Seeing kids engaged in their learning is what I love about teaching. One way I engage my students is by implementing STEM activities. Today, I want to share a collection of my favorite STEM challenges, how to find the time to implement them, and ideas for easy setup.
These STEM challenges are appropriate for any grade level, but I used them with my second-grade students. Most of the STEM projects require common materials you have in your classroom and focus on NGSS science. They cover major science content areas, promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and allow students to participate in a hands-on challenge.
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What are some STEM Activities for Elementary Students?
STEM Activities don’t have to be complicated. It’s a better way to reinforce science concepts students are already learning. For example, when I teach solids and liquids during a physical science unit, I like to use this activity for students to explore:
Sorting Solids and Liquids
Materials: A container, water, and other liquids (if desired), and block, eraser, and any other solid
Instructions: Predict the things that will hold its shape and those that will take the shape of the container. Test each object by placing it in the container. Record your observations and discuss the results with your classmates.
Before I put this station out, I have already engaged the students with a phenomenon lesson. So, they have some background about what it means for something to take the shape of a container.
Earth and Space Science
Solar System Model
Materials: Styrofoam balls, paint or markers, pictures of the planets
Instructions: Create a solar system using styrofoam balls to represent the planets. Paint or draw the worlds and arrange them in order from the sun. Label each planet and discuss its characteristics.
Materials: Pictures or toy animals representing different habitats
Instructions: Sort the pictures or toy animals into groups based on their habitats (e.g., forest, ocean, desert). Discuss how each animal is adapted to survive in its specific habitat.
When do I Find the Time to Implement STEM Activities?
Time is a big challenge, especially in the K-2 classroom. In many school districts, teachers are encouraged to focus mainly on reading and math, which leaves little time for science. I love integrating subjects, but students need hands-on activities to grasp science fully. So, my favorite things to do to implement science into the lessons are Fun Fridays and STEM Stations, or as I like to call them — STREAM!
Implement Fun Friday
After a long week of teaching, everyone is tired. So, when Friday rolls around, why not shake things up? Fun Friday is a fun way to implement a science activity so students can participate in STEM education. Since many teachers struggle to get everything in during the week, making some time to implement easy stem activities has been a game-changer for me, and I know it will be for you and your students, too!
Fun Friday is an excellent time for students to practice the engineering design process during the school year. The activities are so fun that students forget they are learning essential engineering skills, science, and math concepts.
To make Fun Friday run smoothly, put your students into groups and have students rotate through four or five centers (depending on your class size). Use digital rotations to cast interactive whiteboards to help keep everything organized.
If you’d like to learn more about how I implement Fun Friday, download my free guide. Want the complete unit? You can find it here.
Add STEM Stations During Small Group Time
The big question at our school is, “What do the other students do while I’m working with a small group?” I like to add rotating centers to the mix. I typically have six stations that I call my STREAM Stations. I have two ways I use STREAM Stations.
Students explore the same science concept in each station.
Students practice skills and strategies.
One thing ALWAYS stays the same…the organization.
- There is a task card to explain the activity
- The activity
- An exit ticket
This familiar structure helps students stay on track and know the procedure. It makes it easier for you to focus on your small groups. Here are some ideas for your stem activities:
For the science station, I try to focus on grade-specific content. You can have students conduct a simple science experiment or explore a topic with different materials. Here are a few examples:
Sink or Float
Materials: A bowl of water, various objects (e.g., paper clips, coins, crayons)
Instructions: Predict which objects will sink and which will float. Test each object by placing it in the bowl of water. Record your observations and discuss the results with your classmates.
Building Simple Machines
Materials: Cardboard, bottle caps, popsicle sticks, tape
Instructions: Use cardboard, bottle caps, and popsicle sticks to build a machine such as a lever or pulley. Test the machine to see how it can make work easier.
Materials: Flashlight, objects with different shapes (e.g., toy animals, blocks)
Instructions: Use a flashlight to create shadows of different objects on paper. Trace the outline of each shadow and label the things. Discuss why the shapes of the shadows are different.
Materials: Pictures of animals in various habitats
Instructions: Match each animal picture to its corresponding habitat based on camouflage. Discuss how camouflage helps animals survive and avoid predators.
In the technology station, I use pre-made digital activities, digital notebooks, websites, articles, and other resources students interact with online. Good ideas include the following resources:
- Wonderopolis – Send a link to the site through a digital classroom, such as Schoology, to explore a “Wonder of the Day” related to the science topic.
- Interactive Web Cams – Use interactive webcams so students can watch animals live. Some webcams show animals in their natural habitat.
- Get Epic – Epic is free to teachers and provides many beautiful books for students to read and enjoy! Create a collection and assign it to students. Students LOVE Epic books!
- Pre-Made Google Slide Activities – Create pre-made sports and clip games for students to practice what they know about a science topic.
- Interactive Games – There are a ton of interactive games that teach just about any topic. I usually just Google Interactive Games about ____ and instantly find what I want.
- Book Creator – You can always go right with Book Creator. It has always been my favorite app! You can use Book Creator in a center in various ways. Use the app to get information about the topic, like the book below, or have students create a page or book.
- Nearpod – I love finding some of the virtual reality resources they have available to make the learning come alive.
- YouTube – You can never go wrong with the video. It is a great visual tool!
This is a great time to throw a little English Language Arts (ELA) into the mix. Depending on your focus, students could read books about a significant content area you are studying or use interactive resources such as Book Creator to make the content come alive, like in this example.
The engineering station becomes a great way to build students’ problem-solving skills and creative thinking. You can challenge students to develop or create using rubber bands, index cards, cardboard tubes, and aluminum foil.
Some engineering projects include:
Materials: Toothpicks, mini marshmallows
Instructions: Use toothpicks and mini marshmallows to build structures such as pyramids, cubes, or bridges. Test the stability of each structure and discuss which shapes are more robust.
Design a Paper Airplane
Materials: sheet of paper, scissors
Instructions: Create and test different designs of paper airplanes. Measure the distance each airplane flies and discuss the factors that affect its flight.
Art can be something your students do digitally, something they draw, or a craft that requires steps to create correctly. Ideas include drawing a blueprint or creating a 3-D model out of clay, making a collage, or creating a plan for the engineering station. Whatever you decide to do, ensure your students get the chance to ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve their work in some way.
An example includes using cotton balls to represent clouds.
You can incorporate measuring, formulas, game creation, or design techniques into your math activities. These activities teach students practical ways math works for students and reinforce math skills and real-world problems. Some ideas include:
Materials: Pattern blocks, paper, pencil
Instructions: Use pattern blocks to create different patterns on a piece of paper. Write down the pattern and try to extend it. Challenge your classmates to continue the pattern.
Materials: money, a list of materials with the cost per item, materials for the project
Instructions: Students must stay within a budget for the STEM project or determine the cost of all the needed materials.
How to Setup STEM Activities
There are so many fun ideas you can do with your young learners. Grab simple supplies such as craft sticks, pipe cleaners, and a sticky note; you have the makings of the perfect second-grade stem activity.
Some other materials I like to keep on hand include the following items:
- small objects or toys
- baking soda
- food coloring
- coffee filters
- cotton balls
- paper clips
- task cards
- exit tickets
I prefer my stations to be simple and easy to set up. I want to gather materials quickly, put them in a bin, add a task card, and print out an exit ticket. Most of the things I use can be found in most classrooms or at home. If I don’t have something, I can always send a letter to my parents, who usually help.
Remember, students need to learn while having fun. A simple exit slip with three questions is a good starting point. For example, you can ask students what they learned, what they found interesting, and if they have any questions.
Learn New STEM Skills
I hope these STEM activities are something you can use in your classroom. They can develop necessary STEM skills and learn about different STEM careers they may not have known about before. These ideas will help students enjoy learning, which is crucial for their growth.
Students need to add creativity and fun to their week to succeed. So, while you may think you don’t have enough time, remember you do! By implementing STEM activities and challenges, you will have a class full of strong learners who are itching to get some fun, hands-on experience with all things STEM.
Students can incorporate measuring, formulas, game creation, or design techniques into their math station work. These activities teach students practical ways math works for students and reinforce real-world skills.
Sound like a plan? Download my FREE Fun Friday STEM Center Guide to get started below.
If you are ready to jump right in? Check out my DONE FOR YOU STEM Challenge Bundle or Fun Friday STEM Centers by clicking the images below.