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STEM Challenges

A STEM Challenge is an engagement model designed to increase learner interest and preparation in STEM by engaging them in solving real world problems. The structure of a STEM Challenge is:

  1. Motivation – A short multimedia enhanced story to introduce learners to a challenge and catch their interest. Stories might be centered around inventors, discoveries, current news article, or grand challenges.
  2. Description – Descriptions of what the challenge is including: who can participate, steps for completing it, where to access needed resources, judging criteria, method for submitting responses, and deadline for submissions.
  3. Resources – Resources to access for working on a challenge, optionally including example responses.
  4. Submission – Tools for submitting responses including web forms, tools for uploading documents, images and videos, online diagram tools, applets that can save their state.
  5. Gallery – Summaries and full responses.
  6. Feedback – Tools and guides to assist peers and mentors in commenting on and discussing responses. Communication tools including screen sharing, text, audio, and video chat, discussion boards. Guides include questions to prompt discussion and evaluation of submissions.
  7. Extensions – Pointers to challenges that build on the challenge.

NASA, the National Science Foundation, Publishers, educators, and K-12 schools have conducted many competitions and events and created instructional materials that align well with the STEM Challenge model. Many of these events and development efforts have published materials on the web that can be readily re-used by STEM educators and mentors to create learning opportunities. I’m working on a proposal to for a STEM Challenge project.

A primary goal of the STEM Challenges project is to develop and validate the STEM Challenges model for capturing, structuring, and adapting existing STEM challenges. STEM Challenges are intended to be used in classroom, after-school, and summer school settings. In order to deliver STEM Challenges, the STEM Challenge Platform will be created. The STEM Challenge Platform is a web application that powers two websites, one for mentors (STEM Challenge Catalog) and another for learners (STEM Challenges).

STEM Challenge Catalog Website

The mentor website, called the STEM Challenge Catalog, will allow users to:

  1. Find STEM Challenges by browsing and searching.
  2. Set up a challenge to use with learners.
  3. Modify details of the challenge including description and due dates.
  4. View submitted work and give feedback.
  5. Create new STEM Challenges.
  6. Publish STEM Challenges for other mentors to use.

The system will include simple to use tools that preserve licensing and attribution as challenges are created and adapted.

STEM Challenge Authoring Guide

The STEM Challenge Catalog website will also include a guide and automated tools for creating challenges. The guide will include instructions and tools to help authors:

  1. Find a topic (news article, inventor, existing tool, grand challenge, etc) to create a challenge about.
  2. Find multimedia resources to use to introduce a challenge.
  3. Describe the challenge.
  4. Select online tools that learners can use to complete the challenge.
  5. Set up ways for learners to submit responses.
  6. Describe submission judging criteria.
  7. Identify challenges that the challenge builds upon and that extend it.

STEM Challenges Website

The learner website, called STEM Challenges, will allows users to:

  1. Register and login.
  2. Find challenges they can participate in.
  3. View challenges and access resources.
  4. Submit responses to challenges.
  5. Communicate with peers and teachers/mentors.

Example STEM Challenges

Here are some STEM Challenges in the area of mathematics similar to ones that would be created for the STEM Challenges website. In addition to primarily web-based challenges such as these, the STEM Challenge platform would support hands-on and non-web computer based challenges for which students would upload images, videos, and files. Different than these examples, the platform would allow learners to communicate with peers and mentors and to view galleries of responses.

Digging Dirt – Maria’s Dad owns an excavation company and she bids jobs for him based on the size of the hole he has to dig. She has the challenge to estimate the cost of an irregularly shaped basement, and you get to help. To do so, you must find the volume of an irregular shaped prism, convert units, calculate the cost based on a linear formula, and write an explanation.

Cool to Carpool – Analyze three separate pollution reduction plans to see which will be most effective. Involves gathering and analyzing data from spreadsheets and scatterplots, then performing and comparing calculations.

Lessen the Loan – J.R. and Kristi each took out a loan for $400, but each is paying back the loan at a different rate. Find out how soon each will pay off the loan using a linear equation or a scatterplot with a line of best fit.

Choosing Chocolate
– To prevent the school cafeteria from getting rid of chocolate milk, J.R. and Elise gather data about chocolate milk sales for the last 12 weeks. Help J.R. and Elise analyze the data, using the lines-of-best-fit to predict whether chocolate milk will soon be a best-seller.

Ideas for STEM Challenges

Build a robot to…
Navigate a spaceship… (from point A to point B) and submit a video of your travels.
Design, test, prototype a (bridge) that…
Run, write, debug, fix a program to…
Build a molecule that…
Build a circuit that…

Online Catalogs, News Sources, and Tools, that Could Be Used

Design Squad – TV show about engineering targeted at the youth. Projects they can do.
Examples of design challenges.

Teach Engineering -  Teacher-tested, standards-based engineering content for K-12 teachers engineering content for K12 teachers to use in science and math classrooms.
A source of content for challenges.

Alice – 3D programming environment for introducing programming skills.
Easily create and interact with 3D environments using models that are provided.

Celestia – 3D interactive model of the universe.
Interactively travel through the universe and easily create videos of your travels.

Folksemantic – Catalog of over 110,000 open educational resources including many from the National Science Digital Library and OpenCourseWare repositories such as MIT.
Find open educational resources to be used in STEM Challenges

Lego Mindstorms – Build and program lego robots using a visual programming language.
Tools learners can use to complete challenges.

NASA TV – Live and archived video of NASA missions and programs.
Resources that could be used to introduce challenges.

NASA Gallery – Images of NASA missions and programs.
Resources that could be used to introduce challenges.

STAR Logo – A programmable modeling environment designed to help you model and explore the workings of decentralized systems, such as bird flocks, traffic jams, and market economies.
Tool that students could use to complete challenges.

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives – Interactive online tools for K-12 mathematics.
Tools learners can use to complete and submit challenges.

eNLVM – Interactive online lessons for K-12 mathematics.
Example math focused STEM challenges. (see Math Insight lessons)

Molecular Workbench – Play with models of self-assembling biological structures (dimers, fibers and microtubules), and then design their own self assembly structures.
Interactive tool that could be used for challenges. (other Concord Consortium Tools)

MAKE – Do it yourself projects, videos, stories, online community, and events.

West Point Bridge Design Contents – Build, simulate, adapt, and evaluate bridges.
Interactive tool that could be used for challenges.

2 Responses to “STEM Challenges”

  1. [...] careers in Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics. Along those lines I have worked on the STEM Challenges model of engagement. A STEM Challenge is an engagement model designed to increase learner interest [...]

  2. Joel,

    I started a collection of bookmarks with some sites and tools that can either be directly used, or serve as a model:

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