This year, the fifth-grade students in Robin Satnick’s science class at Crane Country Day School in Montecito will be challenged to build the tallest tower possible — using uncooked spaghetti noodles. To top it off, the pasta construction must be strong enough to support one large marshmallow.
This seemingly simple experiment utilizes the disciplines of engineering, science and math to engage students in hands-on, inquiry-based problem solving — a hallmark of Satnick’s Lower School science lab.
This is just one example of many that Satnick employs in her Crane classroom, and it’s due to her ongoing creative interpretation of required science standards and her passion for teaching that she was selected by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom to develop STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math) lesson plans that will be used in elementary schools nationwide.
A national movement to increase STEM education for students in elementary through high school has been a major focus of the Obama administration and is part of the projected California state standards that will be published in 2013. These new standards are called STEM and the Next Generation Science Standards.
“In today’s global economy, there is no question that Americans need a deep understanding of STEM subjects, no matter what career path they choose,” said Satnick, who has been teaching kindergarten through fifth-grade science at Crane for eight years. “The STEM movement is testimony to the reality that we can no longer study these scientific disciplines as separate entities, as all sciences have become interconnected, interdependent and overlapping.”
The focus of President Barack Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign is to lift American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade. Outstanding educators in science, technology, engineering and math are working together in various partnerships to motivate and inspire students to excel in STEM subjects and to educate students for a future in which science and technology will play a critical role, hopefully encouraging more students to pursue careers in the sciences.
Satnick met with a team of educators in Sacramento earlier this summer to develop a curriculum for third- through fifth-grade students. The goal is to produce engaging hands-on lesson plans that have real-world applications.
“Students learn best by doing,” Satnick said.
Her favorite lessons to teach use an inquiry method. She claims young students learn best by structured inquiry where students are given a problem and the steps of the procedure to solve the problem. The students then generate their own explanation supported by the evidence they have collected. When young scientists utilize structured inquiry methods, it helps to build their skills so they can gradually conduct more guided and open-ended inquiry. STEM curriculum uses both guided and open-ended inquiry.
“The STEM curriculum mirrors what we are already doing at Crane,” Satnick said. “Students are learning how to solve problems on their own. We are not telling students what to do, but presenting them with a problem and having them brainstorm solutions. Students then create their own steps to either prove or disprove their hypothesis.” When students “own” their experiments, they are engaged at a much higher level.
Satnick said sh is proud that as the 2013 statewide science standards are being developed that Crane is already ahead of the game.
“The quality of math and science teachers is the most important single factor influencing whether students will succeed or fail in science, technology, engineering and math,” President Obama stated on the White House website. “Passionate educators with issue expertise can make all the difference, enabling hands-on learning that truly engages students — preparing them to tackle the grand challenges of the 21st century.”
— Ann Pieramici represents Crane Country Day School.