Middle School STEAM: Straw Bridges

In my most recent middle school STEAM class, we were working on bridge building.  There were some absences, so it was a small class, but here they are showing off their final products, just before testing commenced.

STEAM yearbook_3 anonymous_2
Students show off their straw bridges.  The basic challenge was to make a strong bridge while using a limited quantity of supplies.  We also experimented with anchorages (not shown) and researched Galloping Gertie.

I actually took this photo for the homeschool yearbook, so it’s particularly unfortunate that not everyone was present, but that’s just how things go.

This class takes up a disproportionate amount of my mental energy – there are some dramatic differences between the academic achievement among these students.  Some are genuinely advanced while others are upsettingly behind.  (Really, the range is enormous.  Homeschool students are variable.  I estimate that the math achievement ranges from about 3rd grade to about 9th grade.  Reading levels range from about 3rd grade to about 12th grade.)  It’s a difficult balancing act to try to meet the needs of every student.

One approach that is working reasonably well is to let students self-level.  That is, I’ll give them a multi-part challenge so that the kids who find the first task easy have something more substantial to sink their teeth into but students who are challenged by the first task can still come to meaningful completion point.

Even with self-leveling, I’ve been struggling with some students finishing well before others (and then becoming incredibly distracting).  On this day, I had the early finishers play with some origami books and papers I set out for them.  You can see one early-finisher posing with a blue origami bird on his head.  This solution is not ideal.  It helped with classroom management, but I felt like I was babysitting the more advanced students rather than challenging them.  Then again, with such a wide range of students, an ideal solution may be impossible.


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