STEM Lesson Ideas for Different Grade Levels

Mar 7, 2019 by

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It’s been almost 20 years since the STEM program was introduced into classrooms across the country. And it’s not going anywhere any time soon! STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is designed to bring real world applications into the classroom. More focus is placed on the sciences and math rather than just literature and English, where reading and writing has always reigned supreme. Introducing technology into the classroom was a no brainer and is increasing with each passing year. Engineering helps students explore their problem solving skills and solve real world problems. More universities and colleges are designing programs around STEM majors, like the Engineers Academy Online Courses. STEM has also branched into another acronym known as STEAM, which includes arts into the mix. Whichever academic avenue you take or choose to support, educators are getting creative when it comes to designing lessons around STEM concepts. Here are just a few ways to incorporate this beneficial curriculum into the classroom at any age.

Elementary School

Potato Power

This is a fun and effective way of teaching students about electricity. Students use potatoes to light a light bulb or LED clock. The concept is a simple circuit, similar to a battery. Students learn how chemical energy is converted into electrical energy and used to power everyday things we use. This is a stepping stone lesson into more complex concepts like current, resistance, and voltage. Teachers can touch on the concept of solar and wind energy as well, discussing how different types of energy sources are used to power large buildings, schools, and even entire towns! Engineers are constantly researching innovative ways to store energy and design versatile batteries and power sources. Plus, kids get a kick out of using spuds for something other than dinner.

Pulley Systems

Pulley systems are a basic, but useful and fun STEM lesson that most young learners will love. It’s just one of the simple machines they’ll learn about — the others being a lever, wedge, wheel, axle, plane, and screw. Different experiments can teach students how pulleys (and applied force) can move and lift heavy objects. Students will also learn how to change the direction of a force and the different uses for both fixed and moveable pulley systems. When they’re reading to advance, you can introduce multiple pulley systems. Students will soon grasp the concept that more force and more pulleys means a greater mechanical advantage.

Middle School

Fun with Rollercoasters

Who doesn’t love a good, thrilling roller coaster ride? Even if students aren’t a fan of heights or the speed of roller coasters, watching them move is fascinating. While you don’t need to bring your class to an amusement park to experience a real roller coaster, many schools do! Again, students don’t need to ride the coaster to view, observe, and make hypothesis about how it works. So many scientific theories and properties are learned by studying roller coasters. Things like kinetic and potential energy, friction, and gravity. Students are fascinated by the fact that roller coasters are driven by gravity and are slowed down using friction. The conversion of potential energy into kinetic energy is another concept roller coasters teach beautifully. For older students, building roller coasters becomes a creative project that future engineers will love.

Bridge Design

We all remember building bridges out of toothpicks. Maybe not the best building material ever, but the concept is the same. Bridge suspension is something that fascinates even adults. When you’re faced with this giant structure suspended high above the ground, it makes you ask the question – how is it staying up? Introduce bridge design and construction. During simple bridge design, students learn about beams and columns (girders and piers). What size and height should they be? They’ll also need to calculate load size and combined loads. Next, students will experiment with design and the amount of material needed to support the structure. Bridge design is one of the most basic and popular engineering and STEM lessons taught in schools across the country.

High School

Genetic Engineering

High school is where students take their love of STEM and consider turning it into a career. Genetic engineering is designed more around science rather than the mechanics of bridge building or roller coaster design. Genetics (or genes) focus on DNA and how the manipulation of certain genes will produce desired traits. Basic lessons include creating flow charts detailing methods used to modify genes and create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This can be done using animal, plant, and bacteria GMOs. Students learn that these basic concepts are actually applied to real life problems that face humanity. Not only will students learn how this type of testing and engineering can help and save lives, but they’ll be introduced to the moral and ethical challenges they may face. Educators may be instilling basic concepts in future scientists and genetic engineers.

Pascal’s Law

Let’s rewind back to the mechanical side of engineering and discuss Pascal’s Law. This law is a principle in fluid mechanics. It teaches students that pressure (at a point) has infinite direction, which means that a pressure change at any point in a confined fluid is then transmitted throughout the fluid and the same change occurs everywhere. The most basic application of Pascal’s Law is the concept of a hydraulic lifts and brakes. You can teach this concept is relatively easy ways for all grade levels, including high school. Take a balloon filled with air. Have students step on the balloon applying pressure (but not enough to pop it). What happens? The air is dispersed throughout the balloon, increasing pressure and causing the walls of the balloon to thin and break (pop) under extreme pressure. Another fascinating but easy way to understand pressure and how it’s dispersed is to have students wrap their hand around and egg and squeeze it. The egg won’t break. Why? Because the pressure is being evenly distributed around the egg, and the liquid inside the egg is also pushing back with evenly distributed force. Students will be amazed. Teachers may want to place the egg in a plastic bag when performing this experiment, just in case.

When it comes to STEM projects, there’s no denying that they’re fun. Student’s love hands-on activities where they can see and feel the results and truly grasp concepts. These are just a few examples of STEM lessons and ideas for the classroom. The options are endless and are only limited by your imagination.

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