Exposing students to STEM experiences can be an extremely engaging and effective way to foster the skills they will need in a global, competitive workplace. STEM projects in PK-12 classrooms can also easily be aligned with the ISTE Standards for Students, computer science standards and the nine computational thinking concepts.
But don’t save these activities for science or math class. You can incorporate STEM learning tools in all core content areas to encourage critical thinking, collaboration and creativity while reinforcing valuable skills.
Of course, even for the most experienced STEM educators, picking the right tools can be tricky. To make it easier, we’ve come up with some factors that will help you choose the most appropriate and effective STEM tools for your classroom.
Before settling on a tool, you should consider not only your students’ cognitive abilities, but also their motor skill development.
Squishy Circuits (right) is a wonderful tool to teach very young students about basic concepts in electricity using conductive dough. Students can easily manipulate the materials and get the circuit to work.
is another wonderful tool for young children since it uses simple command buttons to physically press on the device to help with number sense (e.g. counting, computation), sequencing, and problem-solving. Additionally, bluetooth capabilities enable participants to code the tool on a mobile device through an application. This is also a great tool to introduce to slightly older children who might have no coding experience before moving to more complex experiences.
MaKey MaKey is a tool for slightly older children. With MaKey MaKey, students can make any conductive material act as the input device for a computer. Because it comes preprogrammed, students with no coding experience can use it. But MaKey MaKey also allows those who want to try coding to experiment.
LilyPad Arduino (right), a sewable microcontroller, also reinforces concepts about electricity but is geared more toward older children, as the manual dexterity for sewing the components may be a bit challenging for young students. The LilyPad is alsa wonderful introduction to some basic coding using the Arduino platform.
Other tools, like Root Robotics, work with a variety of ages as it progresses from graphic, to computational, to text coding.
You also need to think about what tool will work best for your subject area.
Finch Robot (left) is appropriate if your intent is to teach basic coding very quickly. This robot is ready out of the box and can support more than a dozen programming languages and environments.
Hummingbird robotics kit (right) allows students to develop basic programming skills by creating and programming robots built from electronic components and craft materials. But it's different from Finch in that it offers users great flexibility and creativity in designing their robots.
Bloxels provides another opportunity to be creative, but through the creation of video games. Children use colored cubes that represent a game element such as hazards, terrain, and power-ups, to create game boards and levels. Pictures of your creations through an application will transform them digitally into screen animations.
If you don’t have enough time in a core content class to use these tools to their full potential, consider teaming up with your technology or computer science teacher to develop collaborative learning projects focused on a particular concept.
The graphic below may be helpful as you integrate these tools and find ways to foster computational thinking concepts into classroom learning experiences.
When factoring in the cost of these tools, make sure you don’t forget any extra materials you’ll need and whether the items can be reused.
Some tools, such as the Finch Robot, Squishy Circuits, MaKey MaKey, Bloxels, Blue-Bots and Root Robotics can be used many times by different students. After purchasing some kits, additional costs — such as buying ingredients for making dough or supplying conductive materials for students to explore — are typically minor.
Other tools, such as LilyPad Arduino and Hummingbird, are generally an annual expense because reusing them requires destroying existing projects.
Finding STEM learning tools that will fit your students’ needs, as well as your budget and time constraints, lets you provide learning experiences sure to engage your students while inspiring them to practice creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.
Paula Klonowski Leach, Ed.D., is the director of the Institute for Teaching through Technology & Innovative Practices at Longwood University in Virginia. She has been an educator for 22 years and enjoys working with teachers to introduce them to new technologies and strategies that provide engaging opportunities for students.
Stephanie Playton is a STEM Learning Specialist at the Institute for Teaching through Technology & Innovative Practices at Longwood University in Virginia. As a former classroom and instructional technology teacher, she is passionate about finding technology tools that support a creative learning environment. Playton is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at Texas Tech University.
Manorama Talaiver, Ph.D., is an award winning technologist and educator. Her consulting firm, Cogent Cause focuses on STEMC learning to enable educators to become empowered computer science educators across all grade levels. She directed the Institute for Teaching through Technology & Innovative Practices for ten years and provided professional learning experiences for teachers and offered STEM learning opportunities for students through grants from various funding agencies, including NSF. Mano has been a member of ISTE for more than 28 years.
This is an updated version of a post that was first published on Oct. 23, 2016.