Baseball and hot dogs, Romeo and Juliet, math and science—some things are just meant to go together. It’s not always easy to help students develop a love for the “hard”
subjects, but when you can find the hook that pulls them into the fascinating world of math and science, it is a thing of beauty.
Real World vs. School World
You can help kids push their thinking by giving them alternative ways to express what they’ve mastered based on their interests. I do a lot of project-based learning in my classroom. One potential real-world challenge I asked them to research was to find a way to relocate the Statue of Liberty because of rising ocean levels. In this cross-curricular project, they had to do a marketing presentation, a budget proposal, and a CAD drawing and scale model of the new base. It made for a very compelling learning experience.
Girls and STEM
Middle school can be the pivotal point for girls in math and science. In my classroom, I have posters of female scientists, mathematicians, and inventors. The robotics team I mentor consistently has a larger female than male presence, and one of the highlights of my career was when a female member of the team received a full academic scholarship to the University of Alabama for engineering. She attributed her desire to become a mechanical engineer to my math class and the robotics team!
Make a Game of Test Prep
When state testing is right around the corner, consider turning test review into a game. My sixth graders hosted a Hunger Games–themed math review for the fifth graders one year, complete with the iconic cornucopia from the movie. They were responsible for planning the review activities, meeting the fifth-grade teachers, and working the event. Fun was had by all!
3 More Ways to Keep It Real
▶ Teach kids how to frame deep and thoughtful questions. Remind them that many mathematicians and scientists spend their whole lives attempting to answer one question.
▶ For problem- or project-based learning, set the rubric height at a B+ and have students figure out what else they must do to earn an A.
▶ Help kids understand that the engineering design process is fluid, not strictly step by step. Many iterations may be involved until the final product or procedure is refined.
Photo: Courtesy of Stacey Burt