their design.
Once students saw the connections between the science content and the design challenge I saw much better, more well thought out designs and much more successful outcomes.
This was a tough week for me because through my posing, I thought that I had such a great idea to add this design challenge in to my lesson to help enhance my teaching through STEM. However, I wobbled a lot in truly making that connection between the science content and the design challenge. I look forward to trying out another design challenge in the future, but through my wobbling I think I will be more successful in making the challenge meaningful and relevant to the students’ learning.
In thinking about wobbling as a connected community, I was so glad that I had my colleague (a part of my STEM cohort) to rely on and use as a resource. As we discussed the issues I was having in class she reminded me of how to make the connections between the Science and the Engineering more explicit (as we had discussed this in one of our prior graduate classes) and she helped me to think more critically about what and how I was going about implementing this lesson. On my own I do not think I would have been able to look as critically at my work as I was with my colleague and therefore I don’t think I would have gotten as far through the wobbling stage as I did. Though I do not expect to experience flow during my next design challenge (nor do I expect to for the next 3 or 4!) I feel like through the help of my colleague and my desire to push further, that I hopefully will wobble less and less as time goes on!