By Meghan Borg, 4th-6th Grade Science Teacher
Upon entering the collaborative learning space for 4th-6th grade Science, students are never quite sure what the room will look like. Visitors dropping by are also never sure of what they can expect to observe. Will the classroom be quietly focused, or will it be abuzz with excitement to complete the task at hand? This all depends on exactly when you stop by the room.
With the ability to move the classroom around and adjust it to any circumstance, students now have the freedom to create quiet working space with one or two others as they answer comprehension questions. Or, they can create larger, more communal spaces for lab groups when the entire classroom is sharing materials. While it was possible to collaborate in our former lab, finding a space to work without distraction was not. Nor was it possible for groups to create their own ideas in response to a question. Inevitably, in our old classroom, once one group came up with a viable response to a question, the rest of the room soon followed.
This is no longer true in the mobile collaborative room that students work in today. Because of the new learning space, 6th grade Science has had a new addition to the curriculum to which students are responding enthusiastically. Every so often, students are presented with a STEM challenge. In these challenges, students are given a task to construct something using only a limited amount of materials, and most often within a limited amount of time.
In these lessons, the room is partitioned off into four or five separate working spaces in order to give students privacy to develop and construct their ideas. Students are instructed not to leave their space without permission and must all present their ideas to their team on the white board space surrounding their designated section of the room. While in some cases groups end up with similar end products, there are often many variations to solve the problem throughout the room. In the end, students have to find unique solutions to the challenge thus building upon their creativity, fostering teamwork, and enhancing their communication skills as they work together to materialize their vision.
Students are clearly enjoying the process, because if too long a time passes between challenges, I will hear the question “When is our next STEM challenge?” more and more frequently!