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20 STEM Activities for the New Year

December 20, 2020 by Christopher Olson

Collaboration and problem solving are just two of many skills gained from STEM activities within the classroom.  What better way for students to work together with their peers than to brainstorm, plan and cooperate together?  One of the many things I learned from my recent Vlog interview with Tommy Bryan on “Teaching Trailblazers with Chris from ETTC” is that we can tie STEM along with many activities and lessons that we as teachers are already implementing. 

If you are anything like myself, I tip-toed around STEM.  I was very intimidated by the topics of Math and Engineering and didn’t know how to incorporate them into my routines.  Unless it was written in my Math Curriculum…let’s face it, I wasn’t going above and beyond.  Things changed once I realized how easily the focus of problem solving could be tied into my daily lessons!  

Here are 20 STEM activities to start implementing and focusing upon in the new year!

Education to the Core Resources

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1 ~ STEM in the Digital World Vlog

If you haven’t seen my latest interview for our Teaching Trailblazers with Chris from ETTC YouTube series, now is your chance to check it out.  I sit down with Tommy Bryan, a 3rd, 4th, 5th grade STEM teacher to discuss some ways to implement STEM in the digital world.  

Not only did he put me at ease with STEM, he also encouraged us as teachers and provided several resources to use in all of our classrooms. Also, who would have thought that learning and playing Chess is such an amazing STEM activity.

2 ~ 20 STEM Challenges

20 inexpensive activities to prepare and try within your own classrooms!  

3 ~ Once Upon A STEM Volume 1

The first volume of this series features 10 separate STEM units with the added bonus of differentiated student readers that help build background knowledge related to the given challenge.

4 ~ Once Upon a STEM Volume 2

A teacher guide, student STEM journal, paired classroom books and so much more!  What more could a teacher ask for?!?  Check this series out for more ready to implement activities and lessons.

5 ~ Famous Inventors and Inventions

This pack includes more than 25 biographies of various inventors and their inventions!  Eli Whitney, Madame Curie,  Thomas Edison and Grace Hopper are just a few names included on this list.  You can incorporate these individuals into your STEM lessons to see how they planned, created and problem solved.

6 ~ FREE STEM Engineering Design Process Posters

Add meaningful signage to your classroom that you could easily pair with your lesson on the design process.

Science Activities

7 ~ SLIME!

Who doesn’t love slime?  There are numerous slime recipes within a few easy steps of a simple google search.  However, feel free to add various sensory items in your next recipe, or add some iron oxide powder along with some magnets for your next Science lesson.  The iron will react with the magnets and you created your own moving slime!

8 ~ Volcano Eruptions

Students can design their own volcano using various materials that they think would work best.  Students can be creative and think about materials like sand and dirt, but also everyday objects like tissues, boxes, cotton balls, etc.  Discussions can take place of why the eruption works better for some materials versus others.

9 ~ Thin Ice

I had a game as a child called Thin Ice that I loved.  I am taking the concept of the game and applying it to weight and mass.  The concept of the game was you locked a tissue into place on the structure and player by player would pick up a wet marble using tongs to place it on top of the tissue.  Each player would continue until the marbles break through the tissue.  Using this concept, students can use various objects, but be careful not to fall through the ice! 

Technology Activities

10 ~ Flashlight Fun

I use flashlights weekly in my class.  We have flashlight Fridays where my students read in pairs or small groups with all the lights out and just using their flashlights.  To make the use of a flashlight more STEM friendly you can have students cut a piece of paper to cover the light.

Ask a question to your students

They would work together to poke the answer into the piece of paper (safely) with a sharp pencil, push pin, paper clip, etc. 

When they place the “answer” over the light and shine it to the wall they will see their answer on the wall.  Another fun activity that you can carry over across subjects as well as differentiate accordingly.

11 ~ Marble Maze

Students can plan and brainstorm how to create their maze using various objects.  Legos work great with this task!  They could share their creation with another group and see if they could solve the maze using a marble to go through it. 

12 ~ Online Games:

Tommy Bryan stated in his interview to reach out and search for colleges and universities for resources in STEM. 

Maryville University ~ was just one of many that provided various resources. The websites listed on this link provide fun online STEM games for children from elementary through middle school age.  These games cover various STEM topics like coding, design, equations, astronomy, etc.

Colorado University Physics Simulators ~ Tommy utilizes these simulations within his curriculum.  They are fun and age-appropriate video games that are purely web-based.  These virtual games allow students to manipulate materials directly on the screen.   There are a variety of fun games that align well to various subjects across the curriculum.  

Engineering Activities

13 ~ Build A Community

Don’t be afraid to raid the recycling bin! After you properly clean and dry out some materials you can begin to create!  While the materials are drying is a great time to allow students to plan and brainstorm.  Create your community using washed out milk cartons from lunch!  Allow students to decorate their homes or businesses with construction paper and markers.  Brainstorm together and plan how the community will look as well as which buildings are near each other.  The students can create their own made-up town or create a mock version of the school community. 

Thank you Carolyn Bryan for sharing the idea of building a community as well as sharing pictures from her classroom.

14 ~ Marshmallow Building

To continue with a winter theme you can build an igloo of “snowballs” using marshmallows and toothpicks or a winter animal habitat.

  • All you’ll need is a pile of marshmallows and toothpicks for your student or child to start learning about structures. 
  • This activity can help them start to understand the design and technology behind structural engineering.  You can also test durability for cold winter wind.

15 ~ Design a Snowflake

Okay, so we are back in that recycling bin of yours!  Recycled items are great materials to create with and free!  Plan, design, and create your unique snowflakes by using materials like cut-up milk cartons, popsicle sticks, cotton swabs, etc.  The sky is the limit when it comes to creativity!

Thank you Carolyn Bryan for not only sharing the idea, but also the picture from her classroom and bulletin boards!

Math Activities

16 ~ Sticky Note Number Match

I am all about incorporating movement into my lessons.  You can really make this activity your own.  This game lets kids hunt for hidden sticky notes or cards hidden around the room.  

  • First, You can tape a sheet of paper to the wall, layout fact cards on the floor, OR write facts/words on your chalkboard/whiteboard.
  • Next, hide the sticky notes. Prior to hiding them, you can write numbers on them, math facts, words, etc. on them.
  • Finally, allow the students to hunt for the sticky note and place it on the correct card, area, answer to the question on the note. 

This is one of the easiest activities to differentiate! Also, it is so flexible to use alongside any subject or material matter. Number identification, counting, fact fluency, long/short vowels are just some topics to use.  Another way to differentiate is to have different color sticky notes for groupings, each group find their own specific color sticky note hidden around the room to answer. 

17 ~ Build a Balance Scale

This activity involves a plastic hanger, some cups, and string. You can create a hanging balance to compare and contrast various objects’ weights.  By tying a cup on each end of the hanger you can create a homemade balance.  Allow students to hypothesize which object weighs more before testing their guesses.  You can take this activity one step further by sorting items by shapes, materials, etc. 

18 ~ Measurement Activities

Don’t be afraid to use wacky and fun items to measure with.  With the winter coming up and leftover holiday candy abundant, we can measure using candy canes, measure using the Valentine Heart candies, or measuring with marshmallows or “snowballs”.  An important discussion to have is units in measurement.  This topic is more important using atypical materials because a desk is certainly different when comparing candy canes to marshmallow snowballs!

Games and Reading Activities

19 ~ Start With A Book 

By following my four-step STEM process you can incorporate the conversation of STEM with almost any book.  Students can brainstorm how a character can plan to solve his or her problem in the story.  Perhaps students will be able to problem-solve a solution to the character’s challenge in a different manner than the original author did.

STEM Activities for Kids posted a blog regarding books featuring Women in STEM. Check it out for a list of books to incorporate into your next read aloud!

20 ~ Board Games

The following are links to some fun kid-friendly board games that incorporate STEM.

What fun STEM activities do you incorporate into your classrooms? Please comment below with descriptions, photos or words of wisdom to incorporate STEM into your classroom. We would love to hear from you! I hope that you found one of these STEM Activities For the New Year to incorporate into your classrooms. 

Written by: Christopher Olson

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