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Dr. Alice Christie's STEM/STEAM Resource Page




A STEM unit often starts with a science activity that introduces the concept and leads to the initial research. Besides library books and Internet searches, that research should now include communicating with experts. Email, blogs, chats, video-conferencing and other social networking tools and strategies not only add to the learning by involving advisors and collaborators, but teach students how being connected should be part of their learning process.

STEM Lesons

Dr. Diana S. Perdue's Guiding Principles for a Great, Integrated Lesson:

  1. Success is measured in content mastered, not time spent. 
  2. Multiple things are being learned at the same time as the classroom task mimics life: there are many questions that need to be answered and they include many different subject areas.
  3. The teacher’s role is to design a rich task, with multiple roads leading to the desired content.
  4. The student’s role is to drive the learning by their curiosity, interest, and attempts at finding a solution.
  5. Teachers spend most of their time asking questions and students spend most of their time thinking, communicating their ideas, evaluating their solutions, and proving their results.
  6. Assessment is an integral part of the lesson, rather than just a separate piece at the end.

Characteristics of Great STEM Lessons from Dr. Diana S. Perdu:

  1. The specific content goals for each field are well defined for the teacher, but the task is presented as one integrated whole to the student.
  2. The task has multiple entry points to allow for varying student skill level and area of interest.
  3. The assessment is defined and known from the start, and, ideally, included in the task.
  4. The goals and the task are flexible enough to allow for adjustments “on the fly” and include student-created components. 
  5. The context is one that students find interesting, engaging, and familiar enough to bring outside-of-class knowledge to bear (sorry for the pun!) in the process.
STEM Units
Sample Middle School STEM Lesson


1.    Math

  • Students will measure the mass of each boat using both standard units (grams) and non-standard units (number of baby bears).
  • Students will calculate surface area of the bottom of their boat (the portion in contact with the water).
  • Students will analyze data using graphs like box-and-whisker to determine “best” boat designs.

2.   Science

  • Students will describe the two forces (buoyancy & gravity) in effect and how they affect the success of the boats designed, especially in terms of flotation capacity.
  • Students will state Archimedes’ law of buoyancy and calculate the displacement of various boats and their cargo in order to compare the actual weight with the weight under water.
  • Students will define and calculate density, displacement, and specific gravity of the various boats and their cargo and relate that to the relative capacity to float in both fresh and salt water.
  • Students will determine density of the floating liquids (fresh water, salt water) by using a hydrometer.

3.   Technology

  • Students will use graphing technologies (e.g. graphing calculators, graphing software, or online tools) to analyze data and display results.
  • Students will record their process and results using technologies (e.g. digital cameras, video recording, screencasts, presentations, etc.) in order to clearly communicate with others what they have done and learned.
  • Students will collaborate using technologies (e.g. social media, Skype, VoiceThread, blogs, etc.) to both share their experiences and to gain additional information and insights from others.

4.   Engineering

  • Students will engage in the engineer design process, using iteration to try and create a boat with the largest displacement possible.
  • Students will recognize the importance of materials, environment, and constraints of the design process by comparing results of their boat designs used in fresh and salt water.
  • Use creative and critical thinking skills to design, test, and evaluate various boat designs.
Other Links to Resources for STEM/STEAM Units and Activities
  • Lesson Link for Original Math Lesson
  • YouTube: Engineering Foil Boat Challenge
  • YouTube video of elementary students foil boat challenge
  • Foil Boat Activity for Kids
  • Quote from the science activity above that nicely explains the science in lay terms: 
    • Science behind the experiment: There are two primary forces acting on this science experiment. The first force is gravity. Gravity is trying to pull the tin foil and pennies downward. The force of buoyancy is pushing the boat toward the surface.

      The gravitational force is determined by the weight of the tin foil and the weight of the pennies in the boat. The force of buoyancy is the weight of the water displaced by the boat. Your boat will continue to float as long as the force of buoyancy is greater than the force of gravity and you do not overload the boat so it will tip over or leak.
  • Link for preschool bears on a boat activity
  • Children’s Engineering
  • Related to Polya’s problem solving process is the engineering “design loop”.  This design loop was developed in 1998 by members of CEE to use in their own classrooms in Richmond City Schools, Richmond, Virginia. It was shared with teachers across the state through Project UPDATE classes.
  • 100 Engineering Projects for Kids
  • Teach Engineering Activities