My STEM Units

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Finals Week in a STEM School: Part 2

A few weeks ago, I shared how we do finals at our school.  You can read about it here.

We also made STEM tubs.  STEM tubs?!  What's that?  I'm so glad you asked.

A STEM tub is a tub of any size (we used shoe boxes) filled with spare parts.  Students will use the random parts to engineer something.

For our STEM tubs, we filled them with:
STEM tubs laid out, ready to go
The students also had access to the following materials:
  • scissors
  • glue sticks
  • rulers
  • tissue paper
  • their STEM journal
  • iPads to document the process
  • their rubric
  • construction paper
Since we did the STEM tubs with our 3rd grade STEM class, the students were tasked with making a life cycle of an animal.  The students had been studying life cycles of animals and had diagrammed several in their STEM journals.  

Step 1: Rubric

It all starts with the rubric.  The classroom teacher and myself sat down and planned backwards.  We created the rubric well before this point.  We had a class discussion about rubrics and how they are used to grade projects.

Step 2: Review

I have always been a proponent of open-note assessments.  The act of recording the information helps learners retain it.  Plus, it encourages good note-taking by allowing them to look back during their finals.  The students knew they were going to make 3D models of life cycles, but they didn't know what would be in their STEM tubs.  After they opened the tubs and surveyed the contents, they reviewed their notes to see which life cycle would fit best with the materials they were given.

Step 3: Measure

 Measure twice, cut once.  Teachers can lecture all day long about lining up their objects with the edge of the ruler, but it won't mean a thing until students have a valid reason to make careful measurements.  An unintended consequence of having rulers on hand was that we saw students measuring pipe cleaners and calculating length if they were cut in half.

Step 4: Get Creative!

Some students decided to stick with the basic materials and create their own life cycles.  Construction paper became exoskeletons.  Shredded paper became jointed legs.  Homemade play-dough became eggs and heads and you name it!


I am not a fan of multiple choice assessments, but they have their uses.  One is quick data, especially pre and post data.  A few months ago, I gave a pre-test to this class of 3rd graders.  After the STEM tubs, I gave them a post-test.  I am pleased to announce that they increased from 45.8% to 79.8%!

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