Kindergarten Problems

School News
May 2, 2018- The struggle is real. A group of hungry goats is in need of another way across the river because a mean old troll won’t let them use his bridge. The bears in Goldilocks need a better fitting chair. The three little pigs could use a house that can withstand the Big Bad Wolf’s huffing and puffing.

Kindergarten students are coming up with creative solutions to problems found in classic children's stories through new units that utilize STEAM. The intersection of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics, is STEAM— an interdisciplinary approach to learning and problem solving that is inspiring imaginative work in classrooms and fueling modern entrepreneurism.

These STEAM units take place in VMS kindergarten classrooms every other week for an entire afternoon. Stories like the Three Billy Goats Gruff serve as departure points. Following lunch and recess, the students gather in a circle as Mrs. Szmyd reads the book aloud. Each story has an essential problem that guides the afternoon’s project-based learning activities. In this case, the three goats have exhausted their food supply. There are greener pastures across the river, but the only bridge is guarded by an ill-tempered troll. So, what are the goats to do, and how can the students help?

After a little discussion, the challenge is set. The kindergartners must use limited supplies to create a boat that can ferry the goats across the river. For today’s exercise, Mrs. Szmyd has provided tin foil, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, tape, pipe cleaners, and corks. Wheels begin to turn as the five and six-year-olds’ imaginations run wild designing creative combinations of materials to solve the problem. Some work in small groups and others choose to work independently as they put pencil to paper to sketch concepts for their boats. Though they may not know it, they’re learning about physics and naval architecture. Archimedes' principle; displacement hulls; catamarans and trimarans; rafts; creating stability on an unstable surface—Science.

Then it’s time to build. On one side of the room, a student works alone to give physical form to her design. But she discovers that the pipe cleaner she’s used as a mast is not rigid enough to support the weight of the tin foil sail she has created. An experiment threading a straw over the mast allows it to stand straight, but reveals that the mast now needs support at the base. A ball of tin foil attached to the hull solves this problem on dry land, but in the water, the boat is tippy because of the high center of gravity. Reflecting on the challenge, she and the teacher have a discussion about whether or not propulsion, i.e. the sail, need to be part of the solution. The mast is removed, and the boat floats. This iterative process of trial and error is Engineering.

Smiles and high fives abound as the boats take their maiden voyages in a water table. For those that sink, if field modifications don’t work, it’s back to the drawing board. For those that stay above water, it’s time for the real test—passengers. One by one, the miniature goats hop aboard. Circling back on the science, students learn that it matters where you put weight in a boat. For an added challenge, Mrs. Szmyd has a bag of pennies that the students add one by one to their vessels, practicing counting as they go. Some get as high as forty. Math.

Design involves sketching. Construction can be thought of as sculpture, especially when molding tin foil to suit your needs. And each STEAM exercise involves a drawing challenge. Today, students are asked to close their eyes and imagine that the goats have successfully crossed the river. They have found their greener pastures and are enjoying a well-deserved, delicious meal. What does this look like? Mrs. Szmyd prompts the students to draw, paint, or build with Play-Doh what they see in their heads. Art.

Reflection is an important part of learning and as a part of each exercise, students use their school-issued iPads to take photos of what they’ve created and record videos where they discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what they might do differently. The images and videos are uploaded to SeeSaw, a digital portfolio tool that they are using to show their growth. Technology.

Soren Hustad

So, the goats are fed, as are the imaginations of the students, who, by the way, eagerly look forward to their STEAM time because it feels more like playing than it does like “school.”