Skip to Main Content

Solving The Problem Of Future Success

Solving The Problem Of Future Success

Solving The Problem Of Future Success

In Laurie Probst’s STEM classes at Sheboygan Falls Middle School, failure is guaranteed -- and that’s a good thing.

“I tell my students, ‘In this class, you will fail,” said Probst, who teaches STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to fifth through eighth grade students. “ ‘Not that you’re going to fail the class, but you will have failures and they will help you learn.”

Teaching students the engineering design process to develop their problem-solving skills is the goal of the middle school STEM curriculum. Probst is designing the curriculum, since this is the first time the middle school has been able to offer a complete STEM program, thanks to a new school building that opened this fall.

The previous 90-year-old building lacked sufficient space and infrastructure to offer STEM classes. It was constructed at a time when education programs and philosophies were quite different than current offerings. There was a small room in the lower level that was used for a Makerspace that classes could access, and a Makerspace Club was part of the school’s extracurricular program.

The new building, by contrast, includes a suite of three adjoining rooms, just for the STEM program. There is a maker lab that has no desks or chairs, but is equipped with a drill press and hand tools so students can do hands-on project work there.

There is an adjacent classroom area that serves as a “clean lab,” where students can work individually or in small groups or take part in large group instruction. Next door is a computer lab where students work with the software for various problem solving kits and activities.

This is Probst’s second year with Sheboygan Falls. Prior to that, she taught in the Waukesha School District where she helped open the district’s STEM Academy – a charter school. She also worked with a summer engineering program for middle school girls.

Her students have a variety of educational resources to use, including Lego Mindstorm Kits that teach robotics, small robots that students can program, and a Google virtual reality program that allows students to visit various places and time periods. For example, students studying ancient Rome can take a virtual field trip to the Coliseum, and students studying the ocean can take a field trip under the waves.

There are also resources to help teach students simple wiring concepts as part of the architecture and construction units.

STEM classes are required for fifth and sixth graders and are electives for seventh and eighth graders. Probst is using the state engineering and technology standards, as well as applicable science, math, and other learning targets to develop the STEM curriculum.

This year’s fifth graders will be the first to go through the entire program, whose overall focus will be to  introduce and teach the engineering design process – identify a problem, find a solution, test the solution and refine it as needed. When they enter high school, some students may then opt to continue with more specialized technology education classes.

But even if they don’t go on to other STEM classes, being introduced to STEM in middle school will help all students succeed in college or careers. Employers today in all fields are looking for students who can work together effectively to solve problems and adjust to constant changes in technology.

“The idea is to really get the students to be problem solvers, to apply their math and science skills, so they have work-ready skills when they come out of school,” Probst said.

And because she is preparing students for their future careers, she is also teaching them the authentic vocabulary for various fields. When they study architecture, students learn what the terms “buckling” “live load” and “shear” mean. Even if they don’t become architects, that knowledge may serve them well as future homeowners.

“The more vocabulary you understand, the more you understand what is going on,” Probst said. “It’s all about making connections to those real world situations and understanding their implications.”

One of her most important lessons is to teach students that “there’s no such thing as a dumb idea.”

“It may sound strange, but it may be the idea outside the box that works,” Probst tells them.

Even if at first it fails.


This site provides information using PDF, visit this link to download the Adobe Acrobat Reader DC software.