STEM Lesson Planning

Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven

Technology and engineering are separate but related areas. As noted,

 “Technology involves the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, such as to improve productivity, make things, or provide services. It includes all human-made objects— basic and advanced, non-digital and digital— that support us in work and in our daily lives.

Engineering is the process of designing to meet human needs and wants under various constraints such as time, money, available materials, and the laws of nature. Engineering has strong connections to many other disciplines, particularly mathematics, science, and technology.” (Sarama et al., 2018; p. 1)

Below, we describe example projects that incorporate the engineering design cycle, while students use technology, and as a part of the process, they create new technology.

2nd grade- Sail Cars

Technology and Engineering

Author – Adapted from Sailing into Integration by Laura Robertson, Eric Dunlap, Ryan Nivens, and Kelli Barnett


2.ETS1: Engineering Design 2) Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model that communicates solutions to others. 4) Compare and contrast solutions to a design problem by using evidence to point out strengths and weaknesses of the design.

2.ETS2: Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society 1) Use appropriate tools to make observations, record data, and refine design ideas.

Engage. To begin this unit, the class will watch a video of a land sailing competition followed by a discussion about what they just saw. The teachers will ask open-ended questions about the video that encourage children to reflect on what they saw, share their ideas for how they think the sail cars are able to move, and what features enable them to move the longest possible distance. This video and discussion will generate interest in the sail cars and frame the idea as the unit moves forward.

Explore. To test their thinking about the sail cars, students will move into a large area (cafeteria, hallway, etc.) so they can construct and test their cars. Teachers will put students in pairs to create a sketch of their sail car design before beginning construction. Once they have their design, learners will use the provided materials to make their design come to life. Students will build their sail car and then test them against a fan. They will measure the distance the cars travel and repeat the test two more times, writing the distance travelled on a sticky note to plot on a graph. This activity allows students to experience the key concept in this unit and examine how their thinking translated into the real world.

Explain. During this phase of the unit, students come together for a whole-group discussion. Teachers and students discuss the distances seen on their graph. Teachers will provide information about the graph, teaching them the name of the graph and asking them to make their own line plot in their notebooks. Students will also compare and contrast the cars that were able to travel furthest and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the different sail cars. They will then go back and re-evaluate their design based on the new information they gained from the whole-group discussion.

Elaborate. Students will be given the same materials they had access to during the Explore phase to redesign and retest their sail cars. Once they have made the changes they want, students will test their sail cars again and record their data in a table. They will also create another graph showing the changes in the distances travelled from their original and second attempt, allowing them to compare how the changes they made affected how far the sail car could travel. Students can apply their new learning and communicate what is happening with formal language.

Evaluate. To assess learning, students will complete a Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning response individually. They will answer questions about the sail cars, describe what made the cars travel the greatest distances. Students will also reflect on their own learning and the designs they created in their science journals. Teachers can look at students’ responses as well as their designs from their sail cars to assess their learning throughout the unit.

Ideas for Other Explorations

  • Solving a problem in the garden: the hose doesn’t work for our classroom garden; how can we water our plants?
  • Engineering a shade for the playground
  • Exploring simple machines (technology)
  • Using media (another kind of technology) to document change and transformation over the school year, related to seasonal changes

Lange, Alissa A.; Robertson, Laura; Price, Jamie; and Craven, Amie. 2021. Teaching Early and Elementary STEM. Johnson City: East Tennessee State University.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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Elementary Science Methods Copyright © 2023 by Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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