Educator Emily Hunt founded HowToSTEM to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education for younger children. Follow this blog to find STEM education advice, recommendations of books and apps, and reviews of STEM activities.
Don’t let common misperceptions hold you back. Follow these tips and use a cross-disciplinary approach to get children engaged, says Emily Hunt…Click here to read the full article, written for Teach Primary Magazine.
The days are getting lighter, the weather is getting warmer: Summer has finally arrived! Here are 4 Summer STEM activities and 4 Summer STEM books to keep you busy over the next few months.
4 Summer STEM activities
Shadows and Sundials
How did people tell the time before clocks?
All you need are twelve rocks and a stick! Begin at midday, placing the stick in the middle of your sundial and a rock to represent 12 o clock. Return each hour to place a new rock. Children will be able to investigate how the length of the shadow changes throughout the day and will enjoy using their clock to tell the time.
How do rockets launch all the way into space?
Gather together a bottle, a cork, baking soda and vinegar. First decorate your bottle, ready for its launch. Then place baking soda and vinegar inside, stand well back and watch the launch! I recommend wrapping the baking soda in a small piece of paper towel to delay the launch long enough for you to get safely out the way. Then investigate how real life rocks launch all the way into space.
Animal Safari Walk
How do animals protect themselves from predators?
Create pipe cleaner animals. Some will need to be camouflaged to the environment you are hiding them in while others must stand out. Then challenge the children to find them all. What did they notice? Discuss how some animals use colour as a defence against predators. Extremely obvious colourations such as the red of a ladybird are called ‘warning colourations’. Hoverfly avoid predation by mimicking more dangerous animals such as a bee. Other animals blend into their surroundings using ‘camouflage’ to avoid predation. Research animals from other countries with warning colours such as poisoned dart frogs or skunks.
Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloons
How do hot air balloons fly?
Create a hot air balloon envelope out of tissue paper. Glue the pieces together and then hold over a hair dryer. Observe the gases keeping your balloon afloat in the air. Does your balloon fly better if the envelope is bigger or smaller? Further areas to investigate include forces, gravity, flight and density.
4 Summer STEM books
How to Code a Sandcastle
Pearl and her trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal, need to build a sandcastle before summer vacation is over, and they’re going to do it using code. Pearl breaks the big we-need-a-sandcastle problem into smaller steps, then uses sequences, loops, and other basic coding concepts to tell Pascal exactly what to do. There are a lot of humorous mishaps along the way, but just when it looks like the sandcastle might never get built, Pearl uses her coding skills to save the day and create something even better: a gorgeous sandcastle kingdom! Click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk.
Swirl by Swirl
What makes the tiny snail shell so beautiful? Why does that shape occur in nature over and over again–in rushing rivers, in a flower bud, even inside your ear? With simplicity and grace, Sidman and Krommes not only reveal the many spirals in nature–from fiddleheads to elephant tusks, from crashing waves to spiraling galaxies–but also celebrate the beauty and usefulness of this fascinating shape. Click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk.
Shaping up Summer
As young readers journey into the natural world, they will discover that numbers, patterns, shapes and much more can be found in everyday plants and animals. What if animals and plants knew maths, just like us? Would spiders draw pictures in their webs? Would narwhals sort blocks of ice by shape? Would insects know what’s above and what’s below? In Shaping Up Summer, the final title in the Maths in Nature series, nature comes to life to help children grasp concepts of geometry, symmetry, and spatial sense. Click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk.
Bees, Snails and Peacock Tails
Come explore the hidden shapes and patterns in nature. The peacock’s flashy tail is a masterpiece of colour and shape. A buzzing beehive is built of tiny hexagons. Even a snake’s skin is patterned with diamonds. Poet Betsy Franco and Caldecott Honor winner Steve Jenkins bring geometry to life in this lively, lyrical look at the shapes and patterns that can be found in the most unexpected places. Click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk.
Share your Summer STEM ideas and experiences in the comments below or by getting in touch on twitter @howtostem.
There’s something about origami that really seems to capture children’s imagination. In most of the classes that I have taught over the years, there has been at least one child with a real passion for origami. Many a show-and-tell has been dominated by incredible paper-folding creations, from water bombs to paper dragons. Think back to your own school days; which of these origami classics do you remember creating?
Origami is the ancient art of Japanese paper folding and for many, a love of origami stems from childhood. As much as we might marvel at this paper art-form, do we see its potential beyond an interesting pastime? Origami has evolved to be much more than paper folding. Here are some examples, with real-world applications within areas such as engineering, medicine and technology.
At a primary school level, origami is a fantastic way to explore mathematical concepts including geometry, fractions and angles. Turning a simple square of paper into a piece of completed origami involves a lot of mathematical thinking. Origami instructions involve following steps of folds, often referred to as ‘crease patterns’, in order to create different geometric constructions. Children will need to use knowledge of directionality and angles in order to complete these correctly. Throughout the process they will create other shapes starting from a square including equilateral triangles, pentagons and hexagons. Patterns also feature heavily in origami.
The math and magic of origami | Robert Lang - YouTube
The TED talk above, entitled ‘The math and magic of origami‘ explains in more detail about the complex mathematics involved in origami.
Many of the real-world applications for origami can be found within engineering. Take the example of car airbags. Did you know that their compact, quick inflating design was inspired by origami? Engineers took inspiration from origami patterns and folding methods to deploy how the airbag is stored and deployed. Engineers are continuing to draw upon origami techniques when developing new structures and technologies.
In 2003, a new, origami-inspired heart stent design was created. Designed around an origami water bomb base, the purpose of the stent was to enlarge clogged arteries and veins. The origami design allows the stent to be expanded to different sizes depending on its application. Likewise, origami-inspired forceps are helping to revolutionise robotic surgery, allowing for delicate, precise cuts.
There are plenty of examples of origami-inspired space technology. One such is the solar array. The combination of different folds expands into a large, flat circular surface. These solar arrays can then be used to convert solar energy into electrical power. More examples of how NASA engineers use origami to design future spacecraft can be found here:
How NASA Engineers Use Origami To Design Future Spacecraft - YouTube
And all this is just the start! I hope this blog has inspired you to find out more about the real-world applications of origami. Do let me know your thoughts and further ideas via social media or in the comments section below.
When should we introduce the STEM approach and how can we maintain children’s engagement with STEM throughout their education? Emily Hunt offers teachers some advice.Click here to read the full article, written for Headteacher Update.
We’re kicking off December with a STEM advent calendar. Behind each door is hidden a STEM related picture, activity, book or app suitable for children. Enjoy!
Here we go with door number 1 on the STEM advent calendar and it’s the Geoboard app! It’s free to download and a quick, fun way for children to make Christmas shapes like snowflakes, stars and Christmas trees. Find out more about the app here.
Check back each day to see what is behind the doors. You can also follow the STEM advent calendar on our Twitter and Facebook pages!
Here in the UK at the moment the beautiful Autumnal weather has created a splash of colour across the trees. This inspired me to have a go at a rainbow leaf walk. I wanted to see if I could find a leaf to represent each colour of the rainbow and to find out a bit more about why leaves change colour. Here’s how I got on…
Go on a leaf rainbow walk
Finding a range of different coloured leaves turned out to be a doddle. A mere 10 minutes in to my walk, I’d already built up quite a collection of different colours. If you’re going to have a go at this with children, first set some ground rules:
Only collect leaves that have fallen on the ground (remember, a tree is a living thing)
Check carefully before you pick leaves up incase there is rubbish nearby etc.
If there are any bugs or insects on your leaves, carefully brush them on to the ground nearby.
Keep your hands away from your mouth and wash them carefully afterwards.
Then have fun collecting. Here’s my rainbow of leafy colours!
If you want to add a further challenge to this activity, why not have a go at making sure that each leaf is a different size or shape? You could also use an app such as ‘Leafsnap‘ to identify which tree the leaf has come from.
Naturally you should have no trouble finding leaves of all shades of green. Reds, oranges and yellows also proved relatively easy to find, along with browns and even purples and blacks. However, we struggled with blue.
This got me thinking.
Why are leaves different colours?
This comes down to an important pigment called chlorophyll. To put it simply, chlorophyll is the substance that allows plants to absorb energy from the sun and turn it into food. This process is called photosynthesis. Every leaf has chlorophyll in it. You may have noticed that not all leaves are green. These leaves still contain chlorophyll but they also contain other pigments too that no longer make the leaf look green.
As leaves prepare to fall in the Autumn, a layer of cells forms across the bottom of the leaf. This slowly restricts the movement of food across the leaf. In some trees it also also produces a pigment called anthocyanin. This is what gives leaves their red colouring. The more sunlight and dry weather, the brighter the red will be!
The less sunlight the leaves get, the yellower they turn (we also see the same happen to grass if it is covered over). Inside the leaves is a pigment called carotene. You may have guessed from the name that we also see this pigment in carrots! Is the leaves stop photosynthesising, the yellow carotene remains, turning the leaf a yellowy colour.
The lack of sunlight and food eventually causes the leaves to turn brown. These leaves litter the ground under the tree and eventually decay, acting as a natural fertiliser for the ground.
And as for blue? There’s no true blue pigment in plants so it’s rare to see a blue colour in their leaves.
If you have a go at this activity, do share your leaf rainbows with me using the twitter handle @howtostem.
For more, quick, easy-to-resource STEM activities, check out my book 15-Minute STEM.
Here we are, just days into the holidays, a long summer with the family stretching out in front of you. One thought is beginning to weigh heavily on your mind: ‘How on earth am I going to keep my children entertained?’ It’s all very well leaving them to their own devices but it doesn’t take long before the novelty of lie-ins, endless screen time and lack of routine wears off and you hear them utter those dreaded words: ‘I’m bored!’
Keeping children amused in the holidays is a daunting prospect for many parents and keeping the cost down even more so. However, the summer holidays are a golden opportunity for children to explore, learn new skills and put their learning into a real-world context. What’s more, nurturing your child’s natural curiosity and creativity is an excellent way to broaden their horizons and shape their future aspirations.
Recent research by the charity Education and Employers shows that children form their perceptions about careers and jobs at an early age, developing their future ambitions from as young as seven. However, making a connection between primary school lessons and the jobs they might one day pursue is not easy. This research also shows that there is a major disconnect between the careers that primary-aged children are most interested in and those that the economy needs.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related industries are some of the fastest growing and demand for skilled workers is only set to grow. From robotics to caring for our environment, space exploration to the digital revolution, these disciplines have an impact that can already be seen in every aspect of our lives. Preparation for STEM careers is not just a matter of imparting hard knowledge, but nurturing ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork and problem solving. Fortunately, STEM activities and soft skills go hand-in-hand.
Here are ten quick, easy ways to nurture a love of STEM this summer. They won’t break the bank, and might just prevent those dreaded words… ‘I’m bored!’
Nature walks are a fantastic way to unwind and appreciate the natural world outside. Spend time searching for minibeasts like beetles and ants in different habitats, using a magnifying glass to take a closer look. Alternatively, look for naturally occurring patterns, from the symmetry of a butterfly’s wings to the spirals in a snail’s shell or the tessellation in tree bark. The natural world is full of patterns!
Have a go at creating a 2D shape bubble wand by cutting straws into quarters and bending pipe cleaners through them to join the straw segments together. For more of a challenge, create a 3D shape bubble wand. Cubes and pyramid shapes work particularly well for this. Then dip your bubble wand into soapy water, take a good look at your bubble and then blow it away!
Take a trip to a local museum or zoo. This is a great way to not only bring learning to life but also to meet experts in different fields. What’s more, many museums run free events and workshops for children throughout the summer holidays. Look up locations near you for more information.
Play puzzles and games. Activities such as Sudoku and chess are great for developing logical thinking, an important skill in STEM subjects. Construction toys such as Lego help to develop spatial awareness. Anything involving dice is great for developing mathematical skills.
Challenge your child to create a raft out of natural materials. Sticks, joined together with twine are perfect for this and a leaf can make an excellent flag. Then test your raft in a bowl of water or stream to see if it floats!
Try your hand at a spot of stargazing on a clear evening. There are lots of free apps available for download to help you navigate the sky above you. For a closer look at the stars, locate a free star gazing event near you. The ‘Go Stargazing’ website is a great place to start.
It’s amazing what can be constructed out of the contents of a recycle bin. Cardboard tubes such as those found on kitchen and toilet roll can be taped to a wall to create a marble run. Vary the angles of the tubes to create different speeds of travel. Another idea could be to create a moving vehicle or boat out of junk modelling materials.
Find out how things work. For example, try taking a simple mechanical toy apart and reassembling it again (steering clear of electrical items). As you do so, discuss the function of all the different parts.
Challenge your child to create the tallest freestanding tower that they can out of newspaper. Sticky tape works best for joining the structure together. You could make this competitive by setting a timer to see who can build the tallest tower in the allotted time: you or your child?
Give your child a list of ten things to find in the natural world. Ideas that work well are a list of colours, textures, shapes or smells. They can tick items off the list once found or even take a photo of them as evidence.
For each of these activities, you can discuss their relations to different sorts of jobs. For example, a newspaper tower could be connected to the role of a civil engineer or architect; the nature walk to the job of a biologist or forester; the junk modelling to the job of a design engineer. Plan these activities into your summer holidays and perhaps you might just plant some seeds for future ambitions in the process.
“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
– Malcolm X
In the fast paced digital world in which we live, barely a week goes by without the release of a new device or app. The children of today have grown up with this digital revolution and rely heavily on technology for entertainment, communication and information. As we look ahead it would be foolish to underestimate the impact that technology, automation and artificial intelligence will have on the future workplace. From driverless cars to robotics, the world is changing fast. The question is:
Are we teaching children the the skills they need to prepare them for the technological advances of the future?
Plus, with school budgets stretched to the limit, how can we provide forward-thinking technology education on a budget? We’ve put together a few ideas linked to the world of robotics…
These colourful programmable floor robots are a great way to teach directionality, programming and sequencing and are perfect for the 5-11 age range. A great way to begin is by marking out simple routes for the Bee-Bot to follow. For example, try sticking masking tape onto carpet to create a maze. Once children have got to grips with this, challenge them to devise and program and debug their own more complex routes. Currently retailing for £57.94 here on Amazon.co.uk
This educational program helps children to design, program and control robotic creatures, vehicles, machines and inventions. Lego is combined with programmable brick, motors and sensors, so you can make your creations walk, talk, grab, think, shoot and do almost anything you can imagine! These kits are on the pricier side at around £270 here but once purchased can be used again and again.
This resource is developed for primary aged children as an introduction to control technology and programming using robotics. The software is clear and intuitive for young children and comes in the form of an app. Click on their website here to find out more and download sample software and curriculum packs for free.
This is a small, affordable computer that you can use for programming. Use it to learn to program with Scratch. You can kit yourself out with a Raspberry Pi here for around £36. Then head to their website to learn how to use this device in the classroom and take advantage of their free online training.
These ping pong ball sized robotic balls can be controlled by an app and can even use facial recognition technology to drive the ball. They contain LED lights to allow them to glow many colours. The app is quick and intuitive for children to use. They’ll love navigating their Sphero around mazes and obstacles. Currently retailing for £49.99 here on Amazon.co.uk
Each kit comes with step-by-step instructions to build and program your robot. Kits include robotic arms, catapults and zip flyers. Each kits varies in price with the hydraulic robotic arm (pictured) currently retailing for £33.49 here on Amazon.co.uk
Scratch allows the user to program their own interactive stories, games and animations. These programming skills are likely to come in hand in the future as the ‘language of robotics’. What’s more, you can connect and program hardware such as Raspberry Pi and Lego Mindstorms through Scratch. If you’re not already familiar with this fab free software then click here to find out.
The Nasa Robotics website is full of fantastic free resources for educators and children. This includes lesson plans and examples of how robots such as the Mars Exploration Rover have been used in space. Check it out here.
Have you used a good robotics resource that we haven’t included? If so then comment below.