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Stories from the Field

Lessons Learned: Shark Tank Episode: STEM

Melissa Hamlin is a 7th grade science educator at Central Middle School in Dobson, N.C. She recently received an NEA Foundation Student Achievement grant to create a Shark Tank-like STEM program at her school. Here’s what she had to say about her project and its impact.

Tell us a little about your project.

Shark Tank-Episode: STEM is a project that gives all students the materials they need to design and construct prototypes that relate to each standard in science. Students create computer presentations of their flow map of the Technology Design Process, their blueprint, the energy transformation of their prototype, and their sales script in hopes of "selling" their inventions to the "sharks" and receiving a "patent" for their efforts.

How does this project help your students?

This project gave all students an even playing field. All students had the opportunity to make a list of four items they wished to use from our STEM Supply Boxes or that they needed for me to purchase for their prototype.

In addition, students were able to apply their knowledge of the standards being taught as their prototype had to solve a need that related to the content.

The project was differentiated. The first Shark Tank gave students three choices: building a "helmet" to protect the brain (egg), building a working model of a body system, or building a prosthetic hand. 

Students realized the importance of testing their designs and of troubleshooting and redesigning when needed. They also had to demonstrate their understanding of the current standard and reinforced energy transformation of each prototype. It gave me another type of formative assessment as I was able to evaluate their understanding as they worked in cooperative groups.

What do your students say about the project?

Students were very nervous about "selling" their prototypes to our panel of sharks who included a content specialist, communications specialist, and technology specialist. They became competitive after the first Shark Tank and wanted to "win" the next Shark Tank.

What inspires you most about your work?

My students inspire me. As a teacher who has seen science neglected in middle school over the years and as a parent who has seen science neglected in elementary school over the years, I want my students to experience science outside of a textbook and to help them make real-world connections in all standards just as I want my own children, who love science, to keep that passion throughout their education.

What is your passion - in or outside the classroom?

My passion is to find new strategies to make science hands-on and real world for my students and to help them apply scientific concepts to other disciplines of science and to their everyday lives.

I am very appreciative to the NEA Foundation for funding this project.  I have been able to purchase a SMART board, two sterilization cabinets, and STEM Supply Boxes stocked with supplies that I will be able to use in my class for many years to come.

There’s still time to apply for an NEA Foundation grant of your very own! The application deadline for Student Achievement and Learning & Leadership grants is October 15. For help developing your proposal, be sure to check out our grant-writing tutorial.

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