Design Squad Global’s Super STEM Resources

From time to time I’m planning to feature free sites that I think have real value for students, teachers, parents, and anyone else who needs STEM inspiration. Here’s my first entry – a terrific, recently expanded resource from PBS Kids.

Have you ever stared wearily at piles of info from books, websites and multimedia, and wished for a genie to simply pop up and hand you a winning STEM challenge for your kids?

Have you longed for some sort of interesting and affordable challenge involving students in solving real engineering problems? And – let’s make this tough – have it also include a lesson guide that’s actually been kid-tested? Read on!

Design Squad goes global

These characteristics – engaging, affordable, engineering-oriented, and proven in the classroom – have been the main drivers in my quest for doable STEM challenges. And guess what! I landed on Design Squad Global. This award-winning PBS website turned out to be a game changer. (What would I expect, anyway, from the folks who create programs such as Frontline, Nova, and Masterpiece?)

You might recall the original Design Squad Nation that began as a TV show in 2007. It rapidly gained traction and morphed into a multimedia website that kept expanding with new learning opportunities. Fresh engineering activities appeared regularly, complete with teacher guides, parent guides, videos, and games. And the website was just plain fun!

The go-to site for STEM challenges

Not too many years ago, I remember helping a group of teachers who were designing STEM lessons. Working in teams, they first identified the big ideas and objectives from their science and math curricula. Then they began looking for engineering challenges through which they could apply these.

When teams shared their lesson ideas, I noted that quite a few of their engineering activities came from the Design Squad website – specifically, the page for Parents and Educators. Teachers had four reasons for landing there:

  • These were field-tested activities and contained most of the necessary components to qualify as STEM lessons.
  • All materials were open source and free. Lacking a big STEM budget, teachers appreciated the fact that these activities use inexpensive and easily accessible supplies.
  • The website provided educator training videos and guides. Some of these teachers back then had barely heard of STEM and certainly never taught from an engineering perspective.
  • Teachers could easily adjust the lessons to apply selected content standards and to take into account their students’ needs.

DSG in motion

I began recommending the site to every STEM teacher I met. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Design Squad stepped it up again! A new opportunity for DSG kids appeared. Kids could now sign in and accept a Global Challenge.

First, students read and mull over the challenge. Then they design ideas and approaches for solving the challenge and post these to the website. Working on this challenge connects them with kids from all over the world and gives them a chance to share and respect ideas of different cultures. (Not a bad connection with social studies!)

The latest big thing

Recently an email came across my desk from WGBH – the folks who produce much of the PBS programming – with information about a significant new resource from Design Squad Global – Global Clubs that involve kids in Inventing for a Sustainable Future.

In these clubs, kids focus on inventing green solutions to everyday needs and environmental issues. Now, that’s a winning initiative guaranteed to inspire middle schoolers!

The last sentence of that WGBH email said, “Please let me know if you would like to discuss anything further,” and it was signed by staffer Nicki Sirianni (above). I decided to take Nicki up on her invitation. I gave her a call to ask about this new resource and how it connected with the Global Challenge.

Nicki – a delightful, informed, and enthusiastic specialist – told me: “Actually the Global Challenge is separate from our clubs. The global challenge is open to any web user who wants to join! Our clubs run a little differently. Educators sign up to run a club, then we partner them with another club from another part of the world.”

Clubs, Nicki explained, “go through a series of engineering challenges found in our club guides at the same time as their partner club. Then kids identify a problem in their community and create an original engineering project to address the issue.” Lots of sharing goes on.

Nicki notes that educators can use the activities and lessons in their classroom even if they do not want to sign up for a formal club. Here is a link to more information and some videos about how the clubs run.

What can DSG do for STEM kids?

Being an avid STEM/engineering supporter, I’ve kept my eye on this site for quite a few years. Here’s what I noticed about DSG that dovetails with STEM projects:

  • Kids get really excited and involved in these cool challenges.
  • Challenges are open-ended with several possible solutions.
  • Activities use an engineering design process to guide kids’ thinking.
  • Resources stimulate thinking, collaboration, creativity, inventiveness, and other skills.
  • The site promotes a problem-based learning approach. Kids have choices and control in their learning.
  • Kids experience a first-rate use of digital technology at this site.

Engineering a Wind Power Station

So, when you need ideas for enjoyable, doable STEM challenges, the absolutely free Design Squad Global is as close to a one-stop STEM shop as it gets. You, your parents, and your students can access these STEM resources at any time. This is a site you need to browse to truly appreciate. Trust me – it’s worth your time.

PS: The PBS Design Squad Global team goes to conferences to connect with educators who want to get kids excited about engineering. Watch for them! They will also speak to educator groups. And . . . for more terrific and free resources, check out the Boston-based WGBH’s PBS learning media site.

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Anne Jolly’s best-selling book STEM By Design: Strategies & Activities for Grades 4-8 is a Routledge/ MiddleWeb publication. MiddleWeb readers receive a 20% discount from Routledge with the code MWEB1. Visit Anne’s book website for many more articles and free STEM resources and lesson ideas.

Anne Jolly

Anne Jolly began her career as a lab scientist, caught the science teaching bug and was recognized as an Alabama Teacher of the Year during her years as a middle grades science teacher in Mobile, AL. From 2007-2014 Anne was part of an NSF-funded team that developed middle grades STEM curriculum modules and teacher professional development materials for the Mobile Area Education Foundation's Engaging Youth through Engineering (EYE) initiative. Anne has also teamed with science and math teachers to help them develop and implement their own STEM curriculum. Her book STEM By Design: Strategies & Activities for Grades 4-8 is published by Routledge/MiddleWeb.

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