Chris Woods is a Teacher, Speaker, Author and STEM Nerd who hosts the STEM Everyday podcast.
Author of Daily STEM: How to Create a STEM Culture in Your Classrooms & Communities, Chris likes to remind his students, readers and followers that STEM is everywhere around us… we just have to learn to recognize it.
In today’s article on the HUE blog, Chris shares his top tips and ideas for creating a culture of STEM at home in four easy steps.
Are you a parent?
If so, you’ve certainly been told the benefits of reading to your kids when they’re young and reading with your kids as they grow up.
Even though I’m generally a nerdy person (I’m a math teacher and a science geek), I loved building a culture of reading in our home when our kids were young.
We loved reading books together before bedtime. My wife and I also made sure we had plenty of books and magazines available for our kids to read. Our kids knew the importance of reading.
It’s so important for families to read with their kids. It’s also important for families to do STEM with their kids.
Some parents have heard about STEM (or STEAM), but apart from buying a few toys labeled ‘STEM toys’ at the store, most wouldn’t feel comfortable doing STEM with their kids. Which is too bad, and it means we have some work to do as educators.
Building a culture of STEM learning in our classrooms won’t be truly successful until we build a culture of STEM learning in our communities.
We need to build some confidence in parents to try STEM at home with their kids. Families need to know that STEM isn’t just 3D printers and robots and nuclear physics.
Building a STEM culture at home involves helping families understand that STEM is all around us in the world. We must help them observe and create and explore, all of which will build better STEM learning in a child.
So how can we build these STEM learning opportunities at home?
Here’s 4 easy steps to start (it uses the STEM acronym so it’s easy to remember):
Step 1: Stories
One of the most powerful things families can do is share stories of the STEM they see and experience. Instead of quickly grabbing food and retreating to bedrooms or in front of a screen somewhere, families should take the opportunity whenever possible to sit and eat together. Without disruptions.
Mealtime can be the perfect opportunity to share all about the great STEM lessons and tools kids have been using in school. Parents can also share about how they used STEM in their job or daily tasks.
If families feel stumped about what to talk about, try filling a jar with discussion questions, things like “how did STEM make your life better today” or “what piece of technology has changed our world the most” or “would you rather live on the moon or the bottom of the ocean?”.
Families can also look to neighbors, relatives and friends for great stories of STEM.
My grandparents had amazing stories of how the world changed during their lifetimes, stories that both encourage me during hard times and inspire me to try new things. And to make these stories more significant, grab a device with a camera or microphone and record these stories to save and share with future generations.
We need to open our eyes (and ears) to the STEM happening all around us, not just the STEM that takes a rocket to space.
Step 2: Trips
Have you ever taken a trip to the museum? That’s STEM. Did you ever go to a bike shop? There’s STEM there too. Ever go on a ride at an amusement park? Definitely STEM.
STEM at home doesn’t just include home.
When families make the conscious decision to go somewhere that includes STEM, they’re helping kids to see how STEM is part of all types of careers, engineering, and design in our world.
This can be as easy as adding a trip to a museum to every family vacation. Or skipping the big box store and heading instead to a local bakery to ask some questions about how they bake their breads.
And it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money either. Look for local parks or nature preserves, many of which have passionate experts on hand just waiting to teach kids.
Stop at yard sales or antiques stores and challenge kids to find some examples of STEM. Or when you head to a movie theatre, talk about how STEM was used in the movie or how STEM was used to make the movie.
Step 3: Exploring
The best classrooms don’t have any walls. Yes, I’m talking about the great outdoors!
Plants, animals, dirt, rocks, water, wind, sunshine, stars, and just about everything else you see on the pages of a science book can also be found in real life.
Find a bug on the ground and watch where it goes. I love pulling out my iPhone and switching the camera to “slo-mo” and recording a video of the bug as it crawls up and over the blades of grass. They look like some sort of long-lost dinosaur, lumbering through their environment.
We need to help kids explore their surroundings, wherever they may live, and look for things that spark their interests.
Falling leaves can be turned into beautiful artwork (combine leaves to make animal shapes or put the leaves under paper and rub a crayon overtop).
Gardens attract bees and butterflies (and Bambi) that can be fun to observe or draw or film.
Stay up late and watch a meteor shower. Or take a picture of the moon from the same location each night and make a time-lapse video.
If the outside looks a little messy in your neighborhood, find some ways to make things better. Take a walk with your family and pick up the trash you see. Organise some friends and neighbors to clean up a vacant lot or plant flowers.
If you want to take your cleanup one step further, download the Litterati app, which uses your phone’s geolocation data to tag the location of the litter and AI software to identify what type of trash the litter used to be.
Afterwards, you can check out the data on the Litterati website to see exactly how many cigarette butts or take-out wrappers have been picked up. This can be a powerful tool to help kids see how big of an impact they can make when everyone worldwide pitches in.
Step 4: Making
Helping kids make and create is probably the most common way that families can get kids engaging with STEM at home. I grew up building with LEGO® and constructing tree forts.
The tools of making and creating may change over time, but kids have an innate sense of creativity that we need to encourage and cultivate, especially when worksheets and testing can give them a misrepresentation of education.
I believe wholeheartedly that every home should have some sort of bin, box, or shelf that contains supplies for kids to make and create with. Kids are much more likely to make something with aluminum foil and scissors and cotton balls if they’re in a box that signals they can use them.
Find some Amazon boxes, cut them into pieces, and have it available for kids to build with. Toss in some clean recyclables that can become a city or a castle or a character.
It’s also important to teach kids not to waste materials (an important idea of industry and business) and to put materials and tools away properly when finished (safety first). But just the simple process of having resources available encourages kids to be creating instead of consuming their entertainment.
One great way to create some STEM fun is to have kids invent their own games. Instead of letting your kids get bored playing the same old video games, challenge everyone in the family to work in teams to create a game to play. This can even be the perfect way to repurpose leftover games that are missing some of their parts.
Oh, and if a kid is making some sort of project, painting, or pumpkin pie, set up a camera with a time-lapse going and watch the creative process after it’s finished.
Or encourage kids to invent everything necessary to make their own stop-motion film. The possibilities for creating are only limited by imagination… yours and theirs!
And please remember one of the most important reasons for families to do STEM (or read) together: to spend time together.
Kids face many pressures and frustrations in their world, and a stronger family can help to guide them safely through the turmoils of their developmental years.
Families that create and build with STEM are creating and building memories at the same time. Kids grow up fast. Enjoy every minute with them!