STEM Lab Fosters Collaborative Student Projects
The Philip Esformes STEM Program at our school offers students an environment to create and collaborate. A space where classroom learning comes to life, the lab has the potential to promote innovative projects that impact not only our students but the world in which they live. Our faculty members create project-based learning opportunities for their students and use the STEM lab as a resource to develop these projects. Projects can include hands-on creations (models, simulations, visual representations) as well as technological artifacts using multimedia, electronics or computer programming. Tackled in groups/teams, these projects require each child to play a role in the group for the work to be completed successfully.
As an example, last year’s fifth grade class read the book Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, the story of a girl who is unable to speak or write and relies on assistive technology that helps her communicate. After reading this book, the students participated in the Prosthetic Kids Hand Challenge (handchallenge.com), in which they attempted to design and build a prosthetic hand. (The program was created by another STEM teacher.) They came to the STEM lab several times as a class and then multiple times on their own during their lunch break. They learned how 3D printers work and what benefits this new technology offers to our world.
The students worked together in small groups to experiment with the printer and to build the prosthetic hand piece by piece. They needed to collaborate with each student in the group taking a role. One would clean and sand the printed piece, another would prepare all of the tools and parts, and a third would put their parts together while watching tutorials provided by the Hand Challenge website. Once all the pieces were built, other groups of fifth-graders took the individually built pieces (thumbs, wrist, palm) and built the final hand project. Through this project, the students used tools they did not normally use in school like screwdrivers, pliers and fishing line. These students built two prosthetic hands for children in need; they are among one hundred that have been sent to children in need in India through the Hand Challenge organization.
This project perfectly integrated Brauser Maimonides Academy’s three strands of academic excellence, religious commitment and character development. Our students not only acquired knowledge, but learned new skills and used their learning to make the world a better place.