Teaching How to Reduce Impacts of Natural Disasters with STEM

Reducing impacts of natural disasters make great STEM challenges! Use these activities to reinforce the engineering design process (NGSS 3-5-ETS 1-1, 3-5-ETS1-2, 3-5-ETS1-3). Simultaneously, teach about fast changes to Earth’s surface (NGSS 4-ESS3-2).

Ms. Sneed Teaches How to Reduce Impacts of Natural Disasters

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, looked pulled up the geology pacing guide. “Lets’ take a look at our next set of earth science activities,” she said to her co-teacher.

“Next up,” she said Mr. Frank, “reducing impacts of natural disasters.”

Using the Engineering Design Process to Reduce Impacts

Ms. Sneed scrolled through the reducing impacts resource. “I love the way this unit does double duty. Simultaneously, kids learn about the engineering design process as they study fast changes to Earth’s surface.”

Kids learn about the engineering design process.

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Learning About Criteria and Constraints

The teachers studied the first activity. “Check this out,” Mr. Frank said. “Kids read this scenario about a farmer’s field and define the problem. First, they write a sentence or two that tells what the farmer needs. Second, they list criteria. Third, they define constraints, or limitations for solutions.”

“Great,” said Ms. Sneed. “Just what our kids need. And look at this: kids study some quotes and identify them as criteria or constraints. These really build kids skills for standardized tests.”

Kids learn about criteria and constraints while attempting to reduce impacts of natural disasters.
Brainstorming Ways to Reduce Impacts

“In the next activity,” Mr. Frank continued, “kids learn how to brainstorm. I love the way this scaffolds.”

Fourth grade students learn how to brainstorm while figuring out ways to reduce impacts of an active volcano.

Ms. Sneed nodded. “First, they learn how to define a problem. Second, they learn to brainstorm. All the while, they’re considering how to reduce the impact of fast processes to Earth’s surface.”

Using a Fair Test

The pair scrolled to the next activity. “Here they learn about the fair test,” said Ms. Sneed. “Rarely do I find activities for this part of the engineering design process.”

Students learn how to use a fair test to assess efforts to reduce impacts of a crumbling road.

Ms. Sneed pointed to a lab sheet. “In this scenario, a road is crumbling due to erosion. The lab sheet has been completed as an example. Great modeling. Kids use it to answer questions about the fair test. Once again, scaffolding…”

Two STEM Activities to Reduce Impacts of Natural Disasters

“And then,” she scrolled down a bit more, “they’re ready to do it themselves. “On the fourth day of the unit, kids design a prototype for a tsunami-proof home. Then, on the fifth day, they work on an earthquake-proof skyscraper.”

Fourth grade students participate in two STEM challenges on tsunamis and earthquakes.

“Fortunately, we can find most of these earth science materials at the dollar store,” Mr. Frank added.

Slowly, that famous smile spread across Ms. Sneed’s face. “This,” she said, “is the kind of stuff that makes me love teaching.”

Enjoy Teaching

For more than 30 years, I enjoyed teaching upper elementary students – mostly fourth grade. Now I tell my tales through a fictitious educator, Ms. Sneed. Like you, she grapples with day-to-day classroom challenges. And like you, she meets those challenges head-on. Hopefully, each of her stories will give you some ideas and inspiration.

Brenda Kovich
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