Ideas to Encourage STEM Education in Elementary School

scienceSTEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is a hot topic right now. And, the recently released Hidden Figures movie is considered by many to be an inspiring example of women working as mathematicians for NASA. So, when thinking about adding STEM activities to your classroom, now is probably one of the best times in recent history to introduce the topic. Students of all ages can participate in STEM lessons, even those as young as 5 or 6.

Why is STEM education important? Two reasons account, in part, for an increased interest in providing STEM learning opportunities to as many students as possible. The first is that only a small number of American students traditionally choose STEM fields of study and/or careers. The second reason for promoting STEM education is that U.S. jobs are trending toward positions relating to science, technology, engineering and math.

In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Education study, STEM jobs are expected to increase every year through 2020, with jobs in Biomedical Engineering projected to increase by a whopping 62%. Many educators and policy makers believe that students need to be prepared for emerging STEM career opportunities.

What can you do to help your elementary students learn important STEM concepts? Lesson plans that incorporate current events can usually grab a student’s attention, so try using resources inspired by the Hidden Figures film. Even though the book-turned-movie mostly celebrates the female STEM professionals, the concepts are perfectly suited for both girls and boys. So, check out these ideas for promoting STEM education using Hidden Figures:

  1. Use the Young Readers edition of the Hidden Figures book in your classroom. Spend several afternoons reading sections of the book aloud. Try to generate excitement for some of the STEM activities described in the book and allow time for group discussion.
  2. Combine STEM with writing by asking the students to journal. One idea is to have them write a one-page summary of the Hidden Figures book. Or, ask the kids to write what they liked about a specific character or what type of job they would like to do for NASA.
  3. Organize the kids into groups and assign math problems. Ask them to solve together and use Legos to represent the equation. Legos or similar objects are a great way to encourage STEM concepts with the youngest elementary students.

Need more ideas about how to introduce STEM at the elementary school level? Just check in with NASA. The www.nasa.gov website has a “Modern Figures Toolkit” section. Many space-related activities, videos and worksheets are available for all ages. For example, the “Pi in the Sky” activity is a math challenge that combines other STEM elements and is appropriate for kids in 4th grade.

NASA’s Moon Phases activity is geared towards students in grades 1 – 6, so it may be a good way to introduce a STEM lesson to younger kids. Click here for more details about this interactive, 30-minute lesson about the moon.

STEM lesson ideas are all over Pinterest and other websites. Be creative when thinking about how to make STEM learning fun and consider trying to incorporate STEM concepts on a regular basis.