Teachers are often worried that little kids won’t be able to grasp STEM independently. They’re worried that the kids will whine and that everyone will need help. I get it; teaching STEM to little ones can be overwhelming.
I’m here to help!
STEM is excellent in younger grades because it teaches students how to be independent and work in groups, valuable skills your little learners will need in the future.
Check out 9 awesome benefits of STEM lessons here.
Here are some tips from my personal experiences teaching STEM to kindergarteners
1 – There were no limits to supplies.
I’ll never forget spending $50 at the store to buy supplies for a STEM challenge. It was ignorant of me to let my students have a free range of supplies. They used every bit of the supplies, yet they still needed more to create the enormous design they planned.
It makes sense when you think about this because engineers limit themselves with time, money, and supplies. This straightforward constraint will force them to consider their resources and keep your project under budget!
By the way, if you need supplies, make sure you grab these FREE Supply Request Forms! Your wallet can thank me later.
2 – The kids don’t have background knowledge.
When I had to fix my website, I read about all the MX and DNS codes. None of them made sense to me, and I was at a frustrational level where I was ready to pull an “Office Space” and throw my laptop out the window.
Your students will do the same thing. When they don’t have the background knowledge, it’s easier for them to reach a point where they are so frustrated that they will inevitably have an outburst, crawl under a desk, or shut down. Consider all the domains of STEM or STEAM before giving the students the challenge.
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds is an excellent book for your STEM lessons. Try this Dot Day STEAM Activities that go along with the book.
You can also tie your STEM lessons into the alphabet! Learn how I do that in this blog post, Alphabet STEM challenges. We use these letters weekly to teach letter identification and formation, phonemic awareness, and practice writing. The whole time we’re integrating math and science with it!
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3 – Teams were too large.
That first year, I put 4 – 5 students in groups. That would’ve been fine if we hadn’t just started, but it was a mess. Students were arguing, not taking turns, and not enjoying the challenge.
Young students are still learning how to communicate through listening and speaking. Studies show that they won’t master these skills until around 7 to 8 years old.
I recommend putting younger students in groups of 2 – 3. Collaboration is essential in STEM as students get an opportunity to speak and listen to their peers. Consider grouping students by their ability.
Heterogeneous groups are best so students can use their gifts and talents and seek support from their peers when necessary. For example, place those two together if you have a student who excels in math and another who is an average writer who struggles with math. The student who struggles with math will have opportunities to observe the student who excels while writing.
Disclaimer: Mix them often! Don’t keep the same groups all year. You’ll want to give them opportunities to work together in other capacities, so they don’t become frustrated or bored.
4 – I didn’t assign roles.
That first year, I put students in large groups. They didn’t have roles or jobs. Let me rephrase that – they had no purpose! The introverted students didn’t speak up because they had no reason to.
Give each student a purpose by giving them a job title and description. Most adults have job descriptions. This makes it easy for the employee to know what is expected.
Consider the following jobs/roles:
Project manager: This person holds the team accountable by ensuring the project is complete by the specific deadline and follows the rules. They may have a timer or stopwatch in this position.
Supply manager: This person ensures the group has the correct amount of supplies and uses the supplies correctly and safely.
Reporter/Artist: A reporter records the team’s thoughts and reports on the final project to the class. Since they’re little, they can draw pictures to document the team’s thoughts and findings.
5 – The challenges were too complex.
When I began teaching STEM, I noticed the students were beyond frustrated. They were shutting down, crying, and arguing over what to do. Since we were doing lessons designed for 3 – 5, I had to simplify the task. I did this by breaking down the STEM challenges so that they were one-step challenges.
For example, when we made a pendulum that hit a golf ball inside a cup, we first researched what a pendulum was. Then, we had to experiment with building simple towers and bridges using K’nex (since that was the material required for the pendulum). Then, we graduated to making a pendulum out of K’nex. They had to experiment with the pendulum where it would most successfully get the ball into the cup.
Focus on one-step STEM challenges. The STEM challenge should be standards-based on science, math, reading, or social studies. Something that the kids have prior knowledge of works best. If the STEM challenge is complex, like the example above, then break it down into simple steps.
Keep materials simple. They’re still refining their fine motor skills, so keeping cuts and adhesives simple and clean is essential.
Check out my STEM Box Activities and Challenges here.
6 – I didn’t focus on a growth mindset.
Students in kindergarten need explicit teaching on how to accept failure. Having a growth mindset is having resiliency, GRIT, and being able to persevere. I didn’t realize this when I started teaching STEM, and I wish I had prepared this immediately.
Before students complete a STEM challenge, discuss the growth mindset. This could include topics like:
- What it means to have respect
- How to listen and respond when you disagree
- How to play rock-paper-scissors when you don’t know who should go first
- What you should do when your project fails
- How to react when someone tells you your project isn’t good enough
- What to do when you hear a voice in your head that says, “give up.”
This is key because students are learning how to communicate effectively. This explicit teaching will equip your students with the strategies necessary to be 21st-century thinkers. It’ll also help improve their social-emotional health.
Here’s one last tip!
After you’ve finished teaching STEM in your next challenge, write down three things on a sheet of paper:
- How did the lesson go well?
- What behaviors do you want to improve?
- Were there any moments that surprised you?
Share what went well and what surprised you with your students. Your next mini-lesson should be over what didn’t go well. This could include any growth mindset topic, engineering skill, or a science and math topic. I also like doing this because it helps students with self-awareness.
What tip for teaching STEM do you think is most beneficial to you?