Episode 9: STEM-ifying Your Home

STEM is an acronym that is heard across the country right now.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17%, while other occupations are growing at 9.8%. STEM is important because science, engineering, technology, and math are in every part of our lives. Science is everywhere in the world around us. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. Engineering is the basic designs of roads and bridges, but also tackles the challenges of changing global weather and environmentally-friendly changes to our home. Mathematics is in every occupation, every activity we do in our lives. By exposing students to STEM and giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts, they will develop a passion for it and possibly pursue a job in a STEM field.  In Episode 9, Amy Van Hoose talks to Sarah Phelps about how STEM is used in Triad classrooms and how you can create your own at-home STEM activities.

Sarah received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from SIUE in 2008, and her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Scranton in 2012.  She has taught for 10 years at Triad, eight in a 4th grade classroom at Henning, and the last two as the elementary computer science teacher for all four elementary schools. She spent one summer as a teacher of summer camps for the St. Louis Science Center, and has been the IMSA coordinator for Henning for the last eight years, as well. In 2014, she was awarded the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award. STEM education is her passion, and she loves to see students having fun while learning! She gets a lot of ideas for her classroom from my husband who is an engineer and computer programmer and her three sons who all attend Triad schools. In her free time she loves cooking, reading, and running.

Where do you start?   What process do you use for creating an at home STEM activity?

  • Pick materials that you have lying around
  • Come up with a challenge, problem, or question that you want them to investigate further (check out our resources for ideas)
  • Allow your child to start to experiment, with very little guidance from you.
    • It’s okay if your child struggles.  Encourage them to look at it differently or try drawing or think aloud.
    • Ask “How else do you think you could approach this?”
    • If your child is still struggling, look online to see what other people have done.  Scientists often look for other expert opinions first.
  • Once your child has had time to struggle or has looked through resources, have them make their best attempt and realize that it may not work.  They might have to try again or try something different. They have to be open to revising and making something better.

Remember:  If everyone said it it was perfect when the telegraph was created and people stopped trying new things, you wouldn’t have your iPhone 10!

Where are some good places to start for beginners?

  • Make a boat with aluminum foil and pennies
  • Build towers with blocks or Legos.  Make it more difficult with newspapers and tape or cups.
  • Come up with solutions to problems you have around the house.  What could we design or build to contain our stuffed animals?
  • Create catapults with craft sticks and rubber bands or paper cups and balloons (marshmallows are great to launch).
  • Paper airplanes are easy to manipulate and see how you can make it go farther.
  • Investigate bubbles.  Make homemade bubble makers with pipe cleaners – does the shape affect the the bubble?
  • Go outside and journal.  What do you see? What do you smell?  How does it change? from day to day? What makes it change?
  • Garden with your kids.  Have them help plant and talk about seeds.  Investigate what plants need. Observe the soil.

Where are some good places to visit for at home science?

  • Pinterest has a ton of ideas.  Just search the word STEM and you will have more ideas than you know what to do with!
  • Follow STEM blogs, they have great information and are updated with new ideas.  We have included several in the resources.
  • Triad releases a STEM newsletter with information about what is done in class and ideas to use at home.  Check out our March Newsletter.

What is a Makerspace?

  • A Makerspace is a space where students are able to explore their interests and solve problems.  The area is filled with materials for kids to use to experiment and develop creative projects.
  • You can create a Makerspace at home.  All it takes is a variety of materials (noodles, pipe cleaners, glue, tape, paper, cereal boxes, magnets, paper clips..) and a space to keep the materials.  Here are some ideas for creating a Makerspace.
  • Triad is currently working on adding a Makerspace to their elementary buildings!

How about parents of our older students?  How can they encourage their kids?

  • Cooking has lots of science and math.  Watch episodes of Good Eats hosted by Alton Brown to see science, math, and cooking all connect.  Try your own recipes and experiment with the ingredients. How does the product change?  Why?
  • Let your child tear something that is broken apart and empower them to fix it.  Speakers, radios, toys, anything electronic….Investigate what failed and how it might be fixed.

Wired Science Blogs

Wired makes science fun. With articles from “The Physics of OK Go’s Epic New Zero-G Video” to “All the Volcanic Eruptions You Missed During the Super Bowl,” the site’s science blog makes STEM accessible and relevant. If you love sharp, smart content with fun twists, check out Wired.

It’s Okay to Be Smart

Joe Hanson, a biologist and science writer, runs one of the great STEM blogs, called “It’s Okay to Be Smart.” He hopes his writing will spark passion for STEM, explaining on his blog, “We must teach science as more than facts. It’s a creative process, it’s an instant injection of wonderment, it’s the excitement we feel at the edge of knowledge. It’s for everyone.” Not only does he write about science, but he also makes YouTube videos on his channel of the same name with topics from “The Science of Kissing” to “The Science of Game of Thrones.” Be careful, you won’t be able to stop clicking Next.

For Girls in Science

L’Oreal created “For Girls in Science” to encourage girls to embrace STEM and build a community that promotes exploration, discovery, and achievement. The site celebrates successful STEM women, offers career tips and advice, promotes learning with STEM blogs and vlogs, and shares STEM camp opportunities. If you’re a girl in STEM, this website is for you.


TeenLife encourages students to take an active role in learning outside of the classroom. The website has articles on a variety of topics to help students excel in school and a blog specifically for STEM. Definitely bookmark this blog to keep some STEM tips in your back pocket.

TED Blog

TED always makes learning fun and its blog is no exception. Similar to TED Talks, blog posts offer insight into a variety of topics. Posts also offer a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most popular talks. From flesh-eating mushrooms to the science of stage fright, they have you covered on any STEM topic you could dream of.

Phenomena: Not Exactly Rocket Science

Ed Yong explores science and nature on his National Geographic blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. Everything is fair game; from penguins to pumpkins, he writes about it all! If you’re looking for fun articles that are still challenging, this STEM blog is for you.

Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty is more than just a book about an engineer who happens to be a young girl; it is about not being afraid to be different, especially when being different is amazing. It’s not always easy to march to the beat of your own drummer, and Rosie has a hard time at first but after a pep talk from a special mentor everything changes.
Iggy Peck Architect also by Andrea Beaty is a hilarious and touching book about a young boy named Iggy, who doesn’t just like to build, he HAS to build. It’s in his bones. Not everyone appreciates his talents but in the end his ability to build and solve problems saves the day.
Dawson, from Awesome Dawson, is an amazing little boy who invents new things from other people’s trash. Dawson is just like other children who try to find ways to get out of their chores so he can get back to the important work of play. He’s one step ahead of most kids though and invents a robot to take care of this chores, but things don’t go as awesome as he hoped. That’s when he must re-invent himself into a superhero to save the day.
Monkey with A Tool Belt and The Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe is a hilarious book about a monkey who is not only handy with his tools, he is also a fantastic problem solver. The perfect combination to demonstrate to young readers what STEM is all about. He creates, builds, and fixes the noisy problem. This whole series of books are fantastic.
 11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill is hilarious. The book follows a young scientist as she conducts 11 terribly misguided experiments around her home, all with terrible and hilarious consequences. Besides the dry humor the best part of this book is that each experiment follows the scientific method!
 The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is an important addition to this list because while the end product is important, this story focuses on the process of creating, and failing. Making amazing things is awesome but it’s not always an easy road and this book tackles the idea that failing, and trying again is part of the creation process.
 STEM Labs for Middle Grades offers activities that challenge students to apply scientific inquiry, content knowledge, and technological design to solve real-world problems. An excellent addition to your curriculum, this supplement will help cultivate students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Coding Games in Scratch is written for children ages 8–12 with little to no coding experience, this straightforward visual guide uses fun graphics and easy-to-follow instructions to show young learners how to build their own computer projects using Scratch, a popular free programming language.
 The Big Book of MakerSpace Projects is an easy-to-follow guide features dozens of DIY, low-cost projects that will arm you with the skills necessary to dream up and build your own creations. The Big Book of Makerspace Projects: Inspiring Makers to Experiment, Create, and Learn offers practical tips for beginners and open-ended challenges for advanced makers. Each project features non-technical, step-by-step instructions with photos and illustrations to ensure success and expand your imagination. You will learn recyclables hacks, smartphone tweaks, paper circuits, e-textiles, musical instruments, coding and programming, 3-D printing, and much, much more!

Eight ways to Introduce kids to STEM at an Early Age

Big DIY – 35 Fun Engineering DIY projects for Kids

Science Sparks – At home science fun

Steve Spangler – At home science projects

Recycled STEM Activities and Challenges for Kids


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