Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More than STEM: Creating Community through STEM Classes

Creating a Sense of Belonging

In our afterschool STEM classes, we DO want to increase knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math… but even more importantly… after-school, we want to inspire a positive attitude toward school and learning in general; we want to teach intrapersonal and interpersonal social skills; we want to create a sense of community and a feeling of attachment and belonging.

How do we do this? We make it fun; we make it bigger; we give it class; we do it right!
We invest class time in relationships and teambuilding. We create rituals that build a sense of belonging. We make learning playful because we know PLAY is fertile ground for growing imagination and creativity. We make learning playful because PLAY fosters a sense of belonging and encourages teamwork. We make learning playful because PLAY is our brain’s favorite way to learn.

We create rituals because we know that RITUALS create a sense of belonging.  Here are our Top 3 rituals for creating a sense of belonging in our STEM classes.

STEM Chants:
We provide semester-long or year-long STEM classes at every one of our schools. We begin every new STEM class by teaching and celebrating all of the awesome things that STEM has done for mankind.  Science has helped us to eradicate diseases, help animals, and understand our world. Technology has helped us develop all kinds of tools to help make our lives easier, more productive, and more convenient. Engineering has helped us to create better forms of transportation, better bridges, and better machines. Math has helped us to solve complex problems, discover new knowledge, and predict complicated results. We brainstorm on all of the awesome ways that all of the STEM-related fields have worked together to make life better. 

Then we set up the STEM chant ritual. We tell the kids that whenever we say “STEM is…” that we want them to respond with “…Awesome!” We do this loudly and quietly. We use this call and response as a way to get the attention of the kids whenever we need to ask a question, give an instruction, or see if they are ready to move on to the next activity. We do this frequently in every class for the entire year or semester. The kids are conditioned like Pavlovian Dogs to say “Awesome!” whenever someone says, “STEM is…”

STEM Names & the STEM Name Game:
Players think of a STEM-related term that begins with the same letter as their first name (with younger children, any STEM name will do).  Then they go around the circle, introducing themselves by their STEM name and first name.  Chemical Chelesa, Microbial Mike, Atomic Adeline, Multiplication Madison, etc.  We like to pause on the first day and quickly discuss the definition of each new STEM term (sneaking in a little vocabulary). Then we repeat, but this time the first player says their own name, the second player says the first player’s and their own name, the third player says the first two people’s name and their own name, and so on…until the last player attempts to say everyone’s name in order ending with their own name.  Repeat this time going the opposite direction.  Each time we use each other’s name in discussion throughout the duration of the year or semester, we use our new science names. This creates a special sense of community and feeling of belonging to our special STEM group.

STEM Shirts:

At the beginning of each semester, we make Sharpie Science Shirts. We print up plain white t-shirts with the organization’s logo for only a few dollars per shirt. We make small designs about the size of a quarter on white t-shirts.  Then we drop rubbing alcohol on the designs very slowly.  The alcohol spreads across the fibers of the t-shirt and acts as a SOLVENT on the Sharpie ink – producing nice bursts of color.  We talk about the meaning of words like disSOLve, and SOLution, SOLid, SOLubility, and SOLvent.  It is a science of SOL – tie dyed t-shirt. Kids frequently wear their shirts on STEM class days. Plus as a grand finale’ – at the end of each semester, we take a special science-related field trip and everyone wears their STEM shirts. 
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