# STEAM and tinkering: a successful connection

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Some STEAM topics related to physics, for example, motion, friction, acceleration etc. and related to Genetics, for example protein and DNA structure, can be difficult to understand for 12-13 year-old students or sometimes even boring. Starting from that I decided to use a different approach more engaging and more motivating: tinkering! I collected some waste materials and put them upon my teacher’s desk. I suggested to my students to form small groups (2-4 persons) and I proposed challenges. Later we reflected and discovered the physics behind our handmade objects.

First challenge: build an automaton with waste materials.

Materials: carboard, paper, skewers, glue, scotch tape, hot glue, plastic caps and of course a lot of patience.

I let students create their own automatons, they were free to choose materials, dimensions, number of gears and to decorate them. The main structure was made with cardboard while plastic caps were used for the gears and skewers for the axes. At the end we obtained 5-6 beautiful automatons.

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During the work students had to made hypothesis, try to solve several problems, and collaborate, just like scientists do every day. At the end we reflected and discussed about the work done. I introduced concepts like gears, circular motion and I asked my students examples of that from the real life. I have been impressed by my students’ involvement. They also liked a lot these activities and I decided to continue with this approach.

Second challenge: build vehicles with waste materials and organize a sort of Grand Prix.

Materials: carboard, paper, plastic bottles, cans, scotch tape, hot glue, plastic caps, skewers etc.

Students were free to choose materials and to build different vehicles. As the “cars” had not a motor, we used an inclined plane to let them move. The challenge was to build the vehicle able to travel the greatest distance. Every vehicle had a number and a team name, we organised the competition and we had a winner!

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This activity gave me the chance to introduce concepts like motion, acceleration, gravity, friction etc.

Some weeks later during a genetics lesson about DNA I proposed my last challenge. In this case students already knew theory about DNA, but I thought they would better understand DNA structure and genetic code with hands on activities.

Third challenge: use waste materials to build a model of DNA.

Materials: cardboard, paper, straws, strings, copper wire, polystyrene, wool thread etc.

Students worked in group of two or three and made their model, 2D models were frequent but we also had 3D models. Here some of the results.

CC-BY, provided by the author

The reflection about all these activities made with the students underlines that students loved this approach even if sometimes it presented difficulties and it needed patience and time to rebuild, to redefine the projects, to solve problems etc. It has been a good opportunity to better understand how scientists work and which skills they need to carry out their projects. Students were happy to work in groups and they learnt while having fun. In addition, they had the opportunity to be creative, experiment and try new solutions without fear to be wrong. Last but not least, using waste materials to build their beautiful objects allowed me to discuss about reuse, recycle and circular economy.

Mariapia Borghesan is a Maths and Science teacher and a Scientix ambassador. She loves reading, travelling and teaching. She is interested in new way of teaching in order to let her students love Science.