STEM Like a Pirate


Whenever people think of pirates, they imagine crazy seafaring individuals who are out to steal whatever bounty they can find while terrorising the high seas. Up until about two years ago, I also had the same image of pirates. One of the first educational Twitter chats I stumbled across was Teach Like a Pirate or #tlap for short. As I introduced myself as a science teacher, I was pointed in the direction of the science-specific TLAP chat, #scitlap.

The whole premise behind #tlap is using a love of education to transform the educational experiences of students by creating learning experiences that help them to become more engaged and, eventually, further their knowledge of the subject area. Each letter in the word PIRATE stands for a different area of teaching that can be focused on in order to change students’ experiences.

  • Passion: whether it is content passion, professional passion or personal passion, teachers should find what they are passionate about to help pass that passion on to students.
  • Immersion: how can teachers completely throw themselves into their lessons to engage students? Dive into the pool rather than sit on the edge!
  • Rapport: this is one of the most important parts of the PIRATE philosophy. When teaching science, students need to be comfortable with taking risks and thinking outside the box. By building solid relationships with students early on, teachers can break down these walls and ensure that students are comfortable and willing to learn.
  • Ask and analyse: teachers are encouraged to ask for feedback and reflect on their teaching practice, which leads to the next letter.
  • Transform: teachers often ask for feedback, but usually do not act on it! They need to use the feedback to change their practice to make the learning experiences they create better for students.
  • Enthusiasm: none of these things can be done without having at least a small amount of enthusiasm.

Another amazing acronym that can be used to help change how students view their education is STEM. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, is an amazing learning tool to incorporate a range of subject areas in order to allow students to explore, use problem solving and to further develop their skills in using technology.

The great thing is that STEM activities do not need to cost the earth. One of my favourite STEM activities I did with my Year 7 class last year cost me $2 per group for a Make Your Own Robot kit from KMart. The class had been learning about forces in a Science of Toys unit, so it was a nice segue into this activity. The students were divided into groups and each one given a kit with the instructions removed. They had to work together as a group to put their wind-up robot together using trial and error. Once they had created their robot, they then needed to design a fair test to work out how fast their robot went.

The students had been looking at how to design a fair test throughout the year, so it was their chance to show what they had learnt about variables as well as extending themselves by calculating speed, which is usually a Year 10 skill. Students had to identify their independent and dependent variables as well as the variables they were going to control. They also had to ensure the reliability of their test by repeating it at least three times and calculating an average of the time it took for their robot to travel a set distance. As the students had not been taught how to calculate speed, they had to then use the Internet to find an equation that showed them what they needed to calculate it before substituting the data they gathered in their experiment.

The great thing about this activity was that it did not fit the ‘usual’ lesson experience. The students always knew that something different could occur at any moment and were always prepared to get in and explore and take risks to further their learning. Because I was using the PIRATE way of running classes, students always wanted more to push the envelope and to take their understanding of science as far as they could.

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Kelly Hollis

Kelly Hollis

Assistant Science Coordinator
Since beginning her carrer, Kelly has always put her students first. Throughout her ten years of teaching, Kelly has provided many students with a wide range of opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. As a high school Science teacher, Kelly strives to ensure her studnets are actively engaged and involved in their learning while integrating technology into the curriculum. Kelly is a co-moderator of the #aussieED Twitter chat.

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