Whether you are a seasoned pro or new to teaching with STEM, the beginning of the year is the perfect time to get your students set up for success. STEM also naturally lends itself to be fun, hands-on, engaging, and challenge-focused which kids love. They will feel more like they are playing than learning awesome Science, Engineering (Art), and Math skills. First-week activities for STEM should be fun but also focus on teaching how STEM activities will run in your classroom. I am so excited to share with you how I use STEM activities during the first week of school to introduce my students to STEM challenges, the design process, the importance of teamwork, and how STEM relates to our everyday lives.
What is STEM/STEAM?
You may have seen these acronyms before and generally know that teaching STEM/STEAM includes some kind of technology in the classroom. However, you may be surprised to know that you have probably already done some sort of STEM/STEAM project in the past.
STEM stands for:
STEAM stands for:
Depending on how you choose to run your projects and what you are comfortable with, you may choose one or the other. Both are amazing ways to get your kids thinking creatively, problem-solving, and working together with a team to complete a challenge.
Sometimes schools have dedicated STEM teachers, just like me! I love being able to focus completely on STEM activities with different grade levels throughout the week. Other times, classroom teachers are asked to incorporate STEM activities into the classroom. Whatever situation you find yourself in, just know that I am here to help you with all your STEM and STEAM needs!
Types of STEM Activities
By their nature, STEM challenges are hands-on projects. Students use a variety of common household supplies to solve real-world problems. They brainstorm, build, test, and build again. It's part creativity and part science all wrapped up in one!
STEM challenges can also be digital! With so many coding programs, interactive STEM activities, and digital resources relating to STEM it's easy to assign projects in Google Classroom for your in-person or distance learners.
Some of my favorite digital STEM activities include:
- Virtual Team Building Lego
- Read Across America Activities
- Virtual Team Building For Fall And Thanksgiving
When Should I Use STEM Challenges
My easy answer is… as often as possible. If you are new to STEM/STEAM, it's important to set goals for you and your students that are attainable. Don't try to jump in with the most challenging STEM activity right away.
Be sure to start with a project that will not only be fun for your students but also help them understand the process of working through a STEM challenge and what that will look like in your classroom.
Think about your expectations for your students. Depending on the grade level, students may be able to get out the supplies, read the directions, and get right to work. Younger students may need to work through one challenge as a class. Whatever works best for you and your students is great.
If you are a classroom teacher looking to incorporate STEM into your year, be sure to check out this awesome STEM challenge bundle. With one STEM project per week, you will be set up with critical thinking, problem-solving, and engineering activities for the entire year.
STEM Activities For The First Week Of School
One of the absolute best ways to introduce students to STEM is with a surprise challenge. It is such a fun way for students to work together to solve a problem. It's great as an icebreaker activity on the first day of school too. I don't know about you, but day one is all about building community in my classroom.
This is a great time to get students working through the design process as well. It's important that students learn from this challenge, so don't be tempted to give a lot of guidance.
Make the challenge fun AND rewarding, but also something they can successfully complete within an allotted amount of time.
Posing challenges as real-world, relatable problems is the perfect way to get that all-important buy-in from your students. With a little creative thinking and a lot of fun, your students will be working collaboratively on the very first day of school.
Some ideas for surprise STEM challenge ideas for the first day include:
- Design a way for each student to get water to their desks for a drink during the day.
- Our school is getting a new playground! Design one new piece of playground equipment that students will love to play on.
- A local amusement park needs a brand new roller coaster. Use scrap paper to design and build a fun, new rollercoaster.
- Our class pet (or stuffed animal you bring in) needs a new home. Build a fantastic new home for our friend using recycled materials.
These easy ideas don't require you to spend your precious teacher money! Look around your classroom or grab up cardboard from teachers as they are unpacking their rooms.
After your students have completed the challenge, take some time for a class discussion. Talk about what went well, what was difficult, and what they would have done differently. This is the perfect time to explain STEM and the design process.
Whether or not your students have previously been exposed to STEM activities or not, the first week of school is the best time to let your students know what your expectations are for STEM activities. An introductory STEM or STEAM booklet is always my starting place! It also gives me an opportunity to introduce the design process which we will be focusing on heavily when working on our STEM/STEAM projects.
Not only do students get introduced to the design process, but they learn about each of the fields that work together to create STEM projects. Students will be learn how each of these areas (science, technology, engineering and math) solves problems. Then they will be challenged to put it into action. The STEM/STEAM booklet also helps my students think about how STEM is used in their everyday lives.
My favorite part of the STEM booklet is there are no right or wrong answers! My students always love working on their STEM booklets as they get to know one another on the first day of school. It's a great time for them to see which of their classmates might have the same hobbies as they do.
A fantastic way to get your students thinking about how they will be using STEM activities is with an interactive booklet they can complete on the first day of school. I love using the STEAM Booklet because it includes activities relating to art as well as science, technology, engineering, and math.
For younger students, the booklet can be completed collaboratively as a class. For the older students, get them into small groups to not only work on the booklet but also get to know some of their new classmates in the process.
This STEM booklet can also be completed digitally in Google Slides and assigned through Google Classroom.
Through this one book students will explore so many STEM concepts. They will develop a good foundation for the year of fun learning that is ahead of them.
STEM Read Alouds
Students of all ages love read alouds and these STEM read alouds are the perfect addition to your first week of school lesson plans. These are some of my favorite STEM read alouds.
Practice Makes Perfect
During the first week of school, be sure to make your STEM challenges fun and engaging. There will be time for more complex STEM challenges in the weeks to come, but the first week should focus on getting to know your expectations, the process and procedures for STEM challenges.
Save These First Week Activities For STEM
I know how time-consuming it is to try to find the perfect STEM activities for your students. Save your valuable teacher time by pinning this page to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can come back again and again for more fun and engaging STEM activities!