STEM in the Classroom

STEM in the Classroom

STEM is based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.

Why is STEM important?

Not only are careers in STEM fields on the rise, having experience with hands-on problem solving while working well in a team offers benefits no matter what career the student eventually pursues.

Benefits of STEM Activities in the Classroom

There are many fantastic reasons to use STEM lessons in your classroom. Some of the main benefits of using STEM in your classroom are:
  • student engagement
  • collaborative and blended learning
  • naturally support a growth mindset
  • improvement of critical thinking skills

Student Engagement with STEM

One important one is student engagement. Kids are naturally curious and creative, and STEM lessons give them hands-on activities which allow them to tinker and do what kids do best, play. In playing with them, kids get a real and meaningful feel for how things work. STEM activities allow freedom to experiment and play, which is highly motivating for kids. Not only that, it can help keep them focused.

Collaborative and Blended Learning with STEM

STEM challenges work well as collaborative learning experiences while students work in small groups. What separates STEM from traditional science and math education is that it applies concepts learned in these classes. While students will still need to learn the scientific method as part of their science curriculum, using the engineering design process requires a different skill set.

STEM and a Growth Mindset

STEM challenges lend themselves well to a growth mindset, asking students to persevere until design criteria is met. Because there are often multiple solutions to a given STEM problem, students must work both creatively and diligently.

STEM is 21st Century Learning

Utilizing STEM in the classroom provides opportunities for all level of learners to master skills and content necessary to succeed in the the 21st century. Using a variety of activity-based learning models, students are provided opportunities to explore learning in a rigorous way. Use STEM to develop reasoning skills, critical thinking skills, creativity, and innovation through integrated and connected STEM curriculum. These experiences help provide equity among learners from diverse backgrounds. STEM has the potential to provide true mastery for all learners.

Get Started with STEM

I have numerous resources available for STEM learning, many of them are free for educators. Just join my newsletter list to gain access to my free resource library, or head to my Teachers pay Teachers shop to find both free and paid resources for K-8 STEM.

Valentine's Day STEM Adventure with Cupid

Fun STEM Activities for Elementary Students on Valentine's Day

Candy Heart STEM That is Easy to Implement

This is the third installment of the "Choose Your Own STEMventure" series. I wrote a short story about Cupid for Valentine's Day. Don't worry, there's no lovey-dovey stuff. In the story, Cupid is helping kids and animals work through some quarrels. Each choice leads to a STEM challenge, so that in completing the story students will complete 3-4 challenges. The story not only guides them through the engineering design process, it includes design constraints and areas for them to fill in their thoughts, plans, and testing data.

One Challenge All Students Complete - Unplugged Coding

Not all kids love coding, but it is still great to expose them to simple logic problems that are the basis of coding. Creating a path is a simple way to have kids think ahead and plan out a set of directions - this can be useful in many other non-coding areas, such as cooking, following a map, or even executing a detailed set of drills at soccer practice! The story is set up in such a way that all students will walk through this particular challenge, though the other challenges presented are up to the student. The other challenges include:
  • a candy heart tower
  • a candy heart maze
  • a container that holds candy hearts
  • a parachute for Cupid
  • a bow for Cupid (optional, for any class that has a serious case of shoot-your-eye-out-itis)
You can do the challenges above (aside from the coding one) without the resource I created. Here are some examples of the others:

Other ideas for Candy Heart STEM

  • Create a pattern with the hearts and have someone else decipher it. Is it by color? By saying? Something else?
  • Create a candy heart launcher! 
  • Set up an experiment to try and figure out the fastest way to dissolve candy hearts. Is it with cold water? Warm water? Water with baking soda in it? Milk (if no allergies)? Something else? Get ideas from students and see if they have any creative solutions to try!

Find this STEM Resource on Teachers pay Teachers

If you would like to use the story and printables I've created, you can find them on Teachers pay Teachers at this link Valentine's Day STEM:'s%20Day%20STEMventure%20

or save these ideas for later by pinning this on Pinterest:

Popsicle Stick STEM Challenges - Fun Craft Stick Activities for Kids

Craft Stick STEM Challenges Your Kids will Love

Whether you call them popsicle sticks, craft sticks, tongue depressors, or paddlepop sticks, you are probably familiar with a number of ways to use this versatile material.

Get Started with Popsicle Stick STEM

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You can use standard popsicle sticks, but I find them much more challenging to work with than large, 6" x 3/4" sticks. Make sure you sort through them and remove any that are broken, split, or have splintering edges. If you are looking for jumbo colorful ones like the ones above, I got mine here.

Create a Popsicle Stick Bridge

A really easy challenge to get started with is to create a popsicle stick bridge. Use binder clips to hold the sticks together and make it easily reconfigurable. You can create a simple ladder style design or try something a little more funky. Get creative and see what works! For older kids, you can use hot glue to create some really intricate and large bridges with a long span.

Make it easier for little ones:Binder clips can be hard to work for small fingers. Attach Velcro/hook & loop stickers to the ends of craft sticks for easy building. In addition to bridges, they can use the sticks to create 2D shapes and even letters.

Create a Stick Bomb Chain Reaction 

This one will entice even reluctant kids to get in on the STEM action! Use a weaving technique to apply tension to the sticks. You can work with a variety of patterns, from simple to the more complex. For very simple designs, visit this YouTube channel
as he has some great tutorials (tip - watch at .75 speed because he talks really quickly!). Or you can try to create a pattern like the one below - just search "stick bomb" on YouTube and you'll find a variety of videos explaining how to weave it. I recommend working on a carpet if possible because it's easier to slide the sticks into place.

Popsicle Stick Marble Maze STEM

This one is a bit tricky but SO much fun! Create a marble maze in a box. If you are working with your own kid(s), you can use a box cutter to poke the sticks through the cardboard to secure them. Otherwise, duct tape works well. Pro tip: tilt the box back slightly to help keep the marble from falling out, or construct "channels" by making an L-shape with two sticks.

See a few popsicle stick STEM ideas in action


Other Craft Stick STEM Ideas

Craft Stick Art or Bow and Arrow

If you want to get really creative, you can soak them in water for a few hours or overnight, and then bend to the desired shape. This is a lot of fun, but takes some careful planning ahead. You'll need to then clamp the sticks in place somehow until they dry. There are some amazing designs you can create!

Craft Stick Harmonica or Kazoo

Use craft sticks in your STEM station!

Craft stick shapes match up game

Try These STEM Challenges with the Engineering Design Process

If you want to add more rigor to these challenges by following the engineering design process, please visit the resource I put together. It includes the 3 challenges above plus two more. With this  guided STEM resource, students need to meet the design criteria specified to complete the challenge. It's even easy enough to leave with a sub!

You can find Craft Stick STEM Challenges here:

Pin these Popsicle Stick STEM Ideas for Later:

Listen to This! 10 Great STEM Podcasts for Teachers

Top 10 Podcasts for STEM Teachers and Parents (and finding time to listen to them)

I resisted podcasts for a long time because I didn't think I had time for them. I also prefer to read over listening to get my information, but over time podcasts have really grown on me. Hopefully you are already an avid podcast fiend...but if not (I understand, really) read on anyway for some ideas on how to incorporate these into your life. You might even enjoy them!
Listen on iTunes or wherever you enjoy podcasts. *Please note, most of these are appropriate for kids, too, but I did find a few episodes that I'd pass on sharing with my own kids and listen alone instead.
  1. STEM everyday: Listen to an interview with the EiE founder, or find topics such as STEM projects with an education focus. Integrate STEM into your everyday!
  2. STEM Diversity - This is an interview podcast focuses on professionals with underepresented backgrounds - great for inspiring students who might not think they have what it takes because they don't see STEM professionals that look like them. (yes, they've got it!)
  3. STEAMchannel UCTV - strong focus on design thinking, empathising with the people in need to make sure the design needs are being met. This podcast also includes a series with Sally Rid.
  4. Lab Out Loud - sponsored by the NSTA and includes everything from underwater robots to a Mole Day podcast.
  5. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast, from Pios Labs - a great podcast that explores many facets of K-12 STEM. From the website, "Listen as we try to find better ways to teach and inspire kids in invention, problem-solving, persistence, teamwork, and imagination."
  6. The Naked Scientists Podcasts - Learn about space, questions answered you never even dreamed of asking, and questions you may have asked your kids, such as "Why do people pick their noses?"
  7. The Wired Homeschool - As a fellow homeschooling parent, I was thrilled to find this one. It's great for parents and teachers, too. Listen to screen time management ideas or about internet safety for kids.
  8. MakerCast - A podcast for makers! Get ideas from these makers for projects you could incorporate into your own classroom.
  9. When you don't have a lot of time: 60 Second Science or Engineering Word of the Day (Engineering WOTD also from Pios Labs)
  10. STEM Read - This is a podcast from NPR that explores the connections between STEM and storytelling. As someone who enjoys making a literacy-STEM connection, this one had to make my top 10 list.

Tips for Finding Time to Listen to Podcasts

You might think you don't have time to listen to podcasts. I know I felt this way until I got a bit creative with the when of it.

Podcast Tip #1 - Listen on your Commute

Maybe just on your ride TO work, since the ride home your brain is probably too tired to pay attention, am I right? Listen any time your hands are occupied - like when you're driving, prepping dinner, braiding your child's hair, or you are getting ready in the morning.

Podcast Tip #2 - Listen on your Workout

This is my favorite way to listen to podcasts. When I'm running, I often like to listen to a playlist I'd find embarrassing to share, but for a few runs a week I switch it up and listen to a podcast. Whether you are pumping iron, walking, running, or doing yoga, try adding a podcast to the mix.

My last tip, though I'm sure not everyone will agree...

Podcast Tip #3 - Speed it UP

I'm going to be honest. I'm not the most patient person I know. It's not something I'm always proud of, and I often have to remind myself to slow down. Sometimes speeding up a podcast slightly can really help, though. I'm not talking about 2X or even 1.5X, but most podcast apps allow you to speed it up to 1.1 or 1.2. It's subtle, but it's something.

If you don't want to speed up the audio, there are apps that can eliminate pauses to save time. Try Overcast with SmartSpeed.

Share your favorite STEM podcasts!

Join the STEM educator Facebook Group and share your favorite STEM podcasts with us.

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10 Grant Sources for STEM Education

Where can I get funding for STEM?

You want to incorporate more STEM but you just don't have all the supplies you need. There might be a grant for that; if you are willing to put in a little time and effort, you may be rewarded with a grant to help take your STEM lab or makerspace to the next level. Read on to find out how to download a grant writing checklist and PDF of all these links for future reference.

STEM classroom grants to apply for

Before Getting Started with Grant Applications

As you tackle grant writing and applications, please make sure to perform due diligence with any grant you find. The NEA Foundation has a grant-writing guide that you should definitely check out for tips on how to make sure your proposal rocks, or head to Amy Mezni's post about writing a successful grant application.
A few more tips:
  • Learn about the company or foundation. 
  • Find out if they are expecting anything in return.
  • Get the green light from your administration.
  • Read the guidelines. Re-read the guidelines. Read them a third time! You don't want to spend your precious time applying for a grant only to be rejected because you missed something important.
  • If something isn't clear, call and speak with someone about the grant. I know that phone calls are not everyone's favorite thing, but you can make a personal connection and may even get some tips on what the grant panel is looking for.

Beyond the Usual Suspects

You likely already know about grant opportunities through the US Department of Education, the NSF, PLTW, and the NSTA, so here are a few new places to look. Grant databases are highlighted in red, the rest are single source.

10. Get Ed Funding

On Get Ed Funding, you can seek out a grant that matches your needs. I love that you can just go through the search to narrow what you are looking for. Are you in a public or private school? Choose your grade range, and don't forget to check the STEM box.

You'll find everything from Boeing grants to various family foundation grants.

9. Lowe's Toolbox for Education

The website boasts that this program "has provided over $54 million to more than 12,000 schools across the country." Read through the Lowe's grant site to find ideas for applications as well as past awardees.

8. Motorola Solutions Foundation Grants

The Motorola Solutions Foundation has grants available specifically for STEM programs. "Supporting programs that advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, preparing our next generation of innovators." Apply online.

7. NEA Foundation Grants

If you are a member of the NEA, they have grant opportunities that encourage STEM applicants. Find detailed information on their Student Achievement Grants page or look through the rest of their grant opportunities if something else might suit your classroom better.

6. Best Buy Grants

Who you callin' geek? Best Buy has a number of grants available, with a strong focus on underserved youth and technology. Head to Best Buy's education grants.

5. STEMfinity's List of Grants

STEMfinity has a list of STEM grants sorted by state, as well as a list of federal grant programs.

4. Making the Future U.S. After-school and Summer Program Grants by Cognizant

Cognizant is a Fortune 500 company that has long believed in the importance of STEM education for our youth. They have participated in events such as Maker Faire and are dedicated to advancing innovation and providing opportunities for advancement in education. Watch the video about the program on their website, and then apply for the Cognizant grant program!

3. Target Field Trip Grants

Sometimes a trip to a science museum, robotics company, or 3D print shop is a great way to use grant funds. Target has grants specifically for field trips!

Take a trip to the birthplace of the industrial revolution, an automotive plant, or an aerospace museum.  

2. Toshiba America Foundation

Grants from the Toshiba America Foundation are categorized by grade, for K-5 or 6-12. Some grants for 6-12 are accepted throughout the calendar year, which means no looming deadlines to worry about. Great news about this grant program - there is an online application. Make sure you have a great PBL in mind, as "Applications must be for project based learning. We do not consider requests for computers, laptops or tablets!"

1. Find Local STEM Grants and Funding

This is not a grant per se, but it's so so important, and likely to be where you find the most success. Contact local STEM and other businesses, asking if they would be willing to donate to your STEM lab. Maybe you have something particular in mind, like a class set of Sphero robots, or storage options. You might even be able to get a business to donate some storage solutions if they are upgrading their space or going out of business. Ask for support via Donor's Choose if that platform works for you.
Think outside the box - ask a bank, pediatrician or dental office, or your PTA. Get brownie points - 3D print (or build) a plaque recognizing the business or group, then snap a photo with your students and their STEM creations. Send it over to the business as a thank you! It may be enough to inspire them to donate again in the future. If you are at a religiously-affiliated school, look to places of worship and see if they have any ideas for partnerships or fundraisers.

A Few Honorable Mentions

Steelcase Active Learning Grants
Applied Materials Education Grants 
Honda STEM Grants

Download the Organizer and Link-Filled PDF

I have added this download to my free resource library. Just sign up for my newsletter and you will gain immediate access to this and other STEM resources.

Even More STEM Grant Opportunities

Do you know about Get Caught Engineering? As seasoned STEM educators, Wendy and Cheryl know what it takes to get a STEM program up and running. They have another great post on this topic, Bucks for STEM.  Click on the image below to find more STEM grant tips and ideas:

Help! I could use some writing tips

Lucky for you, Amy Mezni has already put together a great post about writing a winning grant proposal.

Pin these ideas:

10 STEM educational grant sources and downloadable PDF to help get you started. | Meredith Anderson - Momgineer
10 STEM educational grant sources and downloadable PDF to help get you started. | Meredith Anderson - Momgineer

Middle School Scientist Asks: What's in My Water?

Middle School Student Innovates with a Water Testing Device

What's in my water?

You've likely heard of Flint, Michigan, and their lead water crisis. It's not just a problem for residents of Flint. Bright young mind Gitanjali Rao from Lone Tree, Colorado, decided to tackle the water crisis problem with science. Developing her ideas with the help of teachers at her STEM school, she eventually entered into the Young Scientist Challenge. Her hard work and perseverance paid off.

America's Top Young Scientist

Discovery Education and 3M have awarded Miss Rao the title of "America's Top Young Scientist" with prize earnings of $25,000. Her device, which she named "Tethys," clinched the top price in this year's competition, which was the 10th anniversary of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. 

Tethys, aptly named for the Titan goddess of fresh water, includes disposable water testing cartridges that have chemically treated carbon nanotube arrays, an Arduino processor to process test results, and Bluetooth integration for quick display of results on your smartphone. A 3D-printed box contains all the electronics within. See more about Gitanjali's invention here

Ten finalists competed for this title while participating in a summer program with a research scientist. Gitanjali Rao, the winner, worked with Dr. Kathleen Shafer from 3M. Read about all of the finalists and their mentors by going to the Young Scientist Finalists page.

What a great opportunity for budding innovators and scientists to tackle real world problems in a meaningful way with corporate support. Kids come up with amazing ideas. Having a partner help bring their ideas to fruition is an inspiring and eye-opening process for any young scientist.

Do you have a #YoungScientist?

Encourage your students or kids to enter next year's challenge until 4/19/2018. Not only is it a great learning opportunity and a way to explore STEM fields, you may be helping to make a real and lasting impact in the scientific community.

Resources for Teachers and Parents

Change the world one problem at a time. This is #girlpower at its finest! If you are a middle school science teacher or parent, are you aware of this program? Find out more at Young Scientist Lab, where there are activities for students and resources for parents and teachers as well.
You don't want to miss the other finalists' ideas either! Here are a couple I just loved (click image to read more):
Rithvik Ganesh Young Scientist Finalist #YoungScientist
Photo from
Kathryn Lampo Young Scientist Finalist #YoungScientist
Photo from

Find Discovery Education on Social Media

Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge materials are also available through Discovery Education Streaming Plus.  

Discovery Education on Facebook
Discovery Education on Twitter
Discovery Education on Instagram

Find 3M online

3M online at
on Twitter @3Mor @3MNewsroom

Little Red Riding Hood STEM Activity with Integrated Literacy

Fairy Tale STEM Activity for Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood is on her way to visit her sick grandmother, but the wolf beats her to Grandmother's house. Can you help stop the wolf before he eats Grandmother?

Materials Needed for this STEM Fairy Tale Activity

  • supplies to create two different musical instruments (metal like washers and bolts, etc., rubber bands, recyclables cups and containers, balloons or plastic bags to create drums, craft sticks and rubber bands to create kazoos, etc.

Before Getting Started with the STEM Tale

STEM tales work best if you read the original fairy tale first or do your own storytelling. Discuss the similarities and differences as you read through the story. For this STEM tale, you will start with an exploration of Morse code!

Learn Morse Code for Kids

After getting acquainted with Morse code, students will then create two instruments that make distinctly different sounds, to represent the short and long parts of the code.

Fairy Tale STEM with the Engineering Design Process 

I have designed STEM tales so that as students read the story, they will follow the engineering design process. What is the problem that needs to be solved in the Little Red Riding Hood STEM Tale? Grandmother can't call for help because she lost her voice with her illness. She did, however, learn Morse code with Little Red Riding Hood so the instruments will help save Grandmother!

Little Red Riding Hood STEM Tale Challenge

Design an Instrument

After brainstorming instrument design ideas, the students will then choose two to create. They will need to test out their instruments with a partner and decode the message! This can also be done digitally if desired:
Digital STEM Challenge with Little Red Riding Hood

You can have students create a Scratch program to send the message. Otherwise, stick with simple instruments like the ones shown below:

STEM tales are a great way to foster teamwork and problem-solving. To find the full resource, which includes an 8-page booklet, check list for self-evaluation, and tips, visit Little Red Riding Hood STEM:

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To read more about how to conduct a STEM challenge, visit this post:

To see all posts in this series, click here:

STEM Tales Blog Series