Promoting STEM Education in Elementary School

students doing a science experiment in class

STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education in elementary school and secondary school is a critical springboard for students who want to pursue postsecondary STEM degrees and, eventually, STEM careers. Yet, the U.S. lags behind other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, ranking 25th out of 37 in mathematics literacy and 7th out of 37 in science scores.1 If you aspire to become an elementary school teacher, you could help promote STEM to kids, preparing future generations to tackle modern challenges.

In This Article:

Why Is STEM Education in Elementary School Important?

Engaging kids in STEM activities is important for a number of reasons. First, it can prepare them for modern job opportunities in high-tech fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job growth rate for all types of STEM occupations is expected to be 10.8% from 2022 through 2032, faster than average,2 whereas non-STEM occupations are expected to grow more slowly, at 2.3% in the same timeframe.2

An elementary STEM education can also offer the following benefits:3, 4

  • Teaches crucial problem-solving skills
  • Teaches kids how to set and achieve goals
  • Guides students in applying theoretical knowledge to practical situations
  • Reinforces socioemotional competencies
  • Sparks critical thinking skills
  • Provides opportunities to practice communication skills and collaboration
  • Nurtures curiosity
  • Instills media and technology literacy

In short, an elementary STEM curriculum can help prepare students for their academic years and beyond.

Top STEM Activities for Elementary Students

Now that you have a stronger idea of the importance of STEM education in elementary school, let’s take a look at some engaging STEM activities you could use in the classroom. It’s important to know that these activities should be driven by and aligned with state standards in the STEM subjects.

Hold an Egg Drop Competition

The classic egg drop project is a popular STEM activity in elementary schools. The challenge is to create a contraption using everyday materials that will prevent an egg from breaking when dropped from a specific height. You can choose to provide materials for the kids to work with or instruct them to bring in certain materials from home. Be sure to establish limitations on the types of materials (e.g., no battery-powered devices like drones).

It’s ideal to have kids work in pairs or small groups to construct their contraption, as this provides opportunities to practice collaboration, interpersonal skills and communication skills. Ahead of the actual drop, have each pair or group of kids explain how they made their device and how it’s supposed to protect the egg.

Then, provide the eggs to be inserted into each contraption, and take a class trip out to a high point outdoors. One by one, each pair or group can drop their contraption and see whether it accomplishes the goal of protecting the egg.

At the end of the activity, assess the results and have each pair or group explain why they thought their egg did or didn’t break.

Invent a New Plant or Animal

Dreaming up a new animal or plant is an assignment ideally given to children (typically second graders) who are currently learning about biological sciences, such as the basic needs of plants and animals (e.g., oxygen, food, sunshine). This STEM project not only teaches critical thinking skills but also nurtures children's innate creativity. The assignment is to "invent" a new animal or plant that doesn't already exist.

The assignment should direct the children to come up with:

  • the name of the imaginary plant or animal
  • its basic care needs
  • how it meets those needs
  • its typical habitat
  • a colored illustration of the plant or animal in its natural habitat

This is a fun activity that can help kids become more engaged in exploring the natural world around them.

Build a Solar Oven

When you reach the part of your curriculum that discusses energy and the differences between renewable and non-renewable sources of energy, one fun project to reinforce the lesson plan is to build a solar oven. This project works particularly well if you happen to live in a sunny, hot climate. If you live in a rainy, cooler climate, plan on doing this activity either early in the school year (September) or as late as possible (June).

You will need:

  • One empty, relatively clean pizza box for each solar oven or other type of similarly sized boxes
  • Aluminum foil
  • Glue sticks
  • Tape
  • Plastic wrap
  • A box cutter (to be used by the teacher only)
  • Wooden skewers or sticks about 12” long

You'll also need food items to bake in the solar oven. Consider using graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars to make s'mores. (Be sure to double-check the class roster for food allergies first.)


  1. With the pizza box closed, cut the door of the oven into the top flap with the box cutter on three sides only. Make the cut one inch away from the edge of the box, and do not cut on the side of the box that has the hinge; the top of the pizza box should still be connected to the bottom. (The teacher should do this step in advance so as to keep the box cutter away from young hands.)
  2. Use glue sticks and tape as needed to secure a square of aluminum foil to the inside of the top flap and to the entire inside of the bottom of the box, including the sides.
  3. Ignoring the top flap, open the box and tape a double layer of plastic wrap to the underside of the lid. Be sure it is as airtight as possible, covering the entire opening.
  4. Place graham crackers into the box and place a marshmallow on each piece. Do not add the chocolate or the top cracker yet.
  5. Close the lid.
  6. Prop up the top flap using the stick or wooden skewer. You may need to tape it in place.
  7. Place the solar oven in sunlight and wait 30 to 60 minutes until the marshmallows have begun to melt. Place a piece of chocolate on each marshmallow, topped by another cracker.
  8. Close the lid and allow a few more minutes for the chocolate to melt.

Pair this fun activity with a discussion of how the sun's rays enter the atmosphere and are reflected off items like aluminum foil. Discuss how the foil directs more sunlight into the solar oven and how the plastic wrap traps the hot air inside the oven. You could also turn this elementary STEM activity into a STEAM activity (the ‘A’ stands for art) by having the kids decorate their solar ovens.

Seed Germination Experiment

STEM activities that involve plants are perfect for the spring, and this activity is well suited to younger elementary school children. Discuss how plants need water to grow and explain the fundamentals of a scientific experiment (e.g., the need to control variables). Then, gather your supplies:

  • 5 plastic cups
  • Potting soil
  • Grass seed or bean seeds
  • Tap and bottled water
  • Sugar
  • Salt

Have the students follow these steps:

  1. Add the same amount of soil and seeds to each cup. Be sure to cover the seeds with about the same amount of soil for each cup.
  2. Label the cups as follows: tap water, bottled water, sugar water and saltwater.
  3. Add the corresponding liquid to each cup and continue adding liquid as needed to keep the soil damp.
  4. Have the students discuss which cup they feel will germinate best, and why.
  5. As the sprouts begin to develop in every cup except the saltwater cup, have the students discuss why they think the results occurred as they did.

Earn Your Degree and Help STEM in Elementary Schools

Prepare to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in STEM degree program, which can lead to initial teacher licensure, combines classroom instruction with field experience hours for a well-rounded, comprehensive education for future teachers. Fill out the form at the top of your screen to learn how you can join our Christian learning community.

If seeking licensure or certification, applicants to the program are responsible for contacting their state department of education for licensure requirements and program approval. In addition, fingerprint and background clearance is required.

1 National Science Board. (2021, July). Elementary and secondary STEM education. National Science Foundation. Retrieved Dec. 18, 2023. 

2 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Employment in STEM Occupations, retrieved on December 18, 2023.

3 McDonnell, C. (2020, Jan. 14). The importance of STEM in the classroom. The Journal. Retrieved Dec. 18, 2023. 

4 P., N. (n.d.). 8 reasons why STEM education is important. Embassy Education. Retrieved Dec. 18, 2023. 

Approved by the dean of the College of Education on Jan. 29, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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