STEM & Light - Day 1

15 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT to identify a communication problem and research possible solutions.

Big Idea

Can you solve problems? Let's research how light energy can help us to communicate with others!

Setting the Stage:

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

This STEM-based Lesson (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is designed to allow my students as much time as needed to analyze and test ways to solve a communication problem.  In this lesson multiple things are being learned at the same time so constant assessment happens throughout the lesson. This lesson will provide opportunities for both a high level of discourse and allow for multiple ways to get to the desired outcome.  My students learning will be guided by their questions, interest, and attempts at finding a solution to their problem.

Throughout the lesson I be asking questions to facilitate the learning and students spend their work time brainstorming, sharing ideas, and testing their solutions. My students record their observations and evidence in their STEM project page.

By nature STEM lessons may go longer than traditional classroom lessons.  This lesson has been broken into to two lessons. In this lesson students identify a problem and do research on light energy and communication.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and talk partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.

As a management tool I have the Engineering and Design Process Poster projected on our Interactive Whiteboard.  I put my student's photos on magnets and as the children move through the different steps of the Engineering Design Process they move their photo to that step. This allows me to check in with groups and keep track of of who is still designing, evaluating or building.

Prior Knowledge Needed:

Students will need a basic understanding that light is made by light waves (vibrations).  Students know that objects need light to be seen and some objects give off their own light.  They discovered that light can pass through translucent materials but not material that is transparent or opaque. They discovered that objects that block light create a shadow and mirrors can redirect a light. 

Students will need an understanding of non-standard measurement and enumeration (counting to 50).

Students will need to know that problems are not just solved the first time they try it but will need to try it over and over again.  I always tell my students, "Mistakes are opportunities to learn! Let's learn something new!"



15 minutes

To begin my lesson I want to introduce my students to the STEM model.

Today you get to be an engineer. In our last unit you learned that is someone who identifies a problem that needs to be solved. The engineer does a lot of research by looking at books, reading the internet and even watching videos.  Next comes the ideas.  An engineer has to come up with a lot of ideas. Some ideas are good and some are bad but that doesn't matter. The engineer picks the best idea and draws a design. This design is like a diagram. Next the engineer gets to build the diagram with real materials and then s/he has to test it out!  If it worked then s/he's done and if it doesn't work you get to try again. It is very fun to be an engineer!  Let's watch Sid the Kid be an engineer!

After the video I show my students my The Engineering Design Process poster.

Are you ready to be an engineer? 

Identify the Problem:

10 minutes

The goal of this section is to pose a real life problem that is rich enough to allow for students to identify the smaller problems that need to be solved first. I have chosen to create a problem that is designed to allow for multiple solutions. This problem provides ways for my students to compare and contrast, tell why they solved it this way and most importantly it forces them to talk and explain their solutions to each other. 

Let's look at our Engineering Design Poster.  It says first identify the problem. Our problem that we get to solve is this:

Let’s imagine the power has gone out and we need to send a message to another first grade classroom using light energy. We have been asked to stay in our classrooms. Your job is to work with your workshop partner to design a device that will help us communicate with another first grade classroom.

Your job is to work with your workshop partner to design a device that will help us communicate using light energy.


30 minutes

Let's look at our Engineering Design Poster.  It says first identify problem and we did that.  Next we research.  How many of you remember doing research when we had to solve the communication using sound?  Do you remember when we had to measure how far the other classroom was?  Well today you have to do a lot of research too. Here is a question I want you and your turn and talk partner to talk about: "What questions do we need to answer before we can design and build something that will allow us to communicate with another first grade classroom?" Go ahead and share some of the questions you have with your partners.

I allow the students to begin sharing their thinking with one another. As they are sharing I record a couple of the questions on our anchor chart. I bring us back together to share questioning.  If I notice that my students are having difficulty developing questions with partners I use the whole group as a tool to scaffold the art of asking questions. In the whole group setting I record more questions on our anchor chart. I do this to support my students in posing testable questions and designing effective investigations to answer them? After we have a great list of questions I quickly type them up and  print them so my student can glue them onto their STEM Project Page for reference. These are the smaller problems that will need to be solved first:

  • What materials do we get to use?
  • Who do we communicate with?
  • Can we use our hands?
  • How far is the classroom?
  • Does it need to bend?


Boys and girls, look at all the great questions you get to investigate.  Right now you will get a chance to answer these research questions.  The materials you get to use are mirrors, flashlights, hands, laser pointers and anything else you think might be helpful. During this lesson one group of students asked for magnet letters. You can pick which of the three first grade classrooms to communicate with. Some will be easier than others. It is up to you.  

My students work to try to come up with answers to these questions. 

1.  They pick a classroom to communicate with.

2.  They decide if it needs to bend or stay straight.

I collect all of the work from today to look over the research and save for STEM & Light - Day 2.