STEM Projects Set British International School Apart

Innovation blossoms in immersive STEM projects for young students at British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park. Learn how creativity blends with academic learning.

Year One students at British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park (BISC-LP) are only 5 and 6 years old, yet they’re innovating through engaging STEM projects that take their imaginations into space. Through a collaboration with MIT, students at BISC-LP learn about evolving science and technology, then create their own solutions in a design lab. “We gave our Year One students the task of creating a planet rover to pitch to NASA,” explains Anne McVey, Year One Class Teacher at BISC-LP. The students are encouraged to be creative, but their designs must be functional, too.

To combine classroom learning and literacy, the students started by looking at each planet in the solar system and studying their various attributes. “We read about the Mars rovers and discussed which were successful and unsuccessful and why,” McVey says. Students then designed their own rovers using sustainable materials. “They could use boxes and yogurt pots and be creative, but the entire project was child-led. They had to solve problems using their own designs.”

Students were free to design their rover for a planet that already exists, or they could imagine their own planet. “Some chose Mars, but others focused on an imagined planet which allowed their creativity to run wild,” says McVey.

Designing, tinkering and reflecting

Students got to work in BISC-LP’s design lab. “They were so excited to use tools and be imaginative,” says McVey, adding that at each step along the way, students posed informed questions. “This project allowed them to question what they were learning and really pushed their questioning skills. I realized that this is definitely a topic they want to explore further.”

By embodying the classroom ethos that “mistakes are good,” students adopted a trial-and-error approach to their work, McVey says. “We learned that in real life, the rovers didn’t always work but that NASA worked hard and didn’t give up. Students took notes and changed their materials. And they were really good at giving positive feedback and being self-reflective. They were not too precious about their designs because they learned it was about the process and not necessarily the end result.”

While many children began with a simple box, that box triggered imaginations, says McVey. “One child worked with aluminum foil as a solar panel but others used hand drills and saws to build a camera using a yogurt pot on a rod that moved up and down,” she says. “Some made wheels and moving parts, while others thought carefully about how an astronaut could get in and out of the vehicle or they made shovels to collect dirt.”

As BISC-LP’s Year One students put math, science, literacy, creativity and technology skills together to build their rovers, they put STEAM learning to the test — and likely far exceeded the kindergarten-level projects their own parents remember doing. And, while they learned plenty of facts about the makeup of planets, they also developed skills they can readily apply to real-world situations, including weather patterns, climate change and the feasibility of human life on other planets.

“What’s really key is how young these children are and how they embraced descriptive language and creative nonfiction writing plus the transferable skills of research and critical thinking,” says McVey. “We could model for them how to create 18 identical rovers but that wouldn’t teach them the skills and allow them to be creative. Instead, they embraced ownership of their own learning and development and that’s priceless.”

Learn more about British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park at bischicaoglp.org.

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