Growing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (2023)

Early STEM experiences should include exploratory learning, allowing children to learn content through the processes of inquiry. The STEM experiences teachers provide for young children can involve a variety of learning materials, including children’s literature, consumables and manipulatives, and web-based resources. In this issue we offer suggestions and examples to guide teachers’ selection of classroom STEM resources and materials.

Children’s literature and STEM learning

Use of high-quality STEM-focused children’s literature supports introducing and examining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts in the early childhood classroom (Hong 1996; Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, & Samarapungavan 2008; Sharkawy 2012; Varelas et al. 2014). With the amount of children’s literature aimed at building concept knowledge, teachers may find it difficult to select appropriate books to introduce these ideas. Children’s picture books may contain information that is so oversimplified it can become misleading (Dagher & Ford 2005), leave out key scientific components (Smolkin et al. 2008), or contain little representation of practical or natural sciences (Ford 2005). In addition, finding literature that represents the physical sciences (like motion or astronomy) can be much harder than locating books on life sciences (plants or animals) (Ford 2005; Smolkin et.al. 2008). The difficulties in finding high-quality literature can be intensified when seeking literature about technology, engineering, and mathematics.

(Video) Creativity in the classroom (in 5 minutes or less!) | Catherine Thimmesh | TEDxUniversityofStThomas

In addition to selecting books with high-quality artwork/pictures and text, below are two essential questions to consider before introducing STEM-focused children’s literature into the classroom:

  • Does the book present content that is technically sound and appropriate for children’s developing understandings?
  • Does the book effectively help students build both inquiry and content understandings?

Add loose parts and nonstandard materials for STEM explorations

Another important factor to consider when planningearly STEM experiences is the role open-ended materials can play in classroom learning experiences. STEM experiences often involve many different materials for exploration, but you do not need to purchase manufactured curricular materials. Giving children access to open-ended materials can broaden and extend children’s explorations while also limiting expenditures. Consider the theory of loose parts first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970s. Loose parts are materials without a predetermined purpose that can be moved, combined, reformed, taken apart, and put back together in numerous ways(Nicholson 1972). Loose parts can be used alone or combined with other materials and can be both manufactured and natural. Nicholson wrote, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it” (1972,6). Expanding children’s access to nontraditional STEM materials can serve to provide a wider range of learning opportunities in the classroom.

Consider Remida, the reclaimed materials center in Reggio Emilia, Italy, that houses a wide variety of loose parts and unique items for teachers to bring into their classrooms. This center can serve as a guide for teachers as they build a classroom collection of loose parts for use in STEM explorations.

In order to guide the selection of materials for inclusion in the classroom, think about the following essential questions:

  • Can this material be added into a STEM experience or learning center to support student thinking?
  • Does the material allow for exploration and inquiry?
  • In what ways might children use it to explore the topic at hand?
  • How does the material complement the items the children are familiar with?

Examples of High-Quality Children's Books

Life sciences.Looking Closely in the Rain Forest, by Frank Serafini. All ages.Growing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (1)

Frank Serafini has a wonderful series of books calledLooking Closely. ... This book, focusing on the rain forest, won the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) Outstanding Science Trade Book (OSTB) award in 2011. The writing is almost poetic in its repetition but remains simple and clear enough for very young children to understand. All the books in this series introduce students to the notion of hypothesizing through close inspection, as each plant or animal is preceded by a close-up partial image and the text poses questions about what it might be.

PGrowing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (2)hysical sciences.I Fall Down,by Vicki Cobb. Ages 3–6.

Vicki Cobb introduces the potentially difficult concept of gravity through easy-to-understand language and activities for young children. This NSTA 2005 OSTB award winner challenges children to drip, dribble, and drop different materials while experimenting with the forces of gravity. Other books in Cobb’s Science Play series includeI See Myself(light and reflection),I Get Wet(properties of water), andI Face the Wind(properties of air and air currents).

Technology.Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer,by Diane Stanley. Ages 4–8.Growing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (3)

(Video) Resources for Remote Learning in STEM: Water for the 21st Century and Turning Science into STEM

This is the story of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord and Lady Byron. Credited for having her mother’s mathematical and scientific brain, coupled with her father’s creative imagination, Ada Lovelace was the first recognized computer programmer in history. The text offers insight into the history of computers, the Industrial Revolution, and the mechanical loom. Teachers and librarians can draw connections to history and other forms of technology.

Growing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (4)Engineering.The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind(picture book edition), by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Ages 5 and up.

This book is based on the inspirational, award-winning memoir of 14-year-old William Kamkwamba, who built a windmill from scrap materials to produce electricity for his African village during a drought and famine. This true story about ingenuity, creativity, and persistence in the face of severe adversity will inspire children to imagine their own capabilities. An NSTA OSTB winner in 2012. (There are several books published with this title, so be sure to select the picture book edition.)

Mathematics(numbers and counting).Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives,by Lola M. Schaefer. All ages.Growing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (5)

Winner of NSTA’s OSTB in 2013,Lifetimeis filled with charming mixed-media illustrations in numerically accurate pictures. Readers can count how many times a spider spins an egg sac (one) or how many baby seahorses a father seahorse carries in a lifetime (1,000). While younger children may not be able to count to the higher numbers, they can conjecture aboutmoreandless, and the text and visual representations make it suitable for even very young audiences. This book also allows for incorporation of science concepts such as life spans and life cycles.

Growing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (6)Mathematics (measurement).How Tall, How Short, How Far Away?,
by David A. Adler. Ages 5 and up.

Adler delves into the history of measurement and encourages practical applications for students. This book, which won NSTA’s OSTB award in 1999, encourages readers to learn about and try ancient methods of measurement, as well as design their own tools to measure height and distance.

High-quality STEM web resources

While there are a lot of STEM-related resources available, here are three free tools we think early childhood teachers should know about.

PBS Kids (supports all STEM learning)

(Video) IMechE STEM Ambassador Induction

PBS Kids provides educational programs, resources for parents and teachers, and a thorough list of STEM games for children ages 2–8. Resources are built around all STEM subjects and encourage students to problem solve through activities that include characters from PBS’s televised programs.www.pbskids.org

Peep and the Big Wide World (science, mathematics, and engineering)

A clever and endearing look into science through the lens of a large urban park, Peep and the Big Wide World is an animated series aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds that can captivate viewers of all ages. Peep introduces children to easy-to-replicate science experiments using everydaymaterials. Renowned early childhood science educator Karen Worth is the show’s educational science advisor, and actress Joan Cusack narrates. The website includes videos, student experiments, and computer activities.www.peepandthebigwideworld.com/en/

Code.org (technology)

This nonprofit organization is dedicated to teaching K–12 students how to code. While all students can benefit, a primary goal of Code.org is to provide technology opportunities to females and other students underrepresented in the computer science field. Videos explain what coding is, and users can access early childhood activities and lesson plans after creating a free account.https://code.org/

Growing in STEM: STEM Resources and Materials for Engaging Learning Experiences (7)

Conclusion

We hope early childhood teachers are inspired to think creatively as they plan STEM integration. Teachers can support children’s exploration and learning by ensuring that they have many opportunities for playful engagement. Diversifying STEM materials and resources to include both traditional and nontraditional tools, high-quality STEM literature, and web-based resources deepens children’s daily engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

References

Dagher, Z.R., & D.J. Ford. 2005. “How Are Scientists Portrayed in Children’s Science Biographies?”Science & Education14 (3): 377–93.

Ford, D.J. 2005. “Representations of Science Within Children’s Trade Books.”Journal of Research in Science Teaching43 (2): 214–35.

(Video) Improving and diversifying the STEM student experience: what’s next?

Hong, H. 1996. “Effects of Mathematics Learning Through Children’s Literature on Math Achievement and Dispositional Outcomes.”Early Childhood Research Quarterly11 (4): 477–94.

Nicholson, S. 1972. “The Theory of Loose Parts: An Important Principle for Design Methodology.”Studies in Design Education Craft and Technology4(2): 5–14.

NSTA (National Science Teachers Association). 2016. NSTA Recommends.www.nsta.org/recommends/.

Patrick, H., P. Mantzicopoulos, & A. Samarapungavan. 2008. “Motivation for Learning Science in Kindergarten: Is There a Gender Gap and Does Integrated Inquiry and Literacy Instruction Make a Difference.”Journal of Research in Science Teaching46 (2): 166–91.

Reggio Children. 2005.Remida Day.Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children.

Sharkawy, A. 2012. “Exploring the Potential of Using Stories About Diverse Scientists and Reflective Activities to Enrich Primary Students’ Images of Scientists and Scientific Work.”Cultural Studies of Science Education7 (2):307–40.

Smolkin, L.B., E.M. McTigue, C.A. Donovan, & J.M. Coleman. 2008. “Explanation in Science Trade Books Recommended for Use With Elementary Students.”Science Education93 (4): 587–610.

Varelas, M., L. Pieper, A. Arsenault, C.C. Pappas, & N. Keblawe-Shamah. 2014. “How Science Texts and Hands-On Explorations Facilitate Meaning Making: Learning From Latina/o Third Graders.”Journal of Research in Science Teaching51 (10): 1246–74.

FAQs

How do you engage students in STEM? ›

Five Tips to Increase Student Engagement in STEM Education
  1. Promote self-directed learning. ...
  2. Provide hands-on opportunities. ...
  3. Create real-life connections. ...
  4. Encourage communication. ...
  5. Require teamwork and collaboration.

What is STEM learning experience? ›

STEM Education, at its core, simply means educating students in four specific disciplines, namely, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (collectively shortened as STEM).

How do you motivate students to learn STEM? ›

Breadcrumb
  1. Discuss Their Opportunities. Starting a conversation is the first way educators can encourage STEM students. ...
  2. Assign Research on Role Models. ...
  3. Review Potential Colleges or Programs. ...
  4. Connect Them With Financial Resources. ...
  5. Paint Their Futures. ...
  6. Remind Them of Resources.
8 Nov 2021

Why is STEM engagement important? ›

If we can help more people to engage with science, by building their science capital, it will not only help to attract a broader range of people for new STEM jobs, it will bring more diversity to the people who contribute and participate in science and innovation which will create a fairer, and more inclusive society.

How can I increase my STEM engagement? ›

Inventive tactics for engaging students in STEM learning
  1. Promote inquisitiveness among students. ...
  2. Blend virtual reality into classroom learning. ...
  3. Collaborate with students on STEM activities. ...
  4. Discuss the great inventions and scope of STEM. ...
  5. Diversify learning content for optimized engagement.

How can we make STEM education more inclusive? ›

Based on my teaching experience, here are four ways that teachers can engage and support students from diverse backgrounds in STEM classes. Start of newsletter promotion.
...
Your Weekly Eureka Moment
  1. Reflect Who They Are. ...
  2. Elevate Their Voices. ...
  3. Leverage Their Experiences. ...
  4. Start With Their Teacher: You.
25 Feb 2022

Why is STEM important the impact of STEM education on society? ›

STEM is vital to understanding the basics of the environment

So much of STEM-related knowledge can help us learn about our environment and society. In today's world, we can understand more phenomena if we understand STEM – from the weather to technology and electricity, even to politics [3].

What is STEM learning in the classroom? ›

STEM is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons. Students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between the classroom and the world around them.

Why is STEM so important in early childhood education? ›

STEM teaches the importance of making connections and helps to build these pathways. It makes sense to introduce STEM during the time in children's lives when their brains are primed to take in new information. Math and science are often two subjects that give kids the most trouble later in their education.

How can we promote STEM? ›

How Can Parents and Teachers Encourage STEM? Engaging in a diverse set of projects and activities best encourages passion and curiosity for STEM. Hands-on experiences, strong role models, and exciting problems motivate children to want to learn and grow.

How can you encourage students to pursue science and technology courses? ›

Here are some ways to motivate students to choose science for their future.
  • Improve image of science. Many people perceive science to be something tough and negative. ...
  • Be a positive role model. ...
  • Make it fun. ...
  • Connect it to everyday life. ...
  • Give them opportunities. ...
  • Bring it to life.
3 May 2017

How can I help my child with STEM? ›

Helping them to acquire these skills can pay big dividends.
  1. Talk with your child about STEM topics.
  2. Encourage curiosity and questioning.
  3. Encourage your child to think like an engineer.
  4. Use TV, computers, and other technologies to support STEM thinking.
11 Jun 2019

Why is STEM important for our future? ›

Research has shown that students who study STEM are more creative, flexible and able to take advantage of the changes that are predicted in the workforce and workplaces of the future. Jobs from accounting, construction, nursing, to hair dressing all use STEM skills – let alone what the jobs of the future might be.

What is STEM engagement? ›

In the science communication field, engagement increasingly refers to “two-way” approaches to designing and facilitating interactions between STEM professionals and diverse “publics” that take into account the knowledge and prior experiences of those audiences.

How is STEM used in everyday life? ›

STEM can help teach important life skills, especially budgeting and handling money. You can integrate mathematical skills into everyday life in a useful way. If you have younger children, look at your shopping list together.

How do you teach a STEM lesson? ›

In STEM teaching, you don't simply want to provide information and correct students when they make mistakes. Instead, an ideal STEM learning environment is all about asking questions and encouraging independent thinking. In STEM, failure teaches students to problem-solve and is an essential part of growth.

What are the outcomes of STEM? ›

Creativity, critical thinking, interest, and identity are the four major outcomes of STEM education in K-12 STEM education (Honey et al., 2014; Johnson et al., 2020).

How do you create a classroom STEM learning environment? ›

6 Steps To A STEM-Friendly Classroom
  1. Ready, set up, go! STEM learning often centers on hands–on activities in small groups. ...
  2. Be tech savvy. Technology is important in 21st century learning. ...
  3. Give kids a STEM challenge. Early learners are naturally curious. ...
  4. Think outside the box. ...
  5. Ask “what” not “why” questions. ...
  6. Word up.
21 Feb 2017

How can the learning environment be designed to support STEM education? ›

How can the learning environment be designed to support STEM education? Offer activities and materials that encourage children to explore with their minds and senses. Engage children in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics together or separately.

How can I be a good STEM teacher? ›

There are many qualities that create an excellent STEM teacher, including communication and listening skills, passion for their subjects, flexibility, evolving their teaching techniques, facilitating their individual students' progress, allowing their students to learn from their mistakes, and many more.

How can we improve STEM teaching? ›

Seven ways to improve STEM education in your primary school
  1. Start with pupils' questions. ...
  2. Break down barriers between subjects. ...
  3. Secure buy-in from the school community. ...
  4. Cohesive curriculum design. ...
  5. Think 'efficiency' when investing in tech. ...
  6. Take inspiration from the real world. ...
  7. Measuring success.

How do you teach a STEM lesson? ›

In STEM teaching, you don't simply want to provide information and correct students when they make mistakes. Instead, an ideal STEM learning environment is all about asking questions and encouraging independent thinking. In STEM, failure teaches students to problem-solve and is an essential part of growth.

Why is STEM education considered the best practice for students? ›

Skills Derived from STEM Education

STEM-based education teaches children more than science and mathematics concepts. The focus on hands-on learning with real-world applications helps develop a variety of skill sets, including creativity and 21st-century skills.

Why is STEM important the impact of STEM education on society? ›

STEM is vital to understanding the basics of the environment

So much of STEM-related knowledge can help us learn about our environment and society. In today's world, we can understand more phenomena if we understand STEM – from the weather to technology and electricity, even to politics [3].

What is STEM learning in the classroom? ›

STEM is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons. Students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between the classroom and the world around them.

What is STEM teaching and learning? ›

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. It is an interdisciplinary approach that helps students succeed in college and in their future careers. The focus of a STEM education is hands-on, problem-based learning.

What makes a good STEM activity? ›

Great STEM activities have a science, technology, engineering, and math focus. Sometimes a STEM activity will involve one area of learning, other times it will include aspects of all four domains. The best STEM activities are open-ended and have a challenge or question for kids to investigate or solve.

What makes a great STEM activity? ›

The best STEM lessons require students to interact with the concept with their hands, whether it be through designing, building, creating, role-playing, or any other inventive and discovery-based process. To be most effective, hands-on activities should mimic a real-world scenario as much as possible.

What are the STEM skills? ›

Think about key skills needed in today's workplace: problem solving, analytical thinking, and the ability to work independently. What do they all have in common? They're all related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Why is STEM so important in early childhood education? ›

STEM teaches the importance of making connections and helps to build these pathways. It makes sense to introduce STEM during the time in children's lives when their brains are primed to take in new information. Math and science are often two subjects that give kids the most trouble later in their education.

How is STEM used in everyday life? ›

STEM can help teach important life skills, especially budgeting and handling money. You can integrate mathematical skills into everyday life in a useful way. If you have younger children, look at your shopping list together.

How does the integration of STEM lessons and activities develop the skills of problems solving and critical thinking? ›

A strong STEM curriculum does more than just focus on skill instruction; it provides learners with an integrated approach that brings together their knowledge from different core areas and allows them opportunities for tangible problem-solving that builds critical-thinking skills.

What is the full meaning of STEM? ›

STEM is an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Discussion of STEM-related programs has become a presidential priority because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields.

What is STEM development? ›

[STEM is] an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM ...

What is interesting STEM? ›

1) STEM supports an integrated approach to studying, which concerns learning topics rather than subjects. It combines interdisciplinary, project-based approaches, the basis for which is the integration of natural sciences into technology, engineering, mathematics as well as creative disciplines.

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