Professional Development

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Defy the Limits of STEAM Learning Through Design

During Appleton's Afterschool Labs program, the sounds of construction, negotiation and laughter fill the classroom as students race to complete a Maker Day challenge.

"I like Maker Days because it's fun and creative. It allows me to be creative and be myself. It's one of my favorite things in Afterschool Labs," said Evelyn, an Afterschool Labs fourth-grader.

Maker Days are structured engineering challenges that draw upon a variety of skills, including designing, building, presenting and working cooperatively. In teams of four, students solve an engineering problem within one hour by using only their intellect, imagination and the 10 materials provided.

"Maker Days are different from traditional STEAM lessons," said Abbey Reeves, Curriculum Developer and former first-grade teacher. "Students freely explore every possible solution—real and imagined—as they hypothesize, engineer and test their creations."

Invite your students to participate in a Maker Day Challenge by following these steps:

1. Pose the problem. Instruct each group to design a mechanical claw that can help them win a prize from a crane game using the 10 materials provided.

2. Distribute materials. Provide each group with aluminum foil, balloons, contact paper, craft rolls, duct tape, marbles, paper clips, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks and rubber bands.

3. Design and build. Instruct each group to draw a diagram and construct a model of their mechanical claw design within one hour.

4. Test. After one hour, invite each group to test out their mechanical claw model on a bucket filled with bouncy balls.

To learn more about Maker Day Challenges and other STEAM education programs developed by Appleton's Afterschool Labs team, please contact Ellie Johnson, Appleton's Director of Extended Learning, at or 256.382.1087.


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