Focus on STEM and Books!!

Over the years, we have found ways to integrate engineering lessons into history, math, health, art and of course, science. But literature has been our biggest STEM integration success due to the fact that literature is an integral part of the elementary school curriculum and usually teachers have a large block of time for language arts. Literature has the potential to present situations that can challenge students' imaginations. Stories can serve to encourage students to begin to problem solve, generate design proposals, and make connections to engineering.
So, how do we start?  We begin with a "what if...?" question.
Trigger the creativity of children by asking them to imagine the possibilities beyond the story that they know.
  • What if we create a tool or system to help the characters solve their problems?
  • What if we redesign or improve a tool that is already used in the story? With fiction we are only limited by our own imagination! And remember...engineers often think out of the box to solve problems.
  • What if we thought about what happens after the story ends? What future problems might be encountered by the characters? Is there a type of technology or a structure that they might need in the future?
  • What if we knew what happened before the story started? Could a problem be avoided by a tool or new invention?
  • What if we connect math or science to the story?

By incorporating these questions into a book discussion, almost any book or story can inspire a STEM activity or experience. In addition to the regular literature curriculum that we have in our classrooms, we have been delighted by the recent surge of books with strong STEM and engineering connections.

A favorite picture book is Rosie Revere, Engineer.
Written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts, the book tells the story of a little girl who spends her time inventing gizmos and gadgets while dreaming of becoming an engineer. As often happens to children, her inventions were not always appreciated and sometimes did not work. She became discouraged, hid her inventions and eventually set aside her dreams. With encouragement from her great aunt who applauds her efforts, Rosie learns to persevere and use failure as a learning tool during the design process. 
With a clever reference to Rosie the Riveter and the slogan, "We Can Do It!" from World War II fame, Rosie is an inspiration to to elementary children of all ages, especially girls. It will spur great discussions about not only engineering, but also staying true to your dreams and persevering through difficulties. The author has a fantastic website with support materials and engineering ideas:
Rosie Revere Engineer Activity Packet

Another fantastic picture book that we enjoy in late Autumn is Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. It follows the true story of Tony Sarg who created the giant balloons for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. So many families watch this parade as a tradition on Thanksgiving morning, that there is an instant connection for many children. With delightful illustrations and great background information on the famous parade and puppeteer, this Caldecott Honor winner inspires several STEM projects that can be included in the classroom. From building their own prototype for a parade balloon to experimenting with paper engineering and puppets, the book inspires STEM challenges while sharing the history of a beloved cultural event. The publisher has a website with some great support materials for the classroom.
Balloons Over Parade Activity Kit
We also have written a STEM activity packet for this wonderful book
Balloons Over Broadway STEM Activity Packet

Whether using picture books, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, a favorite novel, or one of the recently released engineering themed books, the opportunities to focus on STEM with literature are prolific.
Introducing a STEM challenge by first reading the right book, creates a legitimate reason to solve problems presented. It sets the  purpose for the project and allows students to see beyond projects being built with tape, cardboard and craft sticks. They can create solutions to problems that they can identify with and see its importance. Additionally, these books allow students to see that engineers are people similar to themselves. They too had obstacles to overcome and need the same qualities of patience and perseverance that the students need in their own engineering endeavors.
As you plan your literature units, we hope you"Get Caught Engineering' with your favorite books!!

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