India Wirt, 128 TCCS
As Peace Corps Volunteers, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day life and do only as much as you have to in order to get by. I’m not here to judge. I’m actually here to tell you that with only a few tweaks, you can change those filler activities you use when you’d much rather be sitting at a café eating cake, into meaningful STEM activities.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Not only are these areas of importance for well-rounded educational beings, but they are also some of the top world-wide career areas. STEM is something that everyone knows about, but often gets left on the back burner—which is such a bummer—because it can be really easy and fun to incorporate into pretty much anything you are already doing.
I’ll start with English because let’s face it, sometimes I feel kind of useless as an English teacher because it seems like most of my students really need to focus on other areas of their education. The best part about incorporating STEM is that it’s even better if you use it with English: you’ll give your students a little step up in the “international job market”, fulfill Peace Corps goals, and make the Paw Aw happy.
Say you have an English Club or just a bunch of bored students begging to use your computer to watch YouTube videos – turn this into an English-STEM moment by introducing your students to Code.org. Code.org is home to the famous “Hour-of-Code” coding program. Students learn to computer code (and think systematically) through fun interactive games. They won’t even know they are learning, but in reality, they will be learning how to code. The English Vocabulary that goes along with it is very basic and useful in other areas of life such as (turn left, go forward ___ spaces, turn right). Also, for those little humans who haven’t had the chance to use a computer yet, this website has a great intro program that starts out teaching them to click and drag, all the way up to coding. If you’ve given up on English entirely, however, Code.org now has a few programs entirely in Thai!
Technology doesn’t just have to be about computers, though! T4D was gifted a robot from a 126 volunteer. This robot can be used for any number of lessons. It can be taken apart, built back together (it’s pretty easy, I did it after all), and then used like a remote control car. If you really have some students interested in engineering and technology, the robot can even be programmed. Volunteers can message T4D and request the robot be sent to their site. Use it for directions as students make it go left, right, forward, turn around, etc., or as a car in your map as it is “going to the market” or “was at the movie theater”. This little robot can be used in just about any lesson.
This next activity takes the old Egg Drop activity but tweaks it a little to drive home the engineering and math components. You might have seen this in the labyrinth that is PCThailand.org (aka the wiki), but it is a variant of the Egg Drop. In order to make the activity more challenging and meaningful, each group is assigned a limited amount of money to spend in order to make their design. The materials are then each assigned a (pre-designated) cost. Students have to work together to create a useful design using limited resources. Those with the most money and an intact egg at the end are the winners. You could even make the materials more “limited” by not having enough of everything for each group, therefore making the students problem solve. This is a fun one to watch because sometimes the students struggle the most with the math involved but work through it as a team.
Lastly, science can be incorporated into cooking, making soap, or just about anything else. I’m just going to skim this one because anything you make can be turned into a science lesson. But instead of just making it and moving on, focus on the individual parts. A student makes a mistake and forgets to add something: How does that affect or change the final product? I would suggest asking them to think deeply about each project you do, but we all know that can bring on crickets. So come prepared with specific questions or observations you can make yourself to guide them. It doesn’t have to be profound because even the smallest things can get them thinking. Example: We made playdough, and one student read the instructions as 1 tablespoon of water instead of 1 cup. The mixture was very dry as a result. I challenged their group to figure out why and how to fix it. They figured it out, and we discussed as a class and tested out water levels to find the perfect mixture.
Incorporating STEM doesn’t have to be difficult and doesn’t have to be its own stand-alone STEM activity. I’ve found that some of the best activities are the ones in which they don’t realize that they are actually learning. These sneaky learning activities often keep them the most interested and that’s when kiddos absorb the most. All it takes is some creativity and thought to come up with those guided questions, or small tweaks to really make that icebreaker more than it was originally.
If you would like to request the robot, or any other STEM materials, contact any T4D member on Facebook or Email PCthaiict@gmail.com.