In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations pervade our everyday lives, particularly as we become more and more globalised. It is important then that we focus on raising future creators, thinkers, problem solvers, innovators and inventors that will thrive in an information-based and technological world. That’s why STEM projects for children are so important.
An April 2015 report by PwC indicated 75 per cent of Australia’s fastest-growing occupations required STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills. For this reason, schools are focused on preparing students with the skills required for the future workforce through not only building their STEM knowledge but also building their skills in problem solving, innovation, collaboration and the ability to become critical and creative thinkers. Parents can also nurture and encourage their child’s STEM learning.
Here are three cool STEM projects you can do with your child at home contributed by St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School, an Australia Education Awards finalist for Best STEM Program.
Three Little Pigs STEM project
Materials: playdough and straws or spaghetti and marshmallows, hairdryer or fan
The story of Three Little Pigs is a much-loved childhood fairy-tale that also provides an opportunity to link STEM learning. In this fun, hands-on activity, young learners can apply principles of engineering, science and mathematics. Most STEM projects focus on solving a problem and in this activity children explore 3D shapes and consider different weather conditions, to build a new house for the three little pigs that is strong enough to withstand the huff and the puff of the big bad wolf.
Parents can do this at home with their child using just a few simple materials such as playdough and straws or spaghetti and marshmallows. Discuss with your child what they think is needed to build a strong house and guide them to consider different weather conditions. Then ask your child to plan and design their house. After the design process, they can build it using their chosen materials.
When students in Year 1 at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School were tasked with this challenge, they worked collaboratively in groups to design and build their houses. They then tested the strength of their final constructions using a hairdryer and garden blower to simulate the wolf’s huffing and puffing.
Year 1 teacher Georgi Eadie said the Three Little Pigs STEM challenge allowed the students to use their knowledge in a real-world context. “It makes the learning relevant to the 21st century and gives them the skills so that they can apply their knowledge in a real-world context.”
As with most STEM projects, this challenge develops many skills beyond simply the STEM pillars.
“They really love opportunities to work hands-on and this challenge has the added benefit of developing our young learners fine motor skills through the use of playdough. This activity also helps foster higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills,” said Georgi.
Make a ramp
Materials: A4 paper, sticky tape, bottle top lid, LEGO/Duplo blocks, ruler
In this STEM challenge, children plan, build and test a ramp that allows an object to slide far.
The activity reinforces concepts of science, engineering and mathematics as children engage in enquiry-based learning to problem solve a ramp design.
STEM projects generally link the learning to the real-world context so that children can see how their ideas and solutions can benefit our society and even our world as a whole. You can start this activity with your child by investigating different ramps in the real world such as slippery dips, water slides, ski slopes and skate ramps. Next, create a test ramp out of cardboard to explore how different objects roll or slide down it. Try Matchbox cars, dice, balls, scissors – any objects that provide a variety of shapes and surfaces. You can even try different surfaces on your ramp such as bubble wrap and examine how these surfaces impact the object’s ability to slide.
The next phase involves your child planning and drawing their own ramp design that will allow a bottle top to slide far. Once the design stage is complete, it’s time to build. Using materials including paper, sticky tape and blocks, work with your child to construct the ramp.
The last phase of the project is the testing phase. Your child can test their ramp design by sliding a bottle top down the ramp and measuring the distance travelled with a ruler. From this point, you can discuss ways to improve the ramp design to allow the object to travel even farther.
When St Margaret’s teacher Sophie Cameron set this challenge for her prep students, she knew it was an opportunity not just to reinforce their STEM knowledge but also to develop their collaboration skills.
“The students love working in a group; being able to share their ideas and work collaboratively are really important skills for them,” said Sophie.
Materials: a raw egg, recyclables including paper, cardboard, sticky tape, straws, cotton, newspaper, plastic bags
This is a fun (and sometimes messy!) STEM project to try with your child at home. Drawing on principles of science and engineering, the aim is to design and build a contraption using various materials to protect a raw egg from a high fall.
Firstly, let your child plan and draw their vehicle design. Next, help them to gather the materials they will need to build their prototype. Then, allow them to construct their vehicle with the main aim of using as few materials as possible to make the packaging strong enough to withstand the fall.
Finally, test your child’s design by finding somewhere you can drop the egg from a fair height and… bombs away.
For older children, you can set additional design requirements and guidelines. When Year 7 students at St Margaret’s collaborated on this project, their contraption could not exceed 1kg and half the egg had to be visible.
Head of Science and Technology Chris Dunn said: “Students needed to utilise creative thinking to develop viable designs and a critical thinking ‘engineering design approach’ to refine and improve their final prototypes.”
What will you try?
Whatever STEM project you choose to do with your child, you can be sure the hands-on, project-based style of learning will be an engaging and enjoyable experience while also laying the foundation to develop key skills for their future.