The STEM Challenge

By Kay Yang Comments

Shh... I have a secret.

I love math.

This is how I start my STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics) talks. Then, of course, I wink.

Since I graduated from college, I’ve been speaking to students at local schools about engineering. Initially, I started with a 45-minute talk, where I gave a standard powerpoint discussing my career thus far. Trying to show that engineering is more than cars and airplanes, that it includes toys, consumer good, bio-tech, amusement parks and invention. By the thirty-minute mark, I noticed the students were becoming restless and were no more interested in engineering than before I started speaking.

Most of them didn’t think about a career in engineering because they thought the math was too hard. They didn’t understand that fundamentally engineering is problem solving. Recently, I came up with a different lesson plan. Instead of giving a lecture, I made my session more interactive by hosting an engineering design challenge.

engineering design challengeThe supplies:
  • 20 strands of spaghetti
  • 1 meter of tape
  • 1 meter of string
  • 1 marshmallow
The challenge:
  • Work in groups of 2 or 3
  • Use the materials to build a structure
  • Marshmallow must be on the top of the structure
  • Hands must be completely off the structure after 20 minutes

The engineering design challenge made a huge difference in student engagement. After the competition we would spend 10 minutes discussing their findings. Each group learned that teamwork and planning were key. They also learned engineering concepts such as the importance of a solid foundation, support on the sides of a structure and the importance of triangular shapes. By creating a hands on learning experience, the kids were able to grapple with engineering principles. More importantly, the students were building confidence that they could be inventors, creators and builders themselves, despite their initial fear of math.

I truly believe that great learning means coming full circle; to teach the principles from a book but also to ensure that learners solidify their understanding of the concept through experience. This design competition is just one example.

I hope that as edtech grows, we remember that education is about taking students beyond the textbook and ultimately about creating experiences.

Image credit: Kay Yang

About the author

Kay Yang is an Artist who trained as an Engineer and has turned Educator with a passion to cultivate curiosity and excitement for engineering in young girls. Having worked in the bio-tech and children's toy industry, she is using her experience to create STEM-related educational products.

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