Wacky Weather: An Integrative Science Unit Combines Science Content on Severe Weather with the Engineering Design Process

Article excerpt

What do a leaf blower, water hose, fan, and ice cubes have in common? Ask the students who participated in our integrative science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (I-STEM) education unit, Wacky Weather, and they will tell you "fun and severe weather"--words you might not have expected! The purpose of this unit was to interweave science content on severe weather with the engineering design process. The unit included concepts such as properties of materials, connections to architecture, and the relevance of engineering to our lives.

The engineering design process is the crux of integrative STEM education. Integrative STEM education is "the application of technological/engineering design-based pedagogical approaches to intentionally teach content and practices of science and mathematics education concurrently with content and practices of technology/engineering education" (Sanders and Wells 2010). This unit will provide an example of intentional integration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) core ideas and practices (Achieve Inc. 2013).

Designing an Integrative Science Unit

In our school district, the STEM coordinator, elementary teachers, and specialists collaborated to create a model I-STEM education program that gives all students access to the engineering design process based on science concepts. Goals for this unit included:

* conducting and applying research

* analyzing charts and graphs of weather data to determine type of severe weather

* planning, creating, testing, and evaluating their team's design

* identifying weather instruments and interpreting the measurements

True to the definition of integrative STEM education, each unit integrates multiple disciplines so students see the connections between content areas. Units are planned according to the four-part design process: plan, create, check, and share. This simplified engineering/technological design process better fits the elementary realm because it is easy for young children to understand and use. Since all students in our school system participate in the I-STEM units, it is important that our units support the large English language learner population in our district. We are very purposeful in including research-based best practices, such as language objectives, sentence frames, graphic organizers, and strategies to scaffold instruction.

The Design Brief

The Wacky Weather I-STEM unit was developed for teachers to use in their classrooms to supplement weather lessons already being taught. Based on science standards, this week-long unit follows the design brief steps of plan, create, check, and share.

Background

In third grade, students study weather and focus on a technical understanding of the tools and methods used to forecast future atmospheric conditions. This unit was designed to follow classroom instruction on weather phenomena, weather measurements, and meteorological tools (performance expectations: Earth's systems 3-ESS2-1 and 3-ESS3-1; Engineering design 3-5-ETS1-1 and 3-5-ETS1-2 [Achieve Inc. 2013; see Internet Resources]). Students worked in teams to analyze weather data, predict forthcoming weather phenomena and fortify a previously built structure to withstand an impending "storm."

There are also several Common Core math standards integrated into the lessons, including metric measurement, and collecting, organizing, displaying, and interpreting data from a variety of graphs. A large number of Common Core language arts standards were also incorporated such as using effective oral communication strategies, expanding vocabulary when reading, demonstrating comprehension of nonfiction text, and writing for a variety of purposes.

Plan

In the plan phase, students gained the background knowledge needed to be able to complete the design challenge. Observing, exploring, researching, brainstorming and drawing designs all took place in this phase of the process. …