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• The problem should align with grade-level standards for science and mathematics.In a packed school day, neither teachers nor students have time for much “extra” curriculum content.
However, each subject doesn’t need to be used to the same extent.
Some solutions may rely more heavily on science and others on mathematics, but all must require students to use an engineering design process.
When my students and I draw a blank, these are some of the tactics I use: • Encourage students to come up with the problem.
This approach typically generates the most enthusiasm and buy-in from students.
Alternatively, you might build a context to help them connect with an unfamiliar problem by using videos, speakers, or field trips.
• The problem should be “doable.” For a STEM project to be successful, students should have access to the resources, knowledge, and skills they need to solve the problem—and the scope of the problem should be manageable.Teachers can more readily buy into teaching STEM if students are able to use skills they are learning anyway to address the selected problem.Problem Possibilities Now for the most challenging part: selecting a real-world problem that meets the above criteria.These challenges are divided into four major themes: sustainability, health, security, and joy of living.Some of the challenges that might inspire middle-school students revolve around solar energy, clean water, health care (including food shortage, disease, and accessibility), and urban infrastructure (including transportation systems and municipal structures).It must involve an authentic engineering challenge grounded in compelling societal, economic, and environmental issues that affect people’s lives and communities.Mythical insects, space aliens, and theoretical life forms are not real-world problems—at least not yet. If students don’t care about the problem, their buy-in will be limited.If you want to engage students and get them excited about what they are learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes, ask them to tackle a real-world problem.Then watch their amazement as they realize what they are learning in class actually has real-world applications.Online Resources So how do you focus your online research to target problems that students can approach with a STEM lens?Some of my go-to search options include: • If you need a jumping-off point, take a look at the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges.