George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Middle School Students Taking Pride in STEM Innovations

Guest blogger Catherine Vanier shares her experience participating in STEMposium

January 18, 2011

Editor's Note: Today's guest blogger is Catherine Vanier, a 7th grade Science teacher and MESA science club coordinator in Richmond, California. Catherine chose to use STEMposium as a learning moment in her classroom and asked her students to tell their stories of STEM.

I teach a MESA class as an elective, in addition to my core classes. MESA is the Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement club. In MESA, I am always looking for new and exciting ways to guide the students to think critically about their education and the world around them. I also try to foster a sense of personal responsibility and leadership within my students.

STEMposium Contest

Over the holiday break, I learned about a contest called STEMposium. This is STEM innovation contest open to students and teachers. Anyone can submit a video of their idea for STEM education and 20 finalists will be featured at the final STEMposium event in April. When I learned that STEMposium was a contest open to students, I wanted to empower them to enter. I knew that just assigning the contest as homework wouldn't be enough. I also found a free lesson plan and materials on the STEMposium website that were specifically for bringing the contest into the classroom. I decided that this was a great opportunity for my MESA students. The STEMposium lesson gave me a chance to push my students to think critically and would be energizing for the new year at school.

We began by using one full day in class to go over other STEMposium contest entry videos and to write our brainstorms and drafts (from the worksheet). Then the students took the STEMposium assignment home to edit and practice saying their ideas. Finally, over the course of two days I had students use a computer in a separate quiet room to film themselves, while I taught the class a regular day lesson. Each student left class for only 3-4 minutes to film, and then returned for the lesson.

Contest Debrief

I am really happy with how well it went. First, every student was engaged. All students want to be heard, and all students want to win money. They also loved watching videos and working with each other. It also gave them a unique creative outlet. Second, providing students with the time and freedom to think about what could work or does work in education was a great way to remind them to take ownership over their own education. Finally, giving the students a voice empowered them as leaders and showed them that they can play a part in making change in education.

The materials facilitated a great lesson and experience for my students; I would recommend them, especially if you like things to be ready-made like I do. The Powerpoint and worksheet were both very clear and well-formatted. It was an engaging lesson. I loved the example videos on STEMposium's YouTube Channel.

Things to Do Differently Next Time

A warning though: my biggest issue was showing the YouTube videos at school with our protective Internet blocking system. I had to download them at home, and then keep the windows open at school so we could see them.

Also, It seemed hard for students to separate their ideas about how to improve education in general and how to improve STEM education. Many of the students' ideas were general ways to improve education that they said simply applied to "STEM."

If I were to do it all over again, I would put more emphasis on thinking about ways to improve the STEM subjects specifically. I would pre-teach this a little more by reviewing what type of learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math included. I would ask more guiding questions like "how could science education be improved?" and "how could we use technology more in school?"


Looking back on our experience, it was a great decision to dedicate some class time STEMposium. My students took so much pride in their work and took the assignment very seriously. Like all teachers, I work very hard to invest my students in their projects, but I have not seen them so serious about any other assignment so far this year. Every student not only turned in their completed worksheet but was ready to film their video when asked. Many of them even asked if they could come in after school to redo their video to make it better. The experience was great for their confidence and they felt that someone was listening and valued their ideas. Now it's time for me to make my video. One, because I feel inspired and two, because if their videos beat mine, pizza is on me.

STEMposium is STEM symposium event taking place on April 1, 2011 in San Francisco. For more information about STEMposium and to access the STEMposium lesson materials, visit the STEMposium site.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Math
  • Science
  • 6-8 Middle School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use

George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia is a free source of information, inspiration, and practical strategies for learning and teaching in preK-12 education. We are published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.