Physical and Chemical Changes in Matter STEM Challenge

One of my teacher heroes is Miss Frizzle, whose catchphrase is "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!" My students did just that during this changes in matter STEM challenge! Read on to see how making mistakes and getting messy created a deep understanding of physical and chemical changes in matter. (Also, find out what Miss Frizzle and Bill Nye have to do with STEM!)

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

As the culmination of our physical and chemical change unit, my students had the chance to solve a problem.  Their task? Create their own wrapping paper for a gift, using only objects found around the house.  Their wrapping paper had to include both a physical and a chemical change. 

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

I displayed my finished product (above) and then gave teams time to plan.  One of the perks of STEM for English Language Learners is that it allows students to use academic language in a non-threatening, student-centered environment. Giving students the finished product without the steps to accomplish it is another part of the beauty of STEM.  It's where the "taking chances and making mistakes" comes in, too!  (And believe me, we made lots of happy mistakes!)

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This group had an interesting design; they wanted to create rainbow paper.  It was an excellent theory, and they worked hard to plan it out. Unfortunately, the product didn't turn out the way they expected.  I was so proud of them for taking chances and making mistakes! Even though they took a chance that didn't work, they weren't discouraged, because both students re-did their challenge that night at home! 

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This group contained two of my lower-proficient English learners.  They had a trouble communicating their initial plan, partly due to a large language barrier.  This group definitely "got messy!" Even though they struggled with the language, they were working together to create and solve a problem, which is what STEM is all about.  

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge
Check out our wrapping paper! My kids were SO proud of what they created with food coloring and shaving cream. 

An administrator who walked by my room asked why the kids' projects didn't look like mine.  This is probably a common question among people who aren't familiar with STEM, so here's what I said, and what you can say too.  Simply put, A STEM challenge is not the same as a science experiment.  An experiment has a desired and predictable outcome, based on a question or hypothesis, and follows a series of exact steps.  A STEM challenge has a desired outcome, but it is often not predictable, is based on solving a problem, and the steps are initiated by the students. Another analogy? STEM is to Miss Frizzle as experiments are to Bill Nye! Both are excellent and engaging in their own ways.

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This Miss Frizzle style STEM challenge was lots of fun! In addition, it was as an assessment of my students' knowledge of physical and chemical changes in matter.  The hands-on experience and usage of academic vocabulary in context created deep and enduring understanding of the content.  Answering the questions on the "evaluate" part of their challenge sheet gave them the chance to practice writing in science, which is another difficult skill.  STEM challenge for the win!

Do you do STEM challenges with your ELL's? My students are hooked and can't wait for the next one!

 



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