National S.T.E.M. Day
November 8, 2017
Opportunities for building the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians are literally all around us! Young children are naturally curious about the world around them. Parents and educators can tap into that sense of wonder and discovery and use nature as the basis for S.T.E.M. instruction from a very early age.
S.T.E.M. is an acronym that refers to the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills into meaningful, interactive learning experiences for young children. One does not need expensive tools and materials to provide these opportunities. In fact, many parents are already reinforcing S.T.E.M. activities without even being aware of it. Have you ever collected seashells on a beach? Held a ladybug on your finger? Blown the seeds off of a dandelion? These simple and common childhood experiences can all lead to powerful investigations for young learners.
Start by taking children outside – to the backyard, the edge of a forest, a walking trail, or the beach. Children will instinctively begin to explore. Invite children to pick up rocks and sticks, touch leaves and flower petals, examine ants and worms, and grab handfuls of dirt or mud! Encourage the children to use their senses to describe what they see and feel. Model using descriptive language, and ask many open-ended questions designed to get children to think. Let’s take a look at a simple exercise and see how it can be expanded with questioning to support S.T.E.M. learning.
“What will happen if you drop a rock in the puddle?”
Guide the children in an exploration or rocks. Take out a magnifying glass and inspect the rocks up close. Are all the rocks the same? How are they different? What colors do they see? Are there any patterns, specks, or marbling in the rocks? Take a picture of your favorite rock.
Are the rocks all the same shape? What textures do they feel? How many rocks can they collect? How many rocks can they pick up with one hand? How high can they stack the rocks? Can the rocks be sorted into groups, or lined up by size? What else can they find that is like a rock?
Do rocks all weigh the same? What happens to the size of the splash if you drop a big rock compared to a small rock? Does the splash change if you hold the rock up high or drop it from down low?
What is a puddle? How did the water get there? Do you think it might rain again today? What is the weather like today? What do you see in the sky? Will the puddle go away? What happens to the water?
How many times can you jump over the puddle without getting wet? How could we cross the puddle without getting wet? Can we build something that we could walk on? What could we use?
What have the children learned from this simple exploration? A lot! They have explored science concepts such as properties of rocks and minerals, gravity, the water cycle, and weather. They used technology when peering through a magnifying glass and taking digital photographs. Engineering skills were reinforced by building a bridge, creating a rock tower, and testing the force of the rocks being dropped at different heights. And basic math skills, such as sorting and classifying, seriation, counting and comparing weights were reinforced in a far more meaningful way than could ever be achieved through any math work sheet! And of course, learning can be expanded through children’s literature, informational books and online materials.
With a little creativity and a safe place outdoors, children can create the foundation for scientific learning, and reinforce the math concepts and technology skills that they need to succeed in school and in life!