So much of the discussion around education nowadays revolves around STEM. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is important to prepare today’s students for the world that they will enter once they’ve left school.
STEM teaches students how nature operates, how to get the most out of emerging tech, how to make changes to the world around them, and how to understand the numbers and formulas that have allowed us to make the advances that power society.
By incorporating daily STEM activities into lesson plans, teachers are able to demonstrate concepts that may be hard to visualize otherwise, foster critical and creative thinking, and build excitement among students of every demographic for the world of STEM.
Getting Young People to Invest in STEM
To get the most value out of daily STEM activities, you need to get a certain level of buy-in from students. If your students have already decided that they aren’t good at STEM or have made up their minds that it is boring, no STEM activity is going to reach them.
By creating exciting, memorable experiences around STEM, you increase that all-important buy-in from students. Generating an interest and feeding that interest in the classroom can get your learners invested in STEM education for years to come. But how do you make that happen? Through the power of unique, live experiences.
NTC’s educational outreach programs bolster STEM education efforts by creating engaging experiences that encourage buy-in. NTC’s K-12 educational outreach is designed to encourage learning pathways on STEM topics. Engaging students with daily STEM activities encourages learning that is not only valuable but can also be viewed by students as a source of fun and fascination!
NTC’s live performance or live streamed content creates excitement and a memorable experience that drives long-term buy-in from students. This investment carries over into the classroom for quick STEM activities, large projects and community action.
These live engagements also help remind students that STEM is a wide-ranging field. Even if someone doesn’t like one area of STEM, there are plenty of subjects under the STEM umbrella that can engage their interest and help them develop necessary skills for the real world.
Increased engagement is particularly important for girls in grades 6-12. For many years, studies have shown that girls are less and less engaged with STEM during these years. The American Association of University Women estimates that women make up only 28% of the STEM workforce in America.
Increasing student interest in STEM with dynamic engagement like NTC outreach programs in conjunction with daily STEM activities can help maintain student curiosity about STEM. This helps create a more diverse and effective STEM workforce in the future.
What Makes a Good STEM Activity?
A good STEM activity is enjoyable for learners without sacrificing educational or experiential content. That means that DIY STEM projects, structured lessons and online exercises can be sources for high quality daily STEM activities.
It is also important that activities tie into larger learning goals. For example, if a student is learning about the water cycle, an activity that focuses on computer programming might be fun but won’t be as educationally effective as it could be.
Daily STEM activities can build on the initial engagement created by an NTC education outreach program to further build STEM skills. This can make STEM a source of fun instead of a source of intimidation. It opens class time up to experiential learning that can expand students’ piqued curiosity.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled some simple STEM activities that can be done at home or with small groups in a classroom setting.
Water Cycle in a Bag
Students visualize the water cycle and appreciate the different states of matter. They learn that there is a limited amount of water on Earth that switches between these states.
- A clear, sealable plastic bag (about sandwich size).
- Food coloring
- Fill the clear plastic bag with about a fourth of a cup of water.
- Add two drops of food coloring to make it easier to see the water.
*If using a larger bag, increase the amount of water, but keep a similar ratio of water to empty space.
- Seal the bag and secure it to a window that gets regular sunlight.
- Over time, students will be able to see the water evaporate, condense, and reconstitute as a liquid.
- Have students record what they observe.
Sometimes fun STEM project ideas flow into each other. As your learners see how water changes states in their bags, you can expand into other states of matter by putting down a tablecloth and mixing cornstarch and water.
- Tablecloth and pan
- Food coloring (optional)
- Put down the tablecloth to keep surfaces clean.
- Mix Cornstarch and water together in your pan with optional food coloring.
- Have students play freely with the substance, let them experience it on their own terms.
- Ask questions about whether they think it is a liquid or solid and why they came to that conclusion.
- Mediate a polite conversation and debate between opposing student views, encouraging use of evidence from their observations of the substance.
This project makes a slimy, messy substance that most kids love to play with. When they squeeze it, it feels solid. When they let it go, it flows like a liquid. It’s weird and fun and gives you the chance to explain non-Newtonian liquids. Feel free to add food coloring to make it stand out.
A great way to get students to understand engineering and architectural basics is with challenges involving building structures with toothpicks. Use marshmallows or gumdrops, or similar soft foods as the connection points between toothpicks and see what your group comes up with.
- Soft foods such as small marshmallows or gumdrops
- Distribute toothpicks and gumdrops to small groups of students.
- Allow students to experiment with building whatever they wish.
- Reflect with students about what formations seemed the most sturdy or least sturdy.
- Provide a challenge to your groups such as building the highest free-standing tower or longest bridge.
- Show your students a structure that you have built and challenge them to reproduce it.
This activity can become a series of STEM engineering projects. The first time you bring out the toothpicks, let them build whatever they want, then talk about what structures were the most stable and why that is. Then give them challenges.
These challenges can involve building the tallest free-standing tower or the longest, sturdiest bridge. You can show them a dome and ask them to make their own. Just get them thinking outside the box and using critical thinking and problem solving skills as they build their own, unique structures.
And when all is said and done—there are candies or marshmallows to eat!
Coding Algorithm Games
Part of STEM education is learning about coding and how the technology that drives our daily lives works. This activity uses an obstacle course that students build to teach about coding algorithms.
- Building blocks such as Lego or Mega Blox
- Movement cards—cards that each have one specific movement on them such as “two steps forward” or “turn left”
- For life size activity, use tables or desks
- Break students into small groups to build unique mazes with their blocks.
- Have them place a figure in the maze.
- Move the figure according to movement cards, first have them draw cards at random, then let them organize their cards before moving their figure.
- Reflect on the differences between random input and organized motion—did either go smoothly? Why or why not?
- Let the class vote on their favorite maze and recreate it using tables and desks.
- Have a student serve as the life-size figure and use planned movements to get them through the maze.
This seems like it might be complicated for a daily STEM activity, but don’t be intimidated! These kinds of games make for great, easy STEM projects at home or in the classroom.
You have your group of learners build an obstacle course. This can be built on a small scale with building toys or on a large scale by moving desks around a classroom to make a maze. Then students take movement cards with directions on them and try to put them in an order that will allow their robot or classmate to navigate the course.
Building the course encourages creative thinking, and having your students put all their movement cards in order before their maze-runner enters the course challenges their spatial awareness and critical thinking.
A movement card in the wrong place can result in a group’s maze-runner getting stuck against a wall or going the wrong way.
This demonstrates how a simple error can throw off a string of computer code and how important it is to record your process so that you can go back and fix a bug. As an extra challenge, when playing this game with a human maze-runner, you can blindfold them so they can only rely on the commands their group has established when they move.
These Are Just the Beginning
There are so many valuable STEM activities to be found online. STEM for kids is a hugely important area of learning. These three daily STEM activities barely scratch the surface of great educational projects that can be done at home or in the classroom.
With memorable engagement and a way to encourage buy-in, daily STEM activities can drive STEM interest for students of all ages. Instead of asking, “what is STEM for kids?” you can help make STEM education real and tangible.
By engaging student imagination with an NTC outreach program, student performance, involvement, and passion for STEM is likely to remain high throughout their school career.
The future of every STEM industry is in the classroom right now. With a focus on daily STEM activities, you can help ensure that the future stays bright.