STEM Projects for Kids

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STEM projects for kids
STEM projects are a great way to encourage creativity and critical thinking skills. (Source: Kristen Murphy)

STEM is one of the most important subjects that can be offered in educational institutions. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. They are crucial subjects in understanding why and how the world worlds, and are responsible for inventions and programs that transform lives for people. Engineering is a huge part of our outside world, with bridges and ramps being some insightful designs that make life easier for society. Technology has led to medical advances as well as aiding with our daily functioning around communications – be that social media or typical phone calls and texting. Science and mathematics have led to the ability to go to space. These incredible achievements are made through STEM education. Giving your children the opportunity to learn and grow through these subjects is important, as you are equipping the next generation to make transformational discoveries that continue to contribute to the wellbeing of humanity. 

What is STEM? 

The word STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Subjects grouped under the sciences, occasionally the acronym will be STEAM, standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. Incorporating the arts into traditionally scientific subjects is to highlight the creativity required to fully comprehend and deliver technological advancements. 

STEM provides a catalogue of knowledge for people to glean from and help influence the culture and the world around them. It is a crucial part of every child’s education to be able to receive these subjects to help them understand the world around them and develop a knowledge that could, in turn, aid humanity in its endeavours. 

children doing science experiments
Science experiments are a tactile and dynamic way to teach children about the world. (Source: Idalí Beltré Acevedo)

How is STEM Education Important? 

STEM is vital for the advancement of society. The economy is being driven by STEM subjects. Our future is determined by the development of technology and the discoveries that technology supplies. STEM education is incredibly important for so many of humanity’s advancements but, despite this, STEM jobs are constantly underfilled. STEM jobs lost out to 2.4 million in the workforce in 2019. There is a high demand for experts in these fields to revolutionise the way we see the world.

Those who study STEM become leading designers, engineers, scientists, astronauts, teachers, inventors, and more. Providing STEM education is vital because the market for work in these fields is growing exponentially. STEM weaves into so many different facets as well that exist outside what we may consider a ‘STEM job’. Most people use technology to work, and even people like architects rely heavily on technology, maths, and engineering. Giving children a comprehensive education in STEM gives them a competitive edge when seeking roles and gives them the opportunity to change the planet through innovation. 

science experiments
Teaching science to children opens their eyes to the realms of possibilities and finding the secrets to the universe.

How Will STEM Improve Student Learning?

Student learning can be improved by STEM because it reflects positions that they could enter in adult life. STEM education provides a series of subjects that have been integrated or woven together to deliver real-world outcomes. STEM subjects help critically evaluate and process information. STEM offers a diverse range of skills and allows students to develop a longing for solutions, highlighting creative methods to solve problems. 

Focussing on creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, STEM manages to structure teaching and learning in a way that offers group dynamics and creative solutions. STEM subjects instil a love of learning and discovery in children.  STEM education can be adapted to suit lots of different ages and many different abilities. 

children involved in engineering experiments
Using engineering tasks with children shows the pragmatic nature of this career and how fun it is to find solutions to these problems. (Source: Idalí Beltré Acevedo)

 

STEM Projects for Kids: Engineering Worlds

There are plenty of STEM projects that children can become involved in. STEM projects for kids. STEM projects provide children with the opportunity to practice creative skills and develop their technical prowess. There are plenty of methods to ensure that you create an encouraging environment where STEM can thrive. Teaching your children to critically think allows for creative solutions for their problems. This could lead to them delving into world issues as they grow older, attempting to create and design solutions for humanity. Instructing children at an early age is a great way to encourage this and offering them opportunities to build, absorb, and use their fine motor skills is a great introduction to engineering. 

STEM activities are extremely versatile and they can be made using lots of different materials that are easily bought from around the house. STEM can help children develop analytical skills, spot patterns, and critically solve problems. While engineering can appear to be an abstract concept, there are lots of ways of making it entirely accessible to your children through a range of STEM projects that encourage them to think of a variety of ways to achieve a specific goal or target you have set for them. This could be building a little bridge, finding the most innovative method of keeping objects afloat, and so on. 

One great idea as an example for STEM projects for kids is building a tower out of limited resources. Giving your child plastic straws and tape, allows them to explore and discover what they think is the most effective way of building a tower for it to stand up unaided. Make sure that you use bendy straws so children can manipulate them the way they want. This is a really creative STEM project that gives children the chance to problem solve and critically think. Allow them the opportunity to try and do it by themselves. Make sure you are there if they need anything or want to discuss their ideas with you. Letting them ultimately find solutions singularly to their obstacles as this gives them a sense of achievement. It also allows them to find different solutions to different types of towers and finding the best base to build on – this helps with the understanding of shapes as well. 

Building towers is a fantastic way to utilise their fine motor skills. This is the exercise of the small muscles and is important for hand/eye coordination as well as promoting the growth of the frontal cortex. Due to the nature of the STEM projects, children will be manipulating the straws with their hands to build the towers, giving them the ability to manoeuvre the straws and find ways to utilise them into a tower. 

Building towers with children is an exciting STEM project for a child as they are able to build something physical and apply their ideas and methods to a structure. This is a fabulous first engineering project for children to do with some cheap materials that aid with their fine motor skills and help them creatively problem solve as well as critical thinking.

STEM Activities

There are plenty of STEM activities that provide a host of entertaining scenarios for children whilst also offering them learning opportunities. One such activity that can reflect the principles of subjects like engineering and science is a synthesised oil spill. This is a real-life example that unfortunately happens often, and finding new ways to attempt to clean it up quickly and effectively is key if we are to prevent harm coming to ourselves, the oceans, and the nature around us. This activity can be done with trays filled with a few inches of water and some feathers, straws, cotton balls, as well as some sponges. 

Using these materials is important as it simulates a real-life situation and the natural world around us. Providing children with these scenarios allows them to critically think and attempt to find solutions to real-world problems. Introducing these to them at an early age encourages them to keep these types of issues in their heads when they are thinking about engineering and science, and how they can contribute to improving the world and the disasters that can occur. During this activity, ask your children what they know about oil spills. Some of them may have heard you talk about the awful spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Showing them that there are engineers like chemical and environmental engineers whose sole purpose is to find solutions to these sorts of taxing problems is a great way to encourage them to think of engineering as a serious career. 

Give them a little book and let them examine their ‘oceans’ of water with the oil floating on the top. Discuss the issues that they might have in trying to clean it up. Feel free to introduce scientific vocabulary here like density and so on. Having words that they can actually physically see and don’t have to simply imagine allows them to have a deeper understanding of these words. Get them to make a plan for how they are going to remove oil from the feathers and out of the ocean. Showing them real-life examples of oil spills and showing them photos of its effects on wildlife can really focus their attention, and make them want to find solutions to these issues. Explaining to them that this is not an easy task is incredibly important as well, teaching them that not all solutions are done with ease is important for them to recognise at an early age. 

oil spill
Skimming oil of the gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (Source: Office of Response and Restoration)

Technology is another important tool that can be used through activities with children to help them understand materials and the world around them. Teaching children coding is one way of encouraging them to get involved with technology and providing them with a fundamental understanding of what coding is. Coding can include some of your child’s favourite toys. Things like Lego can be used to introduce coding to children and this can be done as young as 5 or 6, starting to introduce these concepts at a young age is a good thing. Making a Lego Maze through coding is an exciting way for your children to experience technology first hand. 

When we think of coding, things that come to mind are programs like Java, C++, Python, and so on. Children won’t need to understand that type of advanced programming language or syntax, but teaching them the commonalities between languages is a great start to giving them the building blocks to coding. Lego Mazes that can be built with your children is a great introduction to code as they can be solved with ‘code’ using paper rather than a computer. They are suitable for many different levels and age groups and can be adjusted accordingly to whatever age group you are working with. 

In their most basic form, a level one method is letting the child see the specific problem and providing them with a step by step to walk their Lego figure through the maze. This allows and teaches children to find a point of reference to that might be a different thought process from their own. For example, the child’s left side may be different to their character’s left side within the maze. Teaching children the basics of switching a reference frame is a key start to this narrative of learning. The next stage to introduce to your child the importance of clarity. Instead of telling your Lego character to move forward 7 times in a row, each command after each other, you could easily input ‘do this command 7 times’. This saves time and effort. It also introduces your child to the concept of loops in technology. 

For older children or children who are more advanced, they will realise that a lot of effort goes into solving mazes that they will have experience during the first two stages of their Lego adventure.  Now with an understanding of the fundamentals of what makes a code, in regard to the ‘loops’ and the ‘if statements’, this gives them the opportunity to write a short program to solve the specific maze in question. This introduces children to the concept of possibilities. Children will have to consider that their actions could lead their Lego figure to any random location, so finding the best generic sequence of action is crucial. They also need to problem solve what they would do if their character hits a dead end. 

Finally, the last level or stage will alert children to the fact that, just because it worked on their original maze, doesn’t mean their actions will work on an entirely different one. They don’t want their characters being stuck in an infinite loop, repeating their behaviours over and over and being unable to escape. Introducing random number generators allows children who are older or more advanced to write out programs that can get their figure out any maze. These mazes can be printed out from online resources and using Lego or Duplo is completely optional but provides a nice visual for children. 

 

Outer Space and Technology: The Solar System 

From man walking on the moon to the most recent Space X launch, humanity has been fascinated with outer space and the galaxies that lie beyond it. The solar system is packed with interesting planets and otherworldly objects that make studying it so fascinating. As technology advances, our understanding of the solar system is growing and we are able to learn more about our own planet by the surrounding plants in outer space. From the sun to the moon, our earth relies on parts of outer space to keep humankind alive. Space continues to be a fascinating topic to learn about and there are many things we can learn from it. 

Our solar system is entirely reliant on one object – the sun. All of our planets revolve around or orbit this burning star but it isn’t just made up of that. The solar system is filled with things like comets and asteroids, moons, dust and gas, and minor planets. Interestingly, the sun is made up of 98 percent of the material that resides in the solar system. Until 2006, Pluto was considered a planet. Now renamed as a dwarf planet, there are eight planets that dominate our solar system. From the closest to the sun, the order is as follows: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. 

Understanding the planets around us makes it easier to understand our own world and how we can utilise our society for continued growth. Along with the eight planets in our solar system, there are two dwarf planets – Eris and Pluto. The sun is one of the most important parts of our solar system as, through it, life can exist. The sun itself is incredibly large, over a million planets the size of earth could fit comfortably inside of it. The closest planet to the sun is Mercury. Mercury is the smallest of our planets. Covered in craters, it has a rocky surface covered in craters – not too dissimilar to the moon. Scientists believe that there might have been volcanic activity on the planet. Due to its atmosphere, Mercury is also devoid of moons. 

After Mercury comes venus. The sixth largest of our planets, it is small and rocky, covered in a thick layer of yellowish clouds. While this haze may sound mysterious, it is incredibly toxic. The yellowish clouds are formed from sulfuric acid – a substance that is particularly poisonous to animal life. A ridiculously warm planet, Venus is a whopping 400 degrees celsius – no sunbathing there! Venus is also another planet that doesn’t have moons. The planet that comes after Venus is the Earth. The third planet away from the sun and the fifth largest planet, the Earth is where human beings call home. Earth is a small, rocky planet that supports more life than just humans, other animals and planets are reliant on it as well. 71 percent of the Earth is covered with water and it has one moon that orbits it over a 24 hour period. 

Arguably the most well-known planet after Earth, Mars is the fourth planet from the sun. It is a small, rocky planet which is incredibly cold. Mars has no water, but scientists have discovered markings in the rocks that make it appear like running water was once on the planet. Mars has two tiny moons which orbit very close to its surface, they’re known as Phobos and Deimos. Known as the Red Planet, it has very strong winds which cause dust storms giving it a recognisable colour. The King of the Planets is the planet of Jupiter. Jupiter is a giant gas planet and is an impressive sight in our solar system. Made up of 90% hydrogen and 10% helium, it is also the fifth planet from the sun. One of the most visually beautiful planets due to radiating many lovely and vivid colours, its striking looks come from the chemical reactions occurring in Jupiter’s clouds. 16 moons orbit Jupiter and these are the ones that we currently know of – there could be more! Jupiter is renowned for its great red spot. This is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm, the largest in the Solar System. It is visible on the surface of the planet. 

The sixth planet rotating around the sun is the ringed planet of Saturn. Saturn is the image we all have of a quintessential planet and it is a fascinating group of materials. Like Jupiter, Saturn is a massive gas planet and is famous for its thousands of beautiful rings that loop it. Made up of around 75 percent of hydrogen and 25 percent of helium, Saturn has more moons than any other known planet – it has 18 moons and counting! Nine earths could span Saturn’s diameter and that doesn’t include its rings. Despite this, it only has an eighth of the density of the earth. 

Following Saturn, and the seventh planet of our solar system is Uranus. Uranus is also a giant gas planet made up of rock and ice. Named after the Greek god of the sky, Uranus is known for its lovely blue colour. This blue colour is achieved due to the fact that Uranus is made of methane. Methane reactions result in blue colours. Uranus is also home to 15 moons that orbit it. The final planet is the planet of Neptune. Named after the Roman god of the sea, Neptune is also a lovely blue planet. Made up of mostly ice and rock, Neptune’s winds are the fastest in the solar system, and they reach up to 2000 kilometres per hour. Neptune hosts 8 known moons as well as 7 smaller ones. It also has a large moon known as Triton. Understanding our solar system and outer space ensures that children have a greater understanding of the world around them and what lies beyond that.

STEM Through Biology: The Skeleton 

Biology is an important part of the science curriculum and part of that is physical science. Learning about the body of humans and animals allows us to be able to make medical decisions and influences how we live. How we move is down to a system known as the skeletal system. The skeletal system is made up of a series of bones which give us posture and allow us to move freely. Bones are also essential for protecting some of our inner organs from external harm and they do it by shielding them. The skeletal system is essential for us to function properly.

Our skeletal system is made up of bones that are designed to keep us moving and safe. They are made of different parts but 70 percent of our bones are made up of hard minerals like calcium. Human bones are also split into four parts. The first part of a bone is known as the periosteum. The periosteum is the outer part of our bones and it is a very dense layer that is teaming with nerves and blood vessels. Despite this, it is very thin. The second part of our bones is known as the compact bone. The compact bone is very smooth and exceptionally hard. The third part that makes up our bones is the cancellous bone. This bone has a sponge-like appearance but is much stronger. The final part of our bones and the fourth part is the bone marrow. The bone marrow has the appearance of jelly, but it plays a vital role in our blood systems as it is responsible for making new blood cells for our bodies.

Our skeletal system changes with time or age. When babies are born, they are born with a lot more bones than children and adults have. We don’t lose our bones, but our bones do transform as we grow older. Baby bones are mostly made up of cartilage which is replaced by harder bones as our body receives the nutrients we need, and it grows harder and heavier. Babies have over 300 bones when they are first born, this whittles done to around 206 bones once our bodies have adapted to growing. 

The skeletal system is entirely responsible for helping us move. Along with muscles, we are able to move our bodies and twist into weird shapes through muscles and bones working together. When two bones meet, a physical material known as a joint is in its place. Some joints are fixed like our knees and our elbows, some joints move just a little like our spine, and then there are other joints that move a lot like our shoulders. These rely heavily on their relationships with our muscles. Without our skeletal bones and muscles, the movement would be impossible. Our skeletal system is also responsible for the protection of our organs like our heart and lungs.

STEM Science at Work: The Heart 

Arguably the most important muscle in our body, the heart is an important part of human biology education, so we understand more about how our bodies work and why it is vital to keep them healthy. The heart’s main role in our bodies is to pump blood around our body. Part of the circulatory system, the heart works with the lungs to ensure that oxygen is received for our vital organs and to allow us to function effectively. Without oxygen, we could die, so the heart’s role in the circulatory system is vital for the rest of our bodies. 

The heart is a complex muscle made up of different parts that allow for it to pump. It pumps by contracting and relaxing. Made up of four chambers, it houses two on each side of itself. The top chambers are the left and right atrium and the bottom two chambers are known as the left and right ventricles. They have very specific jobs to allow for blood to pump efficiently around the body. The rich blood that flows into the heart from the lungs is heavily oxygenated. It flows from the lungs into the left atrium and is then pumped through the rest of the body through the left ventricle. Once the body has absorbed all the blood, it flows back into the right atrium, through the right ventricle and into the lungs to be oxygenated again. The circulatory system could be seen as a big circle that brings the blood through different stages of oxygenation throughout the body.

Something synonymous with the heart is beating. Incredibly, the blood pumps around the body in a singular heartbeat! The average heart rate of a human being is 72 beats per minute. This means, by the time an adult reaches 66 years of age, their heart will have beaten 2.5 billion times – an amazing thought! Being the most important muscle in our bodies, it is important that we take care of it. The heart benefits from regular exercise and a healthy diet, fats and sugars should be kept to a minimum. Pacemakers, defibrillators, and surgery are being revolutionised daily and people are increasingly surviving from heart attacks due to the incredible medical technology available today.

Science interwoven with technology, mathematics, and engineering are seeing incredible advancements in medical fields and improving the quality of life for humans all over the world. The heart is just one organ that is seeing the benefit of further study as scientists, doctors, and innovators find creative ways to solve medical issues through collaboration and communication. Studying these subjects allows for medical advancements and people who can change the world and people’s lives.

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