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STEM Teaching & Learning Flourishes at UPMS

In the world of education, the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has continued to dominate conversations about career readiness. Our country is in constant need of healthcare workers, tech-savvy employees, engineers in a variety of fields, workers skilled in math and more.

STEM education gives students skills that make them more employable and ready to meet the current labor demand, and each component of STEM helps ensure a well-rounded education. STEM encourages creative thinking and inventive problem-solving. While some STEM concepts may seem complex, when applied in practical, real-world scenarios, they can be easier to comprehend.

At Upper Perkiomen Middle School, teachers and students alike have embraced a focus on STEM. Just in the past several months, UPMS teachers have offered their students a number of exciting hands-on opportunities to dig in and learn more about STEM disciplines. Practical applications of the concepts students are learning help ensure that students can see the myriad ways STEM fits into everyday life, and how STEM might be a part of their future.

Read on to find out more about some of the exciting STEM projects UPMS students have had the opportunity to participate in:

Algebra I & II Students Taught by an Engineer

On Friday, March 4, 2022, over 80 Algebra I and II students in Miss Guenther, Mrs. Fehnel and Ms. Keebler's classes had the opportunity to experience Engineers Teaching Algebra with Mr. Mark Love. Mr. Love, a traffic engineer by profession, posed scenarios that any student who has traveled in a car, walked through a crosswalk or observed traffic in town could relate to, and applied concepts the students had already learned in their classes, in order to relate classwork to real-world challenges. He also shared insight into the various careers students can pursue that connect directly to algebra. 

Engineer at Head of Classroom

Engineers Teaching Algebra brings an engineer into the classroom for a fun and engaging design experience, in the belief that a wrong answer is better than no answer because problems are solved by trial and error with patience and imagination. For 7th & 8th grade math students, Engineers Teaching Algebra is one lesson plus an engineering challenge that students will pursue long after the bell rings. Since 1994, conducted in 5000 classrooms, 1800 schools, 38 states, currently in-person or remote, this program is not a sit-back-and-watch presentation but a busy, lively exchange of ideas with activities that are hands-on, relevant and fun.

Decreasing Environmental Impacts in Pre-Algebra

Mrs. Higgins’ Pre-Algebra class recently completed a project on using data to decrease their impact on the environment. The students needed to conduct their own research on water usage, electricity usage, trash created or containers thrown away versus recycled. Following their data collection, the students developed a presentation where they had to calculate various measures to get a summary of the data and create data displays using online tools to show the trends in the graphs. These trends showed how much water and electricity are being used and how much waste is being created on a daily basis. The graphs also allowed them to make predictions on future usage if the same trends continued. After looking at the data and the graphs, they had to describe the apparent problems and develop sustainable solutions that could be implemented. In their solutions, they had to calculate and explain how much water usage, electricity usage or waste produced would decrease if they acted on their strategies to help reduce the environmental impact. At the end of the project, many students were surprised at the effect that daily habits can have on the environment in the long term. 

“I believe completing projects like this is important for students to be better able to retain concepts long-term. They are not only applying their mathematics skills, but also learning how to manage a project that requires skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity and digital fluency,” said Mrs. Higgins. “By giving students the opportunity to develop solutions in the projects, they are making cross-curricular connections, problem solving, designing, constructing knowledge through higher level thinking activities and learning how to become innovators.”

8th Grade Life Science is for the Birds

In 8th grade Life Science class recently, students ran a simulation to determine which bird “beak” would be best suited for a variety of food types. Students were assigned a beak type (chopsticks, clothespin, dissection scissors, spoon, or tweezers) and had to try to collect as many weevils (beads), worms (straws) or beetles (pebbles) as they could in a set amount of time. The “birds” even had to manage with specific selective pressures such as a time limit (such as a season), “poisonous” food types intermixed, and competition from other birds. After the simulation, the students graphed the results to determine if the data supported their original hypothesis.

Zipping Through Algebra I Classes

Mrs. Fehnel's Algebra I classes recently constructed egg carriers to transport a plastic egg from the top of a zip line to the landing point. Students worked in teams to design a prototype of their design. Once the prototype was complete, they began their trials.

Students were given the task to add more and more weight to their plastic eggs to determine how the additional weight affected the speed of their eggs. Students calculated the speed of their egg with each trial. They then made a scatterplot to show the relationship between the weight of the egg and the speed at which it traveled.

Their final objective was to write a compound inequality that displayed the minimum and maximum weight their egg could hold and still have a successful run down the zip line.

Algebra II Honors Students Profile 21st Century Mathematicians

Miss Guenther's Algebra II Honors students recently completed a 21st Century Mathematician project.  Each student chose a different mathematician to research.  Students had a choice on how they were going to present their findings including: designing a book cover, writing a children's book, creating a crossword puzzle, writing a newspaper article that included an interview, creating a collage, becoming their mathematician to teach the class, creating a scrapbook or creating a mobile.  

Students found creative ways to present their famous mathematician. Students then got the opportunity to visit with their peers’ exhibits. They completed peer evaluations and gave feedback to each other. The students chose “most original”, “most creative” and “best of show”. This project gave the students the opportunity to learn about current day mathematicians who are actively contributing to society. 

Storm Resistant Structures in 7th Grade Science

Recently, in 7th grade science classes, students have been learning about weather. During one project, students used the design process to build storm resistance structures. Students first researched what engineers do to build storm resistant houses, then they created a build of their own design out of common materials such as paper and tape. To test their structures, the class used a leaf blower to simulate high winds, and the students collected data about how the high winds affected their structure. With that new information students were able to rebuild a second prototype as a group and re-test their new design.

Pre-Algebra Students as Rocket Scientists

3…2…1..BLAST-OFF! Students in Mrs. Fehnel, Ms. Guenther and Mrs. McPherson’s 8th Grade Pre-Algebra classes have recently become rocket scientists, of a sort. Initially, students were given an index card, small ball of clay and a plastic straw to design a straw rocket. On the first day of the project, they take multiple practice launch attempts to fine-tune the design of their rockets.  On day 2, students conduct trials regarding the amount of air pressure used for a launch and create a scatterplot of their results.  They also conduct trials regarding the angle of launch and create a scatterplot of those results, eventually drawing some conclusions based on the data. On the third day, students aim to hit various targets with their rockets, calibrating the air pressure and angle of launch based on their data.