Two years ago, I accepted a somewhat daunting position as the STEM coordinator/teacher at both of our kindergarten-through-sixth-grade centers. Before that, I was a classroom teacher who taught science along with everything else. I often used writing in science class as a way to evaluate both the content and the structure of student writing.
As a classroom teacher, I used writing as a tool to assess what students already knew, to record data and conclusions, and to make connections. When I moved into the STEM lab, and the amount of time I spent with groups of students sharply declined, I was forced to rethink how I used writing in science. I began to investigate alternatives to engage students in writing in the STEM lab without having to drag it out of them. I found a few ideas that have really helped make writing at least palatable.
For Intermediate Students: Make It Interactive!
One strategy that I brought with me from the regular classroom, which is very popular with students and I LOVE, is the use of a interactive science notebook or even a lap book. There are resources readily available online with printable materials for students to complete, color, cut, and paste into a notebook or folder.
Kids LOVE these activities, and the final product is very visual. They love to take them home and show the family too.
A new strategy I've adopted for use in the STEM lab is that of first creating a drawing and then labeling it to make a diagram. This merger of art and language is effective, again, for its visual appeal. Students can color or paint the drawings or diagrams if time permits. We put them on display, add them to our notebooks, or take them home.
For Primary Students: STEM --> STEAM
Much of our work is drawn, sketched, or shared orally simply because of the limitations of their written language development.
One activity that we sometimes use after we have identified a problem to be solved is shared sketching. Students sit in groups of four, and each student makes a sketch of a possible solution. After a few minutes, the sketch is passed to the student to his or her right. That student can add to the sketch, add notes to the sketch, or use it as inspiration for a new sketch. This continues until all the members of the group have contributed to each of the sketches. This is really just a more visual method of brainstorming and idea sharing that integrates collaboration.
Students can also engage in sorting activities as a springboard for discussion or writing. After sorting, students can record the items in each category as well as an explanation of how the items were sorted.
Students of every age enjoy working with different mediums when they write and draw. Sometimes, I ask them to use a standard pencil; other times, they are allowed to write in a favorite marker, crayon, or colored pencil shade. For drawing, we might add watercolor paint as an option. They enjoy painting, writing science stories, and labeling diagrams that they’ve drawn.
Top Takeaway: Bring the Fun!
The key with students of any age is variety. Don’t get stuck in a rut, asking students for the same product all the time. Whenever possible, provide opportunities for students to choose from a menu of options. Let their creativity shine through in how they document their understanding of science concepts. They’ll have more fun, and so will you!
Blog authored by Pitsco TAG alumna Debra Rouse.