Teachers, if you’ve done STEM activities for awhile, you may be able to relate to these struggles:
- Students seem to lack creativity. They’ll often just reproduce something they’ve already seen.
- Students need a LOT more practice with critical thinking.
- When it comes to STEM activities, students often want to blow right through planning and get to building.
Any of that resonating with you today? Let’s talk about it!
I’ve spent the last year obsessed with creating resources that solve these problems and can be done in under 30 minutes. Today, let’s discuss three resources I created to address the three struggles above.
STEM Activity 1: Design Domino
In this activity, students randomly pair an animal with an object. They must create a design customized for their animal. (Think: skates for a kangaroo!)
The pairings require innovation because they don’t exist. There will be nothing for students to copy from the real world. Furthermore, they’ll have to think very critically about how to customize for the animal, how the animal might use the object, obstacles and a whole host of other considerations.
Here’s the thing: this is a planning exercise. The students don’t actually build their designs. (Of course, if you want to extend in another class period, you could have them create models or prototypes, but it isn’t necessary.)
You can just tell your students an animal and object of your choosing, or you might want to check out the resource on TPT. It comes with cards (pro tip: print & laminate). There are 432 possible design combinations, student reflection pages, animal information and more inside!
STEM Activity 2: STEM Improv™
In this activity, students randomly select an object, function, and material. If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, this is like the unconventional materials challenge — my personal favorite every season!
The format is simple:
1. Students spin a wheel (or pull a printed card) to randomly select from three categories:
*The materials lists include some unconventional building materials (like crayons!) resulting in whimsical, often hilarious, designs like the one below. Because students are planning but not actually build prototypes for their designs (unless you choose to extend), you do not need to provide materials to students.
2. Next they create a design plan & answer questions about their initial plan.
3. If there is extra time, sharing designs, discussions & extensions are optional. (Kids love the chance to share, so it’s a good idea to make some time at least once a week to share out their favorite recent design ideas.)
Want to try it out for free? Grab the back-to-school themed freebie! Don’t worry, this will work for any time of the year. 🥰
STEM Activity 3: Stop the Story STEM™
In this activity, you’ll either read a story aloud or students may read on their own. They’ll stop the story each time they hear any character encounter any problem — big or small. Then on their own, or in a group, they’ll choose a problem they’re interested in designing a solution for and will create a design board to visually plan their designs.
Just like the activities above, students don’t need to build models or prototypes, but you can decide to do so as an extension if you’d like.
I love that this activity integrates ELA, really gets students focused on the story, and gives them choice in which problem(s) they want to solve. Can’t you just imagine a bulletin board for The STEM of Little Red Riding Hood? I see design boards for a new basket for Little Red, a new security door for Granny, transportation across an unsafe forest for Little Red, a sustainable food supply for the Wolf, and more!
I’ll be working on several stories this year. To see what’s available so far, head to the Stop the Story STEM™ section of my TPT shop.
Remember, becoming an effective planner takes practice – and maybe a dash of personality too! Check out my post 3 Tips for STEM Challenge Planning for more!