One of the highlights in last year’s educational calendar was the introduction of a STEM unit of work. This project saw the young people of Dunlea Centre become highly engaged, motivated and competitive in designing, making and racing model cars.
STEM is an approach to learning and development that integrates the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In a world where technology is advancing and new jobs are emerging, we as educators need to adapt our ways of teaching to the new ways in which students learn, connect and interact every day. STEM units of work provide our young people with the foundation to succeed at school and beyond in their future careers.
What better way to introduce this new style of teaching and learning than with an engaging STEM Racer Challenge? Students from all classes were set the task to design and build a model race car that they would enter into the Dunlea Drag Race; a race of speed. Not only were the cars to be judged on their velocity but also on their durability and aesthetic features.
It didn’t take long for the centre to be buzzing with excitement! Before students had even read through the requirements of the task, they were asking questions about the designs and ready to turn their ideas into models to test and improve. Educational discussions were being held in classrooms as well as on the playground between the young people. A healthy level of competition was present between the houses, not only between the students but also between the teachers.
The students from Ciantar House took on this challenge with an impressive level of commitment and dedication. Every morning they persistently asked, “When can we work on our cars?” Thinking themselves car enthusiasts, these young people were excited to use their extensive knowledge of cars to build model racers that would dominate the race and win them victory. The challenge had been set and the competition was on.
During theory lessons, students explored the inquiry questions: What factors affect speed in a vehicle? What happens when objects interact? How do Mathematics and Science concepts assist in design solutions? They applied this learnt content knowledge to complement the hands-on practical component of the unit. In the testing phase, students then utilised their understanding of Mathematics and Science to assess their design successes and failures, making evidence-based adjustments as they went.
While observing and listening to the interactions taking place during these lessons, it became apparent that this STEM approach to learning provided the students with the opportunity to develop and practise more skills than just creativity. Students had to use critical analysis in the testing phase of their designs and problem solve the adjustments needed to improve their car’s performance. Even though it was an independent activity where a high level of initiative was required, our young people often brainstormed ideas with their peers and assisted one another using appropriate communication and team-work skills.
When race day arrived, excitement levels were high across the centre. All the model racers were completed and the young people were ready to see who would be champion of the Dunlea Drag Race. Everyone made their way to the Ciantar day space where the race was to be held. The track had been made and set up by the students of Fleming House. Two by two, students lined their cars up on the track and raced them to the finish line. Energy levels were high as the cars sped down the raceway with each young person keen to see how their car would go against one of their peer’s cars.
The thrill of the race was felt by all in the Ciantar House and the students had high expectations for their cars. They knew they had tested them multiple times on the track and made the right adjustments to increase acceleration rates and overall velocity. It was this level of commitment and dedication to the task that saw Sebastian win the race for Ciantar House!
This was an individual victory, however the boys of Ciantar House celebrated together as a group, taking pride in knowing their teamwork and assistance to develop the winning design, had also permanently won them a spot in the Dunlea Drag Race Hall of Fame. Ciantar House 2018 – all winners!