The UNCG STEM TLC Summer Introductory Institute kicked off on June 28th with muffins, coffee, fruit salad and housekeeping. The Institute started with quiet whispers, soft greetings, and participants flipping through the folders they were given as they walked in. The sleepy feel of the morning was quickly shed as the day’s activities were launched. With housekeeping taken care of, the group moved into developing community norms, modeling strategies, thinking about what teamwork looks like and sounds like. When we engage in teamwork what are we doing? What are we not doing?
In between brief outbreaths we were engrossed in the work of expanding our understanding of engineering and technology. The “What is Technology?” activity challenged teams to reexamine preconceptions of what technology is. Originally examples of technology included gadgets, tools, ipads, smartphones, calculators, a pencil, simple machines. Groups were given an object in a paper bag. The group discussions about the objects in the bags were dynamic and reflected all we hope to hear when we are in our own classrooms with our own students, with all voices heard.
“Ours’ was hard.”
“This was fun.”
“Yes but ours’ (object) was so abstract.”
“Are they talking about the canning or about the instructions?”
These were a few of the thoughts from the group with a sheet of canning instructions. When brought to the whole group the question was asked, “Would this work in a classroom?”
“Well, in my room it’s about being fair. The toothbrush is very obvious.”
“Students need to be comfortable thinking out of the box.”
The group came back with, “It really caused us to exercise our thinking skills…”
“We originally saw it talking about the paper…the questions were key to help us getting back on track.”
“The abstract is helping them (the students) become risk takers.”
“They are going to start one way and maybe need to go back and rethink. It is ok to go back and rethink.”
Did the lively discussion change the way we define technology? Yes! In the end it was decided that technology is anything man made – tools or processes that make life easier and/or better.
The first design challenge posed to the Institute was the building of a tower out of index cards strong enough to withstand the weight of a small stuffed animal in the form of a lobster.
“We are committed to the triangle,” one group explained when sharing their design. The teams worked deftly, with everyone problem solving, laughing, testing, measuring, and building.
“It’s actually fun. The time is moving fast,” came the comment from one team.
At the end, each group shared their tower design. We celebrated successes, characterized by the lobster maintaining his position on the pedestal, with clapping and hoorahs from the whole community. Likewise, we celebrated the falling tower with the room bursting into applause. The group concluded the experience was all about teamwork, testing, improving, and the process. If there is a failure, there is an opportunity for improvement. From a thousand failures comes one success.
Our afternoon was spent in small groups getting smart about launching specific engineering units. At the end of the day we came together again as a whole group. Exhausted as everyone was, we regarded the day a huge success. When asked to reflect on the first day of the UNCG STEM TLC Summer Introductory Institute and think of words to describe the take away, the following list emerged – Engaging, Teamwork, Collaboration, Process, Problem-Solving, Enlightened, Open-Minded, Fun!