Module 1 – Chapter 3
Using an effective lesson cycle that is organized and structured to build toward deep learning will improve learners’ engagement and interest. This includes a routine set of steps that helps learners know when and how to engage with the STEM concepts, and their peers, from the moment the lesson begins to its end. In the afterschool space, you need to ensure the lesson cycle can be completed briskly to fit typical afterschool program schedules and to hold children’s attention. For example, A’STEAM lessons follow this brisk, engaging routine:
|Steps and Timing in Hands-On Afterschool STEM Lessons (35-45 minutes total)
- Introduce – 1 minute
- Model and explain – 10-15 minutes
- Group practice – 20-30 minutes
- Summarize – 4-10 minutes
Step 1: What Are Some Effective Ways to Introduce STEM Lessons?
Introduce a new concept by building learners’ curiosity, explaining the real word problem to be solved or their prior knowledge. This might include one of these approaches:
- Provide Real World Problem: When learning feels relevant to learners, their investment increases. Consider giving learners a real-world problem scenario and explain that real-world scientists often use big problems as their launching pad into great discoveries.
- Visualize It: If learners lack background knowledge about a topic, it can be very hard for them to reap the maximum benefits of a learning experience. When learners may be unfamiliar with a broad concept, preview it with visual aids before the lesson cycle begins. Learners may be able to hold a real object or see a picture or short video clip linked to the concept. For example:
- Before dissecting an owl pellet, show a short video clip of an owl hunting.
- Before a bridge building challenge, show learners photos of various types of bridges.
- Activate Prior Knowledge: Tapping into what learners bring into the learning experience primes their thinking, validates and honors their experiences. It also lets you know as an educator how much familiarity they have with the big ideas relevant to the current lesson.
- For example, if learners are going to make bath bombs, it is very important that they have a rough idea of WHAT a bath bomb is, even if they have never seen one being used in their home. A colorful bath bomb (wrapped tightly in plastic) could be passed around, following by a quick demonstration or video of what a bath bomb looks like when dropped in a bathtub.
Step 2: How Can You Model and Explain the Lesson Concepts?
Effective educators model and explain key concepts before they allow students to engage with the materials to explore a concept. This includes narrowing the learners’ focus on the most important questions and directly teaching key vocabulary.
- Present a Focus Question: Before learners launch into hands-on inquiry, give them one “big question” they want to try to answer by the end of the learning experience. If learners are going to explore electrical conductivity, an appropriate focus question might be “What kinds of materials complete a circuit?” Older learners who are independent writers may write the focus question in a STEM journal where they will collect their findings.
- Define Technical Vocabulary: Learners need to practice hearing and repeating back new words, especially when these are technical vocabulary they may not have heard before. Educators should explain explicitly what the word means. This often includes these steps:
- See it: show a picture card to represent the word
- Say it: ask students to repeat the word
- Define it: provide a child-friendly definition that avoids other sophisticated words to define the new word
- Use it: encourage learners to act out the word or use the word in a sentence
- Model the Activity: Demonstrate the concept and steps that learners will take to answer the focal question. This step includes the teacher explicitly modeling what to do and noting anything learners should avoid. There’s limited child participation at this step, as they are listening to instructions or observing how the educator thinks aloud as they explore a concept.
Step 3: How Can You Effectively Guide Learner Practice?
At this step, learners get to jump in to do the focal activity! This is often the most exciting part of the afterschool lesson. Educators need to stay engaged to ensure the materials are used safely and circulate the room to check for understanding of learners.
- Invite Exploration: This is the step when you invite learners to do the activity. There are likely a series of steps that need to be followed.
- Consider if you will need to repeat instructions or print a set of more complex written or pictorial instructions for learners to review.
- Circulate around the room to provide support, ask questions about cross-cutting concepts, and name the science and engineering practices learners use.
- As detailed in the previous section, consider when and how you will give learners access to materials.
- Check for Understanding (CFU): Before facilitating an afterschool STEM activity, identify key moments during the activity to check for learners’ understanding.
- CFUs are opportunities for “pause-points” in a lesson when the educator checks-in on how learners are progressing towards mastery of the content, new vocabulary, or the aspects of the focus question.
- Checking understanding is not just a matter of asking, “Does anyone have any questions?” or “Does everyone understand?” It is better to ask a direct question tied to the daily learning and see if they can answer it accurately and compellingly.
- In the below section, you will learn to scaffold learning after asking a CFU question. This will help you to adjust instruction to match individual learner needs.
Step 4: What Are Some Effective Ways to Summarize and Close Lessons?
It is important to close a lesson to solidify students’ learning and memory of the key concepts. Don’t be tempted to skip this step, as integrating STEM knowledge is key to the afterschool educator’s goal of sparking a long-term interest in science and engineering.
- Answer the Focus Question: One benefit of always launching with a focus question is that you have a built-in topic of discussion for the end of the lesson — the answer to that very question!
- After learners have completed an exploratory hands-on activity, bring them all back together in a gathering area.
- First, invite them to share general observations about their experiences.
- Second, ask 2 to 3 learners to answer the focus question.
- Solidify Learning: If time permits, ensure that all learners leave the lesson with a firm, final answer to the focus question with a closing step, such as:
- Ask learners to turn to a partner and tell them their final answer to the focus question in a complete sentence.
- Ask students to write and draw in their STEM journal about the focus question.
Play Video: Components of Effective STEM Lessons
What Is Scaffolding and Why Is It Important?
Some learners readily understand a concept and others need review and support. Effective educators use a variety of strategies to assist both learners who need a challenge and those who need support. These instructional strategies that tailor learning to learners’ individual levels are often referred to as scaffolding strategies.
|Scaffolding is a term that includes ways adults support children’s initial understandings with hints, prompts, and conversation. Scaffolding learners’ understanding is important to improve learning and address common misconceptions in math and science (Anghileri, 2006).
How Can Educators Use Scaffolding Strategies in Afterschool STEM Programs?
As a new building is being built, you want sturdy scaffolding to give you access to the task at hand. Scaffolding strategies are similar in that the adult provides steady support as the child is learning, but will take down the scaffolding as the child’s knowledge grows and becomes stable. Good scaffolding of learning in an afterschool setting includes:
- Adjust instruction upward or downward to respond to and match learners’ needs. Imagine moving up and down a scaffolding ladder to reach all learners.
- Offer a challenge for learners who are ready for you to step it up because they have understood or mastered a task. This deepens their understanding and makes connections across concepts.
- Offer support to review or restructure a task to step it down when learners are not understanding a concept fully. This offers explanation and modeling to simply the task.
- Scaffolding strategies vary to match a given situation. Common strategies are summarized in the table below. Note how these approaches differ when scaffolding moves upward versus downward.
|Challenge with Upward Scaffolds
|Support with Downward Scaffolds
- Make connections to cross-cutting concepts or prior learning
- Generate higher-level reasoning with why, how, and what if questions
- Discuss patterns in concepts
- Encourage dialogue with peers to further strengthen learning
- Develop models or tools for representing knowledge
- Encourage reminiscing or reflection on learning to improve long-term memory
- Allow a child to model a skill they have mastered for a younger learner
- Explain a concept by showing and telling to include looking and touching while the adult names and verbalizes concepts
- Rephrase learners’ talk or ideas to recast into a more complete form or expand on their initial ideas
- Review key vocabulary and concepts to negotiate meaning
- Restructure a task to simplify a problem that is complex or multi-step
- Prompt or probe learners thinking to help them describe and understand
- Give hints or model answers to explain more clearly
Play Video: Guiding Children’s Science Learning with Scaffolding Strategies
What Are Some Common Misconceptions in Science & Math Likely to Require Scaffolding?
There are many common misconceptions in science and misunderstandings in math when educators should expect to provide more downward scaffolding. Giving learners more time to play or explore a concept on their own is unlikely to fix these problems. Most learners overcome these misunderstandings only with explicit support and scaffolding from an educator (Hughes et al., 2016; Nelson & Powell, 2018; Thompson & Logue, 2006). In elementary grades, a few examples of misconceptions or misunderstandings include:
- Misconception: Whether something sinks or floats is determined only by whether it is heavy or light.
- Fact: Whether something sinks or floats is determined by multiple factors – density, buoyancy, and the object’s effect on surface tension.
- Misconception: Clouds have water in them that falls down as rain.
- Fact: Clouds do have small particles of water in them, but the water is held up in the air by winds, air currents, and convection. When these water particles condense and become bigger, they can become heavy and fall to the earth as rain, hail, or snow.
- Misunderstanding: Learners often use the wrong operation in math, such as adding instead of subtracting when the problem calls for subtraction.
- Note: The mistake of using the wrong operation is more common than other wrong operations (e.g., multiplying instead of dividing) and more common than miscalculations.
Be aware of times you’re scaffolding upward and downward. Challenge yourself to support and check-in on learners who need more frequent downward scaffolds to ensure their success. Also give learners who need a challenge more opportunities to expand their learning.
Opportunity for Practice: Read this linked A’STEAM lesson plan. Download a copy and find the scaffolding tips. Review the exemplar and make annotations to help you effectively prepare for the lesson.