Grade 3 students studied biomedical engineering in STEAM class this week, then applied what they learned to design a ‘robotic hand’ out of cardboard, string and straws.
“The cool thing is I didn’t give them any instructions to make their hands,” lower school STEAM teacher Asha Molina said. “They figured it out on their own after learning about the Engineering Design Process and the importance of using it to create products that could be used in someone else’s daily life.”
The students’ goal, she said, was to engineer the fingers of their hands to move without being touched.
“Mine wasn’t working out the way I wanted it to,” Mckinley Krantz said, “so I had to figure out a different way.” Hayden Carlson said he made several attempts at solving a problem with his robotic hand. “I had to try over and over to keep the strings in the right place without breaking.”
Those problem-solving dilemmas present the moments when learning happens, like when Maaz Hawa exclaimed, “Oh no, Miss Molina, my whole hand broke!”
“Okay Maaz,” she responded, “reengineer and keep going. What can you think of to make it work?”
Problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration are the hallmarks of lower school STEAM. They are also considered 21st century skills, which can be applied in every subject matter at every grade level.
Already this year, kindergarteners have learned what inventors and engineers do and participated in foundational building challenges. In grades 1 and 2, students used maker mats to choose challenges that expose them to the Engineer Design Process, a critical piece of STEAM learning. Grade 4 students modified rules of their favorite games to change outcomes and created their own games that they presented to classmates for feedback. Grade 5 students tackled the IKEA challenge; designing furniture, creating a 3-D model, putting together a kit that contained all the necessary components to build it and challenging students in another class to put it all together.
In grade three, they moved on from marble mazes to more complicated mechanical hands. Instead of getting frustrated by their setbacks, Ms. Molina helped students move forward with their designs.
“Take a deep breath and keep going,” she urged the students. “Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time and that’s okay.” It might take several attempts to bring an idea to fruition, she said. “Innovative thinking is at the heart of lower school STEAM.” From his work station at the back of the classroom, Maaz Hawa proved her point. 

"I got it!" he said, and proudly held up his hand with the working strings and joints.

The Barstow School

11511 State Line Road • Kansas City, MO 64114
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