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  • Chad LeDune

The STEM around You

Something I have learned and have grown to appreciate more is that our everyday lives are filled with learning opportunities. Most of the time, our schedule and busy lifestyle prevent us from being able to slow down and make the observations needed to realize the amazing design which surrounds us. A few years ago, I read a book called The Storm in the Teacup by Helen Czerski. Helen is a British physicist and oceanographer and has forgotten more about the science around us than I could ever hope to know in my life. In the book, she does a wonderful job of drawing attention to what makes the objects around us look, sound, smell, feel, move, and work like they do. After reading the book, I decided to include something similar to this in my classroom and training. Some people are intimidated by the thought of trying to figure out the STEM that exists around us each day, but it all starts by simply using the senses with which we were born. The next step is to ask that question all 3-5 year old children are so consistent in asking. That question is "why"? I have been able to turn this into an activity for elementary through middle school students which is relevant to everyone. I call it The STEM around You. Imagine trying to teach your students or your children about complex topics such as mechanical advantage, fluid dynamics, descriptive writing, and calculating frequency of sound. These areas of study can be daunting and often brings out a lack of interest from students if not presented in the right method. However, what if we related this to something students had just done that morning? For most students, turning on a bathroom faucet is a daily occurrence. If we slowed down and observed some of the STEM going on with this simple activity, we would be amazed by its complexity. First, the handle of the faucet is a second class lever designed to open and close a valve. Next, water (fluid) begins flowing from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure at the end of the faucet. Does it make sound? Based on the frequency of the sound waves this could be a higher or lower pitch. Does the metal part of the faucet begin feeling warm? Can you begin to see steam? All of this STEM from the simple act of turning a bathroom faucet! This is just one example from the Bathroom STEM activity. There are so many more. One of my favorites is Kitchen STEM. Think about the learning opportunities in the kitchen. Why does a toaster not require a timer? Why is the back of the refrigerator warm? Why do the elements of an oven give off light? Why does the mixer make the sound it does? Why does the smell of food get stronger the closer you get to it? Don't be limited to your house. Backyard STEM, STEM in Sports, Garage STEM, and School STEM are just a few of the areas I like to explore. What are your ideas?

I try not to geek out too much when looking at the complexity of what we view as mundane, common activities, but I feel this is an excellent opportunity for teachers and parents to provide children with building blocks of learning. One of the most frustrating parts of teaching is the lack of motivation and engagement of students. This makes the topics you are studying relevant, which has been identified as a key to motivating students. Don't think you are off the hook if you don't teach Science. Think about the writing opportunities in the form of descriptive and procedural writing. Math opportunities like finding the difference and range of temperatures, measuring the length of the lever that is the oven door in order to calculate its mechanical advantage, and adding up the length of counter top space in inches in order to find the available square footage. Can any of this design be traced back to ancient civilizations? Who introduced running water into a home? Who began persuading people to cool food to a specific temperature in order to reduce bacterial growth? Has bacteria ever been the cause of a global pandemic?

From a science and STEM teacher's viewpoint, I am always looking for a chance to better understand the world around me. This has only been a habit of mine in my recent years and I wonder what all I would have been able to better understand had I began exploring earlier. Let's not waste the opportunity for our students and children. Slow down, use those senses, ask "why", and start appreciating the complexity and STEM in the world around you.

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