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Building on STEM skills with Large Structures

Published March 4, 2021

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When we think of STEM or STREAM education, we often get caught up in the philosophy of it – training students for the workforce, familiarizing them with 21st-century skills, pushing the limitations of technology, breaking gender roles, getting kids to stay in school, making sure it’s more than just busywork . . . the list goes on.

However, at its core, STEM learning is still simply exploring science, technology, engineering, and math!

And, even though it can be easy to get lost in the whirlwind that is STEM education, it doesn’t have to be complex to engage students or connect them to reading or art, especially when it comes to elementary learners. Sometimes, the most straightforward activities can teach important STEM lessons.

One such activity involves the Large Structures Package from Pitsco Education. This hands-on kit for young tactile learners is made up of tubes and huge, colorful pipe cleaners. It might seem simple, but the kit’s primary purpose is to get learners acquainted with building 3-D structures and how to combine 2-D shapes to make 3-D figures.

But the learning doesn’t have to start and end with geometry. The Large Structures could be made interdisciplinary in almost infinite ways. What can you make with the supplies beyond the basic shapes? Have students design sculptures or characters. Ask your learners to write or tell a story about the shapes they’ve made. Incorporate lessons on area and volume. Instruct learners to sort the pipe cleaners by color or length and graph the data. There are so many directions to go!

And students might even find their own paths to take as they explore the Large Structures materials. Patty Moliterno of the A Mother’s Random Thoughts homeschooling blog writes, “In the beginning, [my son] went totally rogue and instead of just making structures, he also built every letter of the alphabet.” If your elementary learners make the alphabet or numbers with the structures, imagine what kind of learning adventures they could have.

On the flip side, for more structured learning, the available activity guides (which are aligned to standards) and user guide are all free in their digital forms, and they’re full of ways to teach basic geometry knowledge using the Large Structures. And, while the Large Structures Package has enough materials for 30 students, the Large Structures Maker Project has those same materials PLUS storage for them. In case you need to restock said supplies, more pipe cleaners and tubes are available at Pitsco.com.

Lisa Lewis, gifted intellectual instructor at Lafayette Upper Elementary, VA, agrees that the kit is great for both structured learning and exploration in the classroom. “The Large Structure kits have been in my classroom for many years. We use it for teaching angles and geometric figures and shapes. It was also one of the most borrowed items that teachers would request. You can’t go wrong with the structures for any age group. As teachers, we often forget to let the older students tinker and make for understanding. I am on a mission to change this for our students.”

STEM Explorer Pack and more

Yet another way to implement Large Structures for your students is with the STEM Explorer Pack, which is perfect for remote, in-class, or homeschool learning for Grades K-5. This pack includes four types of projects in addition to the Large Structures project and 15 activities, and its accompanying teacher’s guide is available for purchase.

The STEM Explorer Pack can lead learners to tons of new adventures! Megan Russell, homeschool mom and creator of the My Full Hands and Heart blog, writes, “(My 7 year old) chose to do this project. The activity guide presented information on large structures and then had him review shapes by answering riddles and creating his own riddle. He used some really big chenille stems to make several shapes. Next, he went on a hunt for different types of structures in our house – supporting, sheltering, containing, directing, and transporting. This was new information for him! Finally, he used the included cardboard tubes and chenille stems to create his own large structure! It was a bit challenging, but he loved it!”

If you’re interested in providing your students with a similar, but more advanced, exploration of geometry and structures, these resources could be beneficial:

There are so many ways to make STEM education happen effectively in your classroom, whether you’re diving deep into its philosophy or just skimming the surface. The Large Structures Package could have a place in your students’ STEM journey, no matter where they are.

“Everything fell into place with the STEM PD. I’ve been astounded by the creativity and the innovative ideas that our teachers have come up with in doing the design challenges that they’ve been given by the Pitsco facilitators.”

– Nicole Murray, district STEM coordinator, Duplin County, North Carolina

We enable young learners to develop the mind-set, skill set, and tool set needed for future success.

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