Lately I’ve been reading a number of blogs and articles about STEM Education. While the content has varied greatly, every blog and article I have seen has agreed on three main points: 1. STEM Education is vital for children in today’s world; 2. Most teachers are woefully unprepared to teach STEM subjects, often only receiving STEM training in 1 day workshops; and 3. If we want our children to excel in STEM subjects parents must be involved. So let’s talk about #3 – how parents can be involved in getting their children excited about science, technology, engineering, and math.
I’ve seen a few blog posts about this subject, but they have all been centered around a single toy or product – more of a sales pitch than real ideas. While I’ll mention how a PicoCluster can be used with many of the ideas I present (and I’ll even throw in a few links, like our blog post on What Exactly is a PicoCluster), a tablet, laptop, or desk top computer can be substituted in most instances. I am also going to organize ideas by topic (science, technology, engineering, math), but many of the ideas I will present fall into multiple categories. This post will deal with Science.
What is Science
In our home, the definition of science is noticing the world around you, then asking questions about it and trying to find the answers. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines science as: “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.” It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it can be!
Easy Science Fun
How can parents (or grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends) have fun with science without spending lots of money or time gathering supplies or preparing complicated activities? Start with looking at the world around you. Here are a few activities you can do that are free or mostly free and use only what most people will have around their home or neighborhood.
- Lay on the grass and watch the clouds as they float overhead. Talk about the shapes of the clouds, why some clouds are white and fluffy, others are thin and stringy, still others are gray. Why do they move and change shapes? If you don’t know the answers, that’s ok. Write down the questions you can’t answer and do research on them at a later time.
- Take a ruler and some string or yarn outside. If you have some magnifying lenses, take those, too. Have paper or a notebook and a pencil for each person. Divide a small part of your yard (or a park) into 1 square foot sections using the ruler to measure and string or yarn to mark the spaces. You will need one section per person. Make sure there is some space between each section for members of your family to stand, sit, or kneel. Now it is time to explore. The rules are simple – find and identify as many things as you can in your section of yard. Draw and label the things you find. If you have a magnifying glass use it to see if there are more things in your section than you thought or to look at some things more closely. If you find things you can’t identify (kinds of bugs or seeds, etc.) draw them or take pictures of them so you can do research on them at a later time. Try this activity at different times of day, right after a rain storm, even at night. You’ll be surprised at what you can find.
- Use your senses in the kitchen. You will need a muffin tin or several small bowls or cups and samples of different items in your kitchen.
- Sight: fill each hole in the muffin tin with different substances that look the same. For example, salt, sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, corn starch. See if your child/children can identify them just by looking. Can they identify them by touch? How about by smell or taste?
- Smell: blindfold your child/children, then fill the muffin tin with different substances they should be familiar with but may not often smell. For example, vinegar, soy sauce, vegetable or olive oil, different spices, etc. Can your child/children identify these just by smell?
- Taste: my kids love to do this with Jelly Belly’s, but you can do this with other things that look similar. With Jelly Belly’s you choose several different flavors that all are the same color (cinnamon, pomegranate, red apple, sour cherry, strawberry jam, and raspberry are all red) and fill the muffin tins. With other foods, you need to cut them into pieces or mash them so they look the same (strawberry, raspberry, tomato, cherry, watermelon, pink grapefruit). Have enough of each item for the kids to taste and see if they can guess what each one is. It’s even harder if you don’t tell them the flavors ahead of time (Ask: “What do you think this is?” instead of “Which one do you think is the tomato?”)
Take it to the Next Level
Take an afternoon and build your own smart phone microscope. It really only takes about 30 minutes to build, but it takes some time to gather the resources. Remember, the Dollar Store is your friend! We bought a laser pointer there as well as a little crook-neck reading light so we can change the angle of the light as needed. The total cost for this little gem is around $10. It is virtually indestructible and easy to carry around. My son keeps one in the back of his car. Mine is on a shelf in my library so it is easy to grab.
What can you use this microscope for? In activity 2 up above you can put grass, seeds, soil, even small bugs you find in the microscope and view them up close. In activity 3 – Sight – you can put each of the substances under the microscope to try and identify them. Sometimes we take our microscope with us on hikes and view leaves, tree bark, small rocks, bugs, water from streams or ponds, etc. Other times we will bring small samples home and use the microscope there.
An added bonus? You can also use the camera on the smart phone to take pictures of what you are seeing. Email the pictures to yourself and you can now view them on a PicoCluster or computer. Zoom in and you’ll find a whole new world to explore!
If I could make one recommendation it would be to purchase a science notebook for each child – and one for you, too! Pull it out every time you do science to take notes, draw pictures, and ask questions. Take it with you on hikes, trips, or new adventures. When you have a few minutes, pull out your notebooks and look up your questions on a PicoCluster, tablet, or computer. Make sure you record the answers you find in your notebook, too. Make learning science fun!
It you have enjoyed this blog post, please share it with your friends! Don’t forget to visit the PicoCluster website for more information on PicoCluster and how to use a PicoCluster for STEM Education.