Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Reflecting on Voice and Choice in STEM


The other day I was having a play date with my grand-daughter.  We frequently do STEM related activities. She has such an engineering mind.  

I grabbed some masking tape and sidewalk chalk and had an activity in mind - stained glass drawings on the road outside our camper.   

Within minutes, she had her own ideas of what we could do and she ended up creating a hopscotch game using some of the ideas from our stained glass picture.  

This activity came to mind, when I was working on my assignment for my most recent ACRES class on facilitating STEM using voice and choice. 

I showed up with my tape and sidewalk chalk expecting ready to try new strategies I had just learned. 

By being even more tuned into the concept of voice and choice, we ended up up exploring even more STEM concept -- the ones she was interested in and ready for.   The activity helped us explore shapes, numbers, and measuring.  This has me really thinking about how we limit our children's learning without even realizing it and how Voice and Choice can lead to greater exploration and deeper learning. 

Here are a few more pictures and clips from our STEM activity.

Strategies that can offer more voice and choice when: 

Working with material

I showed up with sidewalk chalk and tape, but when I arrived I noticed the driveway was not paved and Rosie quickly let me know that "we don't really have a good place to use chalk here".  But after quickly looking around for other possibilities, I  spotted some window markers. Rosie showed  an "immediate" desire to use those, since they had stored out of reach.    The constraints of the environment naturally lead to choice in materials.   I talked about using new materials and I asked her to find a new location.  She picked a large window on her porch.

Asking youth a specific question

I started to steer the activity back to what I had planned with my 'specific questions'.  However,  by being more open to the directions she wanted to move towards, I was able to to use her interest and readiness to ask questions that developed from her natural curiosity with my questions. 

Telling youth when its time to move on

It was obvious that she had different ideas than I did about what she wanted to do next.  I started to guide her towards my idea of laying down some tape to make a shape and coloring the inside. She decided that she wanted to draw her own picture and find shapes within it and outlining those shapes with tape.  After the first drawing, she was ready to do another, and wanted to label the lines that made up the shape with a number as a way to count them.   By letting her direct what we would do next, we actually were able to practice number skills - at one point she took off her necklace to use as a measuring tool.  If I had moved on when I wanted to, she would have missed an opportunity to play with numbers and measurements.

Learning STEM content

Again, because I gave her choice, we got to count,  work with numbers, and even play with measuring. We got to dig deeper into STEM content I had not intended to spend time on - as I was focused on shapes.

Answering questions

At once point Rosie asked "what shape is this" as she pointed to the swing.  I really didn't know how to answer that.  We called it moon shape.  Later in the activity, Rosie actually referred to them as cresent shaped on her own.   I loved that she was able to recall the name of a shape later in the activity on her own.


I could have been more explicit about asking Rosie to think about what she had learned, instead of asking a specific question that had a 'right or wrong' answer and prompting her to 'fill in the blanks" as a way to wrap things up.

Asking presenting group to say more...

Since there was nobody else in the room besides the two of us, it was not an option to ask others if they have questions as a way to engage them, so this strategy was not applicable to this activity.

A fixed ending

I love the idea of 'what would we do if we had more time" or "next time".  In some ways this activity was a follow up of a previous activity - but it was definitely determined by what I wanted to do.  I will definitely use this in the future. 

The strategies offered to give prepare students for leadership made me smile -- as Rosie is definitely a leader.  The fact that she has an autistic brother who is a few years older than her has helped her develop her leadership traits. 

I would love to see her "lead" an activity of her own chosing in her 'home school' group or with her friends.

We frequently look through possible projects when she comes over and she frequently selects STEM related projects. 

Her favorite place to explore is the clear bin that I have filled with craft or recycled materials that might be useful for projects. 

I love the idea of seeking out community leaders that might engage her in community needs.  I think of the many citizen scientist program (salamander crossings) that we could potentially explore. 

I'm familiar with the Scratch community and definitely plan to engage her in it in the future.  I had not heard of https://www.zooniverse.org/ before Acres and truly looking forward to exploring it to see if there are STEM communities that would be age appropriate.

As a believer in project based learning, I believe that culminating activities are great opportunities to push students into leadership position.   Maker Faires have been some of my favorite 'authentic culminating activities" 

ACRES provided  some great prompts during our feedback protocol including these.

What do you see/hear? Get direct quotes when possible.
Reaffirming the goal or process.
How are students conveying ideas and choices?
Digging deeper in the content.
Exploring self/peer thinking and rationale.
Wait time.

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