Best Elementary STEM Activities

elementary school children participating in STEM activities

If you have a passion for science and are thinking about earning a teaching degree, consider focusing your education degree on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics, as these are fields that many students naturally gravitate toward. Even the earliest learners in preschool and elementary school enjoy experimenting, building things, counting and learning about nature. As a teacher with a STEM degree, you can encourage this early curiosity and help students start on the path to excellence in STEM fields. There are many quick and easy STEM activities for kids that can be incorporated in your classroom.

1. Making Clouds in a Jar

Clouds are water droplets formed from condensed water vapor that attaches to particles in the air. This activity requires simple materials, including a jar with a lid, hot water, ice and hairspray. First, pour hot water in the jar, then invert the lid atop the opening so that it holds a handful of ice cubes. Leave it undisturbed for around 20 seconds, during which time the vapor from the hot water will rise and condense into droplets when it reaches the cool lid. Remove the lid, spray hairspray into the jar, then replace the lid and watch the water droplets attach to the particles of hairspray, forming a small cloud.

After the activity, have a discussion with your students about the water cycle, conservation, how rain is made or weather in general.

2. Cleaning Oil Spills

It is important for students to see how STEM activities can directly relate to the world. In doing an activity with students around how to clean up oil spills, you’re teaching them about engineering and natural sciences.

In this activity you mix oil and water in a container and add some feathers to represent marine life. Students then assume the role of an engineering company tasked with cleanup duty, using various materials like sponges, paper towels or spoons to remove the oil from the water and feathers. The goal is to separate the oil, placing it into another container without removing too much water or harming any marine animals.

When you complete this activity, students can discuss how an oil spill affects an environment and the animals in it, as well as how these instances can be prevented.

3. Number Match

Many young students are active learners who prefer to learn important concepts while moving or taking a break from sitting at their desks. Traditionally, this can be difficult to achieve when it comes to teaching math, but this numbers-related STEM activity will have your students out of their seats and thinking critically about numbers.

Using sticky notes, a marker and a whiteboard or large piece of paper taped to the wall, you can create a meaningful number-oriented game for your students. On the board or paper, draw groupings of dots, such as those found on the faces of a die, and scatter sticky notes with numerals on them throughout the classroom. The kids must then find the sticky notes and match the number to the amount of dots in each cluster. Rather than relying on memorization, this game helps students hunt for the numeric values of each digit that they encounter.

4. Lego Construction

Legos are a popular toy for young students to develop their imagination and utilize their creativity. Instead of keeping Legos in play time, however, teachers can utilize this common toy to teach students about construction and engineering.

Legos can be used as the building blocks to create boats, working individually or in teams and balancing function and style. Each boat can then be floated in a shallow storage bin full of water to see which type of construction is the most efficient. Try filling the boats with pennies, Lego figures or pebbles to see which can hold the most weight without taking on water.

5. Creating Salt Crystals

Creating crystals from salt is an extremely popular activity in STEM education. The ingredients needed are readily available and inexpensive: all that’s required is table salt, distilled water, a clear glass container, string and a spoon. The teacher starts by stirring salt into boiling water until it's dissolved, then pouring the solution into a jar, being careful to let the mixture cool enough to not break the glass jar. Suspend a string in the water by tying it to the spoon resting atop the opening of the jar. Leave it undisturbed and see crystals grow on the string over time.

While the teacher should handle the hot water at a safe distance from the students, watching the crystals grow is a fun, interactive experience for the children. Consider discussing the composition of a solution or seeing how other types of salt or water create different crystal formations.

6. Learning About Balance

One way to incorporate multiple STEM fields, such as math and science, into one activity is to have students create a balance scale. They will need to use a clothes hanger, some plastic cups and string. Punch holes into two cups and tie them to either end of the hanger with pieces of string. Suspend the hanger on a door handle and present students with a number of fun objects, such as action figures. They can then experiment with the weight of different objects and take turns estimating which will have similar weights.

7. Building Towers

A common engineering STEM activity in the classroom is to have students build the tallest towers they can by connecting toothpicks with treats such as jelly beans, marshmallows or gumdrops. Have the students work in teams and consider how to build a tower that is both tall and structurally sound. Another take on this activity involves building bridges and seeing which can hold the most weight.

For young children, this STEM activity can focus on geometry and the shapes they can create in the structures with their materials. Older children can also think about design and the technology behind structural engineering while honing their problem solving skills.

If you’re passionate about teaching children about STEM, consider earning your Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in STEM at Grand Canyon University. Visit our website or click the Request Info button on this page to learn how you can make a difference in the lives of the next generation through education.

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