Watch an archived video of our May EdWeb webinar about these very ideas: http://home.edweb.net/webinar/top-stem-ideas-keep-students-engaged/
STEM curriculum focuses on teaching skills to students so they can be successful solving tomorrow’s problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Rather than teaching these four subjects separately from one another, educators design lessons that integrate all four into a cohesive approach based on real-world applications — often through project-based learning.
So why is STEM necessary for today’s youngest students? If we are going to prepare them for the ever-changing world of tomorrow, in which more jobs will be built around STEM fields, we must expose them to engaging problems that can be solved with scientific, technological, engineering, or mathematical approaches. Thus far, we are not doing enough. According to the United States Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and have an interest in STEM-related careers. This decline in proficiency and lack of interest in these careers means that the U.S. has fallen to 29th place in math and 22nd place in science among industrialized nations. According to the U.S. government, this situation is “unacceptable.”
We know that not every student will grow up to be a computer scientist, mathematician or bioengineer, but we also know that all students should be equipped with the skills that STEM teaches. We want students to solve problems, gather evidence, understand the information that is found, and apply it effectively. With advancements in technology, it is not a matter of what you know, but how well you apply the skills you have learned. STEM provides students rich opportunities to become better problem solvers. Engaging projects with complex solutions allow students to apply these skills effectively and meaningfully.
The best way to interest students in STEM is to provide them with hands-on opportunities to learn, explore, and evaluate. The ways we teach STEM looks different in the grades we are teaching. For example:
Elementary School — The primary focus for education in elementary school should be to introduce students to the STEM fields and how these fields are touching our lives every day. It’s never too early to highlight how these fields translate into the ever-evolving workforce. As we foster interest throughout their school years, they will gain a natural interest and curiosity, and possibly be inspired to take more courses in STEM. Teachers also have the chance to expose students to out-of-school STEM opportunities, such after-school robotics clubs or math teams.
Middle School — As students progress toward middle school, courses become more rigorous and challenging. Students often start to learn the fields of study more separately, being exposed to chemistry class or biology. Math classes are separated from science courses. It’s important for faculty to find ways to collaborate and bring the fields back together. Science fairs can provide an opportunity for students to dig more deeply into a topic that pulls from multiple disciplines and to take the time to engage with the scientific process, to answer a question or solve a problem. Often with projects like these, students also learn grit, because setbacks occur, but the fair must go on.
High School — In high school, these disciplines often become even more separated. Students even take calculus-based physics separate from calculus. But there are many opportunities to get students thinking about the bigger picture. In later years, courses like environmental studies can pull from multiple disciplines and expose students to real-world problems as well as real-world careers. After-school opportunities can be plentiful as well. Mathletes teams and competitive robotics clubs, and teams that work toward competing in something like the Physics Olympiad are great ways to extend student interest and allow them to dig deeper.
No matter what grade level, students should be exposed to STEM fields and be shown what career paths are available to pursue. Providing hands-on learning opportunities will keep them engaged and excited to learn more. In addition to fostering curiosity, we must teach students how to transform their curiosity into an ability to define and solve real problems.
Below are three fun STEM projects to keep your students engaged with hands-on learning at the end of the school year.
In this fun outdoor activity, students will create a solar oven and learn how it traps some of the sun’s energy to make the air inside the box hotter than the air outside the box. In other words, the solar oven is like a super greenhouse.
Materials for STEM activity:
- Cardboard box with attached lid. Lid should have flaps so that the box can be closed tightly. Box should be at least 3 inches deep and big enough to set a pie tin inside.
- Aluminum foil
- Clear plastic wrap
- Glue stick
- Tape (transparent tape, duct tape, masking tape, or whatever you have)
- Stick (about 1 foot long) to prop open reflector flap. (Use a skewer, knitting needle, ruler, or whatever you have.)
- Ruler or straight edge
- Box cutter or Xacto knife (with teacher help)
Step 1: Using the straight edge as a guide, cut a three-sided flap out of the top of the box, leaving at least a 1-inch border around the three sides.
Step 2: Cover the bottom (inside) of the flap with aluminum foil, spreading a coat of glue from the glue stick onto the cardboard first and making the foil as smooth as possible.
Line the inside of the box with aluminum foil, again gluing it down and making it as smooth as possible.
Step 3: Tape two layers of plastic wrap across the opening you cut in the lid — one layer on the top and one layer on the bottom side of the lid.
Materials for STEM activity:
- Elmer’s washable glue
- Foaming shaving cream
- Baking soda
- Food coloring
- Saline solution
- Bowl, spoon, measuring cup, tablespoon
STEP 1: Measure 3–4 cups of shaving cream into a bowl.
STEP 2: Add color! We used neon food coloring, but there are so many choices.
STEP 3: Next, add 1/2 cup of glue to the shaving cream and mix thoroughly. Add 1/2 tsp of baking soda, too.
STEP 4: Add 1 tablespoon of the saline solution to the mixture and start whipping!
STEP 5: Once you get the mixture thoroughly whipped and incorporated, you can pull it out with your hands!
STEP 6: Spend a few minutes kneading the fluffy slime.
Animals respond to different types of information that they take in via their senses. In this lesson, students will research physical and behavioral traits of an animal and program Dash to act out these traits based on stimuli in the environment. All groups will present their findings to the class.
- Research physical and behavioral traits of your favorite animal.
- Program Dash to mimic the behavior of the chosen animal based on stimuli in the environment.
- Create a costume for Dash to look like the animal of your choice.
- Present your animal to the class. Explain what behaviors you have chosen to mimic, and demonstrate the behaviors for the class.
To find out more fun ways to integrate STEM into your classroom, view our archived May EdWeb webinar, hosted by Bryan L. Miller, Educator Community Manager at Wonder Workshop: http://home.edweb.net/webinar/top-stem-ideas-keep-students-engaged/