Three-year-old Hannah came home from school with a question. His teacher had placed a frozen bowl of water and plastic …
Three-year-old Hannah came home from school with a question. His teacher had placed a frozen water bowl and plastic animals on the table and the class saw him thaw. But how did he freeze in the first place?
The question sparked experiments at home, with bowls placed in the fridge, freezer and in the kitchen. It made Judy Hallinen, her grandmother, laugh, and it illustrated a point.
“These home experiences allow children to understand how the world works,” says Hallinen, assistant vice-president of outreach and director of the Gelfand Center at Carnegie Mellon University.
Hallinen and other education experts say STEM activities for children, hands-on projects that can be done in the classroom or at home, are essential in nurturing the idea that science, technology, engineering and math is relevant in everyday life.
“It’s never too early to start engaging young children in science and STEM,” says Erika Shugart, executive director of the National Science Teaching Association. “Resources and activities inside and outside the classroom that engage young learners, such as examining interesting objects, field trips, and participating in STEM activities, elicit interest. ”
“Unfortunately, the average elementary class spends less than 20 minutes a day on science, but almost 90 minutes on English language arts and almost an hour on math,” says Shugart. “For many students, limiting opportunities for early science learning in elementary school leaves them unprepared for science and STEM classes in middle and high school. It is important that we emphasize the value of science and STEM education, especially at the elementary level. “There’s a critical difference between saving for college and saving for K-12, which is the time horizon,” says Mark Kantrowitz, financial aid expert and former editor of Savingforcollege.com. “When you save for college, if you start saving when the baby is born, you’re 17 before you need the money. If you’re saving for Kindergarten to Grade 12, you might only be five.[Read: How to Handle Bullying at School.]
STEM activities at home
STEM activities are creative experiments and projects that can teach real science principles in a fun and hands-on way. Here are some examples:
Created at the Gelfand Center, the Bridge building challenge explores engineering ideas. Use a range of materials – spaghetti noodles, marshmallows, toothpicks, gumballs and more – to find out which models hold up the best or carry the most weight. The center offers to photograph the drawings before testing them, which sometimes destroys them. Additionally, “students should be reminded not to eat bridge building components if edible materials are used. ”
Cloud in a jar
This activity comes from the Gift of curiosity and teaches the cycles of water, condensation and states of matter. Pour hot water into a jar. Rotate it to warm the sides of the pot. Place a lid on the jar and several ice cubes on this lid. Leave it on for about 20 seconds. Remove the lid and spray hairspray in the jar, then put the lid back on and watch the clouds form!
fibonacci numbers, the mathematical models that are often found in nature, are fascinating. They are not normally taught in the lower grades, but they are easy to understand for school-aged children. Counting the number of spirals in the yellow center of a daisy, for example, or the spirals of a pine cone are good ways to explain them. Mensa for kids has more ideas.
Oil spill cleanup
This activity teaches how oil spills impact the environment and how chemical and environmental engineers play a role. Use trays filled with a few inches of water, feathers, straws, cotton balls and sponges. Add a little oil. Students can devise strategies to extract oil from a feather and other “wild animals” from their “ocean”. Read more in this article from Coalition for After School Science.
Home education center explains how to use Epsom salts and food coloring to grow crystals in a jar. Use an equal ratio of salt and hot water and mix them together in a glass jar. Add food coloring to color the crystals. Put the mixture in the fridge and check in a few hours to see a crystalline surprise.
Build a catapult
STEM activities for children explains how to build catapults from frozen pop sticks, rubber bands, and other materials. Then see how far the mini pumpkins can fly by measuring the distance. The biggest problem may be what to do when they are past the end of the tape measure.
Create a scale
This activity helps young learners explore weight. As we grow up explains how to use plastic hangers, cups, and string to make hanging scales that students can use to compare the weights of different objects. Have students ask questions such as “How many LEGOs does this little car weigh?” ”
Building with jelly beans
A bunch of jelly beans (or marshmallows or corn candies) and toothpicks is all you need to start learning structures and engineering. Connecting toothpicks with jelly beans helps teach children how shapes and designs work. The activity teaches the concepts behind structural engineering. Read more on Lemon and Lime Adventures.[Read: Back-to-School Safety Tips.]
This project, found on the Frugal pleasure website, puts a STEM twist on homemade slime that’s a staple for hands-on, tactile learning. Adding iron oxide powder to the mixture gives the sludge metallic qualities and allows it to react with strong magnets. Kids can make it crawl!
Measure pi by measuring the circumference of an object with a string, then measure the diameter and divide. No matter the size of the object, if it is really round the answer is pi (3.14). Fun math and geometry games like this are a great way to celebrate Pi Day on March 14 each year. Read more on School.
Link activities to learning
Education experts claim that STEM activities are most useful when linked to learning concepts.
Whitney Jackson, Professional Development Coordinator at the Center for Mathematics and Science Education at the University of Mississippi and former teacher, says connection is essential.
“I talk to teachers who do fun things, but it’s not related to the content,” she said. “It’s usually the part that’s missing, and that’s an important thing.”
The center helps connect STEM experts with classroom teachers for demonstrations. Likewise, the Gelfand Center of which Hallinen is director also organizes STEM workshops and demonstrations.
Hallinen says it’s easy for parents to relate activities to learning if they focus on answering questions as they arise. Experiences often yield more questions, which in turn yield more experiences.
“It can be a fun way to spend an afternoon,” she says. “But if you ask a few key questions, it can really increase learning.”[READ: How to Build Digital Literacy for Your K-8 Child.]
Learn more about STEM activities
There are many resources to learn more about teaching science, technology, engineering, and math, and activities that can help children learn. Here are some examples:
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