Regents’ Center Director Beth Van Meeteren delivered the session, "Encouraging Student-led STEM Investigations in Early Elementary" at the Iowa Science Teaching Section Annual Conference in Ankeny on October 7th. The NSTA Elementary Science Position Statement advocates for K-3 students' access to STEM on a daily basis. The Iowa Department of Education supports the goal of a robust curriculum.
In this session, the Director shared how K-3 teachers could create a physical space in their classrooms for small groups of students to engage in STEM investigations during small group reading alongside traditional literacy investigations that involve reading, writing, and word work. Unlike traditional science centers where students are given directions to follow and worksheets to complete, these teachers are offering open-ended experiences for their students to grapple with physics in force and motion, spatial thinking through experiences with light and shadow, chemistry through cooking, and rotational motion through reverse engineering tops and engineering new designs. Throughout these experiences, students gain a strong understanding of properties of materials and how those properties are beneficial in specific designs. Instead of learning about science and engineering, they engage in science and engineering; becoming comfortable with errors as they view them as an opportunity to learn. In the process of these STEM investigations, students desire to learn the tools of literacy to communicate what they are learning and figuring out.