One of the most powerful lessons I have taught was conducted in a freshmen Algebra 1 class while introducing the class to the concept of slope. I began this lesson by asking students to take on the career of a building inspector. As a building inspector they were going to inspect three different staircases within the school building to determine if the slope of the stairs were within building code. Prior to conducting the activity, students researched building codes regarding stairs.
They returned to class with this new information ready to conduct the physical part of the activity.
Students worked in groups of three to four and each group measured three staircases. After several failed trials of attempting to measure each staircase as a whole, students realized that they should measure a select stair in the middle of each case. Students measured the rise and tread of one stair from each of the three staircases they were given . They calculated the slope of the stairwell by determining the ratio of rise to tread and compared this ratio to the building codes they researched.
As a final component, each group of students had to create a report of their findings. The report had to include a diagram of each measurement, calculations of the slope of each staircase, and their determination of whether the stairs were within code. Groups were also asked to answer the following questions: What is the purpose of building codes? What would happen if a staircase did not meet building codes? What specifically would cause the stairs to not be within code?
This lesson brought students to a deeper understanding of what slope actually represents and students were able to give me a more conceptual definition that slope is a ratio that represents the steepness of a line. The following is a list of five components that my work-group in the MSU Urban STEM fellowship identified as key components of an ultimate STEM lesson, components which can be found in the lesson above :
1) Safe classroom culture: Each lesson is dependent on students feeling confident that they can explore their ideas, make them public, and be supported in their efforts.
2) Simplistic: The lesson is easily set up and conducted in the classroom. Lessons also take familiar, readily available items and re-purposes them to achieve educational goals.
3) Students explore through collaborative Inquiry-based learning. Each lesson allows students to deepen their understanding while participating in constructing their own knowledge through collaborative hands-on activities.
4) Relevant, real-world centered (careers, cross curricular): These lessons are applicable to everyday life and are pertinent for effective relational teaching. Therefore, the lessons empower and prepare students to be globally competitive.
5) Shift from concrete to abstract ideas: Children learn concrete concepts by interacting with their environment. Through hands-on activities, students can connect their environment to abstract ideas in the content.
William R. Brown has seven years of experience teaching high school mathematics at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences He is interested in bringing mathematics alive by connecting it to world in which students live. He is also interested in components of flipped learning.