Georgia STEM Day 2013: My morning run

I am a STEM guy.  I have two math degrees (and some extra coursework on top of that); the research for my Ph.D. was connected to math learning, and most of my research is connected to it as well.  I am a member of the Advisory Board for, and an Affiliate Faculty Member of, the Georgia Southern University Institute of Interdisciplinary STEM Education.  I have had projects funded to work on STEM with local school systems, and I am a team member on RealSTEM.  So, most days are STEM days for me, but I am happy to see STEM getting its own day in Georgia.  Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia declared today, May 3, 2013, Georgia’s first STEM day.

runner's shoe on fog line of roadway mid-strideAs I was on my morning run today, which takes me through farms in my little corner of south Georgia, I was thinking about STEM day.  What about my run was related to STEM?  What questions from something as simple as a morning run could be used to inspire STEM thinking in schools? I started keeping track of my observations.  Here’s a list:

  • My pace on the deep, sandy, dirt road was a full 90 seconds per mile slower than when I was on the black top.  Why?  What forces were slowing me down?
  • What is wind?
  • The farmers seem to be planting later this year than in other years.  Why?  It has been colder and wetter than normal.  Is there a connection?  Has it really been colder and wetter?
  • There’s trash in the ditch beside the road.  What type of trash is worse for the water quality in the ditch?  Aluminum cans? Plastic bottles? A mixture?
  • What’s my body doing on this run? Sweating, heart rate, blood pressure, getting fatigued? Why? How?
  • There’s a car approaching.  Will I beat it to that intersection?
  • GPS is mapping my run and telling me how fast I’m going.  What is GPS? How does it do these things?  My GPS signal is “strong”.  What might impede the signal?
  • What’s in asphalt and why?
  • How do the fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides from the local farms impact water quality? Maybe they don’t.
  • How much water will the new golf course need for irrigation?
  • How much oxygen with the grass on the golf course produce?  How much CO2 will that grass consume?
  • Do the local farmers use GMOs?
  • I took these notes using Siri on my phone.  How might that work?!

I know the answers to some of these questions.  I was pretty pleased with how many questions I could construct while I made my way along. STEM is all around us!  I am sure there are many more.  By just looking at this list and asking “how?” or “why?”, there is a lot of room for exploration and inquiry on STEM concepts for Problem/Project-Based Learning.

If you are not a STEM teacher, you can still make use of STEM day.  For example:

How does public policy interact with STEM?  Are herbicides, pesticides, GMOs all bad?  After all, we have to eat.

Feel free to use my questions to stimulate discussion or projects in your classes. You can adapt the questions for different grade-levels.  Better yet, generate your own list for your local environment.  Have your students generate the list! I think those pesky, mandated, standardized exams are mostly over for the year.  Now’s your chance to give some problem-based, project-based, inquiry learning a try.  Ask questions. Think STEM!

If this blog post inspires you to have a STEM discussion or to do a problem-based STEM lesson, let me know about it.  Comment back to this page and tell what you did and how it worked!