Design and Create Your World with Stem

By Jones, Virginia R. | The Elementary STEM Journal, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Design and Create Your World with Stem


Jones, Virginia R., The Elementary STEM Journal


Design is the backbone of technological advancement in our society. Design skills are highly sought as creative 21st century skills. Many consider design skills to be based solely on artistic creativity, but designing for technological advancement goes deeper than just creativity. It does take a creative, innovative approach to consider new designs, but according to Standards for Technological Literacy, it also "requires acquiring the cognitive and procedural knowledge needed to create a design, in addition to familiarity with the processes by which a design will be carried out to make a product or system (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2002/2007, p. 90). This is more than design creativity; it requires knowledge of systems, processes, and materials to ensure the design is applicable to the needs for which it was created.

As Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics educators, we are constantly exploring ways to involve more females and underrepresented populations in STEM career fields. Step back a few decades and think about the family structure of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, when society referred to women, somewhat derisively, as "domestic engineers" for managing the needs of their families and household. Now consider this phrase in a new light, with more emphasis on the engineering and design concepts rather than domestic. Yes, they truly were engineers! Think about the mathematics and science skills involved in preparing meals, especially without all the modern conveniences we have now. Also, the mostly forgotten skill of making clothing for the family is truly a design engineering skill. Domestic engineers needed to understand materials (fabrics), construction with or without a manufactured pattern, durability, usability, and add in a creative element to make it unique to the needs of its user. We can build on these design skills to make STEM careers more attractive to all students!

Our designed world "consists of all the modifications that humans have made to the natural world" (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2002/2007, p. 141). Our designed world fits into categories of design that overlap in many aspects: medical design relies on manufacturing and information and communications technology design; energy and power design relies on construction design, etc. As we present learning opportunities about the designed world to our students, it is important to remember that designs in one area can affect designs in other areas, both positively and negatively. Ours is an interconnected world; as STEM learners we must be cognizant that our actions have intended and unintended effects.

A literacy strategy for engaging young learners in medical design is to do a "research study" on antibacterial hand sanitizers. This is a well-known object for most students and possibly one used daily in the classroom. Using a simplified scientific approach, explore the ingredients used in hand sanitizers and list the bacteria they are designed to eliminate. Develop a chart to list the bacteria. Then explore the bacteria to discern if they have any "good" properties (reasons humans may not want to eliminate them). List these good properties on a chart and discuss why overuse of these antibacterial products, designed to promote healthy living, may have unintended consequences. Brainstorm how to modify the use of this product, change the design of the product, or (using their knowledge of the properties of hand sanitizers) to be better consumers when purchasing the product.

For construction design, we instinctively include the architecture and the surrounding landscape. Construction design works hand in hand with energy and power design as well as agricultural design. For upper elementary students, a comprehensive project for developing a wind farm introduces them to design elements for all of the above designed-world components. Students must first consider location of the wind farm--land-based or water-based. This key design construct sets up the parameters for the other needed components. …

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