If you haven’t heard of something called Novel Engineering, which Tufts University developed, it’s a must for any educator at any grade level. Novel Engineering is simple and incorporates picture books and novels into STEAM. The great thing about Novel Engineering is that it follows the Design Thinking process, which is a cycle that I introduce to students explaining why and how people solve problems and the perseverance it takes to develop a solution that works. There are some wonderful free resources on the web and videos to share with your students.
I’m not talking about plot structure. I’m talking about problems that could be real-world issues. Chart the problems together then design a challenge around it. The best part is, the challenge can be low- or high-tech and really is dependent upon what materials you and your students have access to.
The four parts of designing the challenge include: problem, challenge, constraints and materials.
Problem One of the brainstorming problems you and/or the students developed.
Challenge What do the students have to do?
Constraints There are a variety of options. Students may have to use all the materials provided. There may be a time limit on the completion of the activity. There could be height requirements. The options really are endless.
Materials Anything in your wildest imagination – if you’re lucky enough to have a Makerspace at your school, you might consider partnering with your school’s library media specialist to design the challenge and use materials found there. If you don’t, you might consider putting together a wish list of random materials for parents to donate like popsicle sticks, straws, rubber bands, etc. Another great resource in your building is your art teacher.
One of my favorite Novel Engineering lessons was done with a second grade class using a historical fiction story about cowboys. The cowboys had to transfer cattle from one state to another and encountered many challenges along the way. The students made a marble maze with a shoe box lid, popsicle sticks, a cork, flexible straws, tape and the plastic tops of water bottles.
They incorporated the challenges the cattle had to face along the way such as mud, poor weather and cattle raiders. If the marble went outside of the maze, the cattle were lost. A constraint that they had was that the maze could not be a straight line. Students were engaged and used 21st-century skills of collaborating, communicating, creating, critically thinking and problem-solving through the design thinking process.
In total, this particular activity took 60 minutes plus the time it took to read the book. I did split the activity into multiple days, but you could read the book in the morning and complete the activity in the afternoon.
I encourage you to give it a try, especially with the end of the year nearing. Have the students engage in some hands-on STEAM lessons with a picture book you read!
NICOLE STROUP Regional Office of Education, Lake County IL With over 10 years of experience in education, Nicole Stroup has been instrumental in supporting staff development, leading teachers, and developing curriculum for districts throughout Lake County. She has rich experience as both an instructional coach and ELA Content Facilitator. She has enhanced the professional learning experience of teachers throughout our area and brings both enthusiasm and a passion for instructional coaching and literacy to her new role. With a Master’s Degree in both Reading Instruction and Educational Leadership, she is committed to serving Lake County schools and districts as a support for English Language Arts curriculum, school improvement, and professional development. Nicole’s broad experience includes teaching at the elementary level as well as supporting school library media staff on library improvements. She emphasizes flexible learning environments, passion for content, and a desire to support the professional learning needs of Lake County educators. Nicole resides in Volo, IL with her husband and young daughter. In her leisure, Nicole enjoys golfing and supports her local girl’s gymnastics team as a coach.
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