Teachers are often worried that little kids won’t be able to grasp STEM independently. They’re worried that the kids will whine and everyone will need help. I get it, teaching STEM to little ones can be overwhelming.
I’m here to help!
STEM is wonderful in younger grades because it teaches students how to be independent and how to work in groups, which are 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 free range of the supplies. They used every bit of the supplies, yet they still needed more to create the enormous design they planned.
When you think about this, it makes sense because engineers are forced to limit themselves with time, money, and supplies. This one simple constraint will force them to consider the resources they have and keep your project under budget!
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 a great book to use for your STEM lessons. Here are some free STEM activities to go along with the story.
You can also tie your STEM lessons into the alphabet! Learn how I do that in this blog post Alphabet STEM challenges here. Check out these resources to help you plan your alphabet STEM challenges.
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 really 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 important in STEM as students get an opportunity to speak and listen to their peers. Consider grouping students by their ability.
For example, if you have a student who excels in math and another who is an average writer but struggles with math, place those two together. The student who struggles with math will have opportunities to observe the student who excels while still feeling confident in writing. Heterogeneous groups are best so students can use their gifts and talents and seek support from their peers when necessary.
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 students who were introverted didn’t speak up because they didn’t have a reason to.
Most adults have job descriptions. This makes it easy for the employee to know what is expected. Give each student a purpose by giving them a job title and description.
Consider the following jobs/roles:
Project manager: This person holds the team accountable by making sure 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 makes sure the group has the correct amount of supplies and that the group 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 record the team’s thoughts and their findings.
5 – The challenges were too complex.
When I began teaching STEM, I noticed the students were beyond frustrated. This was because 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 lesson. 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 of a cup, we had to first research what a pendulum was. Then, we had to experiment with building simple models of towers and bridges using K’nex (since that was the material required to use for the pendulum). Then, we graduated into making a pendulum out of K’nex. They had to experiment with the pendulum on where it would be most successful to get the ball into the cup.
Focus on one step STEM challenges. If the STEM challenge is complex like the example above, then break it down into simple steps. The STEM challenge should be standards based on science, math, reading, or social studies. Something that the kids have prior knowledge on works best. Keep materials simple. They’re still refining their fine motor skills, so it’s important to keep cuts and adhesives simple and clean.
Check out my STEM Box Activities and Challenges here.
6 – I didn’t focus on growth mindset.
Students in kindergarten need explicit teaching on how to accept failure. I didn’t realize this when I first started teaching STEM, and I wish I would’ve taught this immediately. Having a growth mindset is having resiliency, GRIT, and being able to persevere.
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 respond 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 effectively communicate. This type of explicit teaching will equip your students with the strategies necessary to be a 21st century thinker. 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, any engineering skill, or a science and math topic.
What tip for teaching STEM do you think is most beneficial to you?