Patti Duncan: 10 AWESOME STEM Lesson Ideas for NON-Science Classes

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 5.42.31 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-14 at 5.41.57 PMSo what, you may ask, is all the fervor about. It’s Patti Duncan time and she’s doing what she does best: exciting students and teachers to learn and share, the DEN way. Her way. Just check out her photo. Dont you just love it. Her too.

Educator, scientist, technology consultant, professional development trainer. STEM and DEN Guru. Professional presenter: New Jersey Science Teachers Association, New Jersey Teachers Association, National Science Teachers Association, Chem-Ed, BCCE, PETE &C, and ISTE. Patti is currently the Manager of Instructional Implementation at Discovery.  And she is a very dear friend who provided me with so much information that made my STEM Cell Transplant a breeze.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 5.41.46 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.03.08 PMPatti’s presentation focuses on bringing STEM to classrooms where you would “traditionally” not find a STEM lesson in progress. That was then; this is now. This session is almost like a Before and After. Before this presentation: No STEM Lessons. AFTER this presentation: STEM lessons in all classrooms. Or at least in a few new places.

Patti said that despite coming from a science perspective, she wants to bring other disciplines to other classrooms. So, today’s presentation is not about STEM but TEM. Here we go. Tomorrow’s jobs, and today’s, come from STEM. All students need STEM skill sets. Just the way it is. Every student needs to be a part of a community, be a self-starter, know where to find things. STEM is not just for Honors or special curricula. It should be there in all curricula and classrooms. ScienceTechnologyEngineeringMath–but it’s also about what is important in education: developing lifelong learners with skill sets.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.12.26 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.15.41 PMEmployers need the skills sets of self-starters, independent learners, and workers who arrive on time. Is it about global competitiveness? Patti says STEM is about skills and getting the students there. You need to worry about how you are going to have them develop those skills. Patti says you have to plan for those skills; it doesn’t just happen. You have to make a checklist and observe, collaborate, collect. The next big thing in STEM is integration. Science teachers are ahead of the curve because of the S in STEM. But we need to see STEM in math, technology and all classes. Patti says math is the core because you can insert math into all the classes.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.18.33 PMCareer awareness is the third item that Patti says is so important. Patti said years ago if you were a girl and like math and science, your options were limited: teacher, nurse. That’s was about it. So she went off to school and in her junior year in high school, her guidance counselor showed her a poster with 110 things you could do with biology. Then she found direction. She wanted to be a biological illustrator, a graphic artist. Her father said, no go. Not an useable place to go. SO, Patti said bring engineers, mathematicians, accountants–via live or Skype–so students can discover what they can do with it. Those other careers.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.26.50 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.28.39 PMSScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.24.22 PMo, lessons. Get 100 pennies dated pre-1p82 and post 1982. And water. Find the mass density of a pennies. Many pennies. Here’s your math. So simple. You may need to go to the bank to get the prior and you may need to do some hunting. But you find and sort. And you keep them. You need plastic shoe boxes, plastic containers, become a MacGiver like Patti. Why is this important? Because the pennies have different densities. When you graph the results, you have STEM. Do the activity first.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.31.46 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.34.10 PMYou can also do this activity with minerals and water density/displacement. And you can do this in an English class. A technology class. Any class. If a student walks in and says we did this in…you make that student your leader. That’s STEM. If another teacher complains you are teaching their subject, take them to lunch and ask them what else you can do. Get that teacher to lead. That’s STEM. Collaborate with middle and high school teachers and elementary; visit and share. And teach your students to learn how to manipulate many devices. Technology is not just computers. Tap into your high school teachers for equipment, supplies, devices–to borrow.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.36.18 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.39.02 PMPatti admits that Life Science is a harder place to do STEM, but working on probability is one way. Probabilities and ratios and learning how those things relate to their other classes. Sometimes you should watch the Khan Academy before you go into a unit. But not necessarily always. Just an option because so much is out there. Can you use games to teach STEM. How about cut the rope. It’s physics. How about BubbleBall. Physics. A 12-year-old created an app. Eventually, after a million downloads, he made a newer version and sold it for 99 cents. Not bad. Patti had quite a few glitches to overcome and she did it masterfully; I just lost my entire Firefox two rows of tabs and am regrouping. Consequently, I missed some of Patti’s presentation.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.46.49 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.48.43 PMHow about Storm Chasers for STEM. Take a look at the skills involved in STEM and weather. Information gathering, collating, interpreting. Patti promises a link that will take you to her resources. Patti loves the Siemens Academy. She suggests you visit it. Another STEM unit could look at water and erosion and the impact on soil.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.55.21 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.57.05 PMTime management, understanding real world skills, budgets and a host of other roles exist, and students need to learn them and then apply them. What is STEM not: teacher directed. Not a lot of things. See the photo.

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You can view Patti’s presentation below:






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  1. Cindy Wallace said:

    I saw Patti’s presentation via live stream. Do you happened to know if the video has been archived and if so, where? I want to share your take-aways and the video with my colleagues. Thanks so much!

  2. Sandy Sullivan said:

    Hi Patti,

    I attended your seminar at NSTA Chicago 2015, and I have a few follow-up questions, but can’t seem to find your email. Could you possibly email me? Thank you!

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