STEM-ifying your Lessons

tootsie machine.tiff

Maybe you can't quite tell from this graphic, but what you're looking at is an engineered machine designed to answer the burning question, "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?"

You can see the entire video of the machine in action here.

There is a huge push in the United States right now to incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) in education efforts.  However, the teachers I work with are, generally speaking, subject-matter teachers (e.g. high school math or 8th grade science, or elementary subjects) so they come to me confused and frustrated.  "How can I incorporate STEM when I have all these other things I have to teach?" they ask me.

Those questions and that frustration are what led me to write this blog post on "STEM-ifying" your lessons.  Similar to my suggestions regarding educational technology, I think it pays to start small and choose manageable things that you can do without too much additional work.  Of course, in an ideal world, it would be awesome if we all had the free time to create fabulous, thoroughly integrated STEM lessons and the professional freedom and autonomy to deliver them with no outside restrictions in place. For most of us, though, that is just simply not going to happen.  SO... do what you can!

Let's start with that great question, "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?"  I've actually used that very question as a beginning of a math lesson on data collection & analysis.  During in-service workshops, I ask the teachers to first estimate what they think the solution will be.  Then, they each are given a Tootsie Pop and instructed to carefully, systematically, and consistently lick until they get to the center, keeping track of the number of licks as they go.  Then, as a whole group, we analyze the results, discover measures of center or spread, discuss sample sizes and consistency issues with this type of experiment, and in general DO statistical analysis.  It's been one of my most successful math lessons.

Now let's consider how to STEM-ify it.

Since the original lesson was math, the first thing we need to consider when STEM-ifying is which of the other fields most naturally lend themselves to being incorporated.  In this case, I think Science jumps out.  Why?  Because if you break down the problem itself, it is really asking about what it takes to dissolve the candy outside in order to gain access to the Tootsie Roll inside.  So, what additional science-related topics or concepts might fit nicely in this STEM-ified version of the lesson?  Perhaps questions about the roughness of the tongue, the PH of our saliva, the composition of the hard candy shell, and the effects of heat or water might be addressed.

Continuing the STEM-ifcation process, let's think about how technology and engineering components might be integrated into the original lesson.  Of course the graphic and video given at the beginning of this post has helped you to see that these two may be combined into a wonderful "Maker" type example.  It is perfectly reasonable, after discussing the mathematics- and science-related concerns regarding data collection that we seek to standardized the process.  What better way than to create a machine to "lick" and program it to count as it goes?

As I hope you can see from this example, STEM-ifying your lessons can range from a relatively simple and easy process like adding additional questions or explorations to more complex and thorough integrations of STEM fields.  Start STEM-ifying your lessons today!  If you need help, remember that we offer several services to accomplish that - contact us.

Let's try to summarize some main ideas.

How can you STEM-ify your lessons?

  1. Start with a great question or problem that has as its primary focus one of the STEM areas.
  2. View your initial question or problem in a new light: focusing on one or more of the remaining STEM areas that might be included.  Try not to get bogged down in details at this stage; think "big picture" right now. It's often a wonderful process to ask students their thoughts about this stage as well.  If you do this, use open-ended questions designed to illicit their thinking, like, "Right now, this is obviously a math problem, but can you think of other, non-math things that we might need to know about in order to really understand what's going on here?"
  3. Slowly, add to your original lesson idea.  Perhaps the first time through, it's just a science / math lesson, then maybe you add some technology.  It is ok to go through several iterations before you end up with a polished STEM lesson.

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  


The article on the Tootsie Pop lesson 

OpenColleges InformEd blog 

The entire video of the Tootsie machine


The Solver Blog

Author:  Dr. Diana S. Perdue

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