Imagine this: your students huddled together, creating, problem-solving, and having a blast – all thanks to classroom STEM activities. This is the way to build classroom community! But that’s not it!
Classroom STEM kits are not just about fun; they’re about building skills, fostering teamwork, and igniting a love for all things STEM.
Let’s dive into the wonderful world of STEM kits in the classroom. These little gems are like magic wands for sparking creativity and community among your students. 🍎
In my classroom, I’ve witnessed how STEM kits work their wonders to build classroom community. They’re like secret ingredients for engagement and building a tight-knit classroom community. 🤝
Stem kits have been identified as tools to build creativity, building teamwork, problem-solving, enhancing communication skills, cultivating curiosity, building stronger cognitive skills, paving pathways to STEM careers, nurturing initiative, cultivating media literacy, and promoting social emotional learning engagements in the classroom.
With such benefits it is no surprise that it also creates engagement and builds classroom community.
What is the difference between STEM and STEAM?
The difference between classroom STEM activities and STEAM in classroom lies, in part, in the difference in their approach to scientific concepts. STEM focuses explicitly on the explicitly scientific, technological, engineering or mathematical skills to drive progress or create a new concept.
For STEAM class meaning students leverage both the technical scientific and engineering skills and soft skills such as collaboration to solve problems.
However, it can also integrate the humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts and design.
For the purposes of this blog post I am focusing mostly on the core scientific and engineering principles students apply using STEM kits, so I will be referring to STEM throughout.
The exception will be when I discuss ways to incorporate STEM into different subject areas which suddenly change the discussion to STEAM for various examples!
Clear as mud possibly? 😂
Trust me, it will make more sense later.
Creating Stem Kits with Inexpensive Materials
Let’s get to it! Time to create some kits.
Sure, there are fancy options out there, but for now let’s focus on the affordable things you can find too.
For classroom STEM kits you could incorporate some of these STEM classroom ideas :
- Paper, binder, and bulldog clips
- Index cards
- Playdough or ingredients for home made
- Craft sticks
- Wooden Beads
- Tin foil
- Toilet paper rolls
- Rubber bands
- Plastic bottles
- Various types of tape
- Wooden blocks
- Nuts, bolts, washers
- Plastic cups in different sizes
- Paper towel rolls
- Egg cartons
- Pipe cleaners
- Hole punch and string
- Pool noodles
- Cupcake liners
- Coffee Filters
- Milk cartons
- Measuring cups and spoons
For larger more elaborate kits you might include:
- Pulley and clothesline rope (inexpensive at hardware stores, make a zip line)
- Rain gutters (also fairly inexpensive at hardware stores, make fun ramps)
- PVS pipes and connectors
- Random materials found in packaging (foam, packing peanuts, plastic inserts)
- Seasonal/thematic items from Dollar Stores are great for to making the designs decorative and fun! (Now we are talking STEAM in classroom 🙃.)
Organizing Classroom Stem Kits
When it comes to organizing these treasures, simple containers work wonders. You don’t need fancy labels; the kids will know where to find the fun stuff.
For STEM classroom storage I just used the inexpensive plastic containers from the Dollar Store. They stack nicely and neatly if you are able to use containers that are all the same sizes
They were sturdy enough.
I did actually purchase labels and instructions for them, but I found that these were unnecessary. The students had their own ideas of what to create, and they just looked at the STEM classroom packs to see what was in the kit.
Bringing all these items together and providing storage containers for it could be quite expensive. So where do you get the financial support?
How to Pull it All Together – STEM Classroom Setup
Don’t think you have to break the bank to get STEM kits, let’s not forget the power of community.
Reach out to parents, organize fundraisers, and don’t be shy about asking for donations. You’ll be amazed at the support you can get from your school community. 🏫
I have used all of these options at one time or another to either raise money or acquire the materials for the kits:
- Go to your PAC or whatever parent body you have. You may be required to make a pitch in person, or they may just take requests. Check with your admin.
- Have a classroom fundraiser. This can double as a math project!
- With the money you receive from PAC or a fundraiser, visit garage sales, Facebook Marketplace, church sales, flea markets.
- Do you send out a newsletter or does your school send out a newsletter? Can you put a note in one or both. Parents who are cleaning out toys would love a place to send some of the options mentioned above? Including parents from older grades is more likely to garner success as they will be clearing out toys from your students’ age group.
- Apply for classroom STEM grants
As students see the donations come in they also learn the value of asking for help, which is just another way of creating classroom community as they learn to ask for help.
Making Classroom STEM Activities Work for Not Create Work for You
So, how do you make the most of these marvelous classroom community activities?
First, set some clear expectations. Think sharing, taking turns, and including everyone. These are the building blocks of STEM kit success! 🧱
The students want to do this activity and they want to work together and because they know that they’re expected to share, they build relationships with the children they may not have otherwise tolerated. This teaches them to work with people other than their best friends, which is part of building a classroom community.
When you set the expectations, that is when they learn to communicate with people they may not have otherwise.
I found that with consistent kind affirmations of appropriate behaviour the students were kinder and gentler with each other.
Part of the added reason why is STEM important for students is that they make a little bit more room for play in a world where sometimes children are losing that opportunity.
And cleaning up? That’s a chance for your students to shine as leaders whether there are visitors to the classroom or not! 🌟
Classroom Expectations and Rules with STEM Kits.
In my classroom there wasn’t a separate rule or set of expectations around classroom STEM specifically, they were just our basic classroom expectations.
However, maybe you weren’t thinking of more open-ended activities such as classroom STEM activities when you created your expectations, so let’s pause for a second to discuss this.
Some teachers do not consider play to be a valuable use of classroom time, so that’s something you’ll have to wrestle with and determine on your own.
Regardless, if you choose to implement STEM kits and you have not already created expectations around the appropriate use of them, then you must do that.
What type of behaviour do you want to see from the children when they’re playing?
I encourage you to create your classroom expectations and rules with the students regardless, you must do that before showing the students the STEM kits.
Some essential expectations to build classroom community in my were:
- Turn taking
- Including everyone
- Cleaning up
- Using our words
- Hands to self
- Choosing a different kit if the kit you want is maxed out (more on that below).
- Asking for help if our friends aren’t following the expectations
Introducing the Classroom STEM Activities
Once everyone is on board with how to make acceptable choices during classroom STEM activities the next step is to introduce the classroom STEM kits.
I encourage you to have 10 kits minimum if possible. I think I had about 20. Some of them were fancy, but others were very simple.
When you introduce the classroom STEM supplies, keep it open-ended.
Let your students explore and discover their own amazing ideas. Kids are like little geniuses when you give them the freedom to create.
Share the materials inside each one, but consider leaving the details for how to use them up to the kiddos.
I am always stunned by the uses that students come up with on their own. Ideas that I never would have imagined. And, as they share their ideas they will build classroom community.
If you find that there is a stem kit that nobody is interested in I would encourage you to share it with the class.
Perhaps that is an opportunity to teach your students the world of exploration. Some kiddos are so scheduled that free play is foreign to them.
They may have no ideas, or they may have been so focused on other, more popular kits, that they didn’t even realize it was there.
“Let’s take a look at it together.”, and now perhaps it is time model some ideas to the students for that kit.
You could also ask them if they have any suggestions what they would like to do with it.
Or ask him if there are any small or simple additions they would like to suggest for the stem kit.
Resolving Conflicts AKA How to Build Classroom Community
If there is a classroom stem kit that is very popular it may cause conflict, and that is a wonderful opportunity to build classroom community. Everyone may want to use it, but there isn’t enough for everyone to use and build what they want to.
Decide as a class the maximum number of students allowed to play with it at one time. Then discuss with the students their suggestions for how to resolve the issue.
For example, if there’s already five kiddos using it and it only has room for five kiddos, then it’s being used. The newcomer must find a different activity without causing a conflict.
However, if your students find that the same group is scrambling to get that activity every single time, and by doing so blocking everyone else, you have discovered an opportunity to model conflict resolution practices to the classroom
Again, seek their input. Respectfully hear each perspective presented. Decide together on how to work this out.
Many of your students will not have been taught these skills because many adults aren’t able to speak their minds confidently, humbly and interested in finding a compromise.
If you are reading this and thinking, “This sounds like it will cause chaos and conflict. No STEM kits for my classroom.” consider this; in order for your students to learn how to address these issues in life they must have the opportunity to do so in life.
Social-emotional learning worksheets on being kind aren’t enough to build classroom community. ❤️
Finding Class Time for Stem Kits
There are so many opportunities for using STEM kits in class time. As mentioned above some of these do cross the line into STEAM, but I trust that you will still understand my ideas. 🥰
- Bell ringer activities to get the kids in and intermingling
- Build toys for Force and Motion Unit in Science (STEM)
- Use classroom STEM for Geometry in Math(STEAM or STEM it depends)
- Social Emotional Learning skills practice activity (STEAM)
- Build a representation of their local community for Social Studies (STEAM)
- As provocations for ELA Writing (STEAM)
- Grandparent Day activity
- Student led conferences
- To create a structure that they then do a still life drawing of in Art focusing on perspective. (STEAM)
- Communicate understanding of habitats in Science (STEM)
- Early finishers activity – this was often the option in my class during art. (STEM or STEAM depending upon a number of factors.)
- Buddy activities with older buddies or younger buddies with the intention of building community with students in other grades.
- Create stem classroom themes
- Create playful classroom stem challenges during Social Emotional Learning instruction
- Create a STEM classroom door as a part of a seasonal theme
Extra Curricular Classroom STEM Bin Use
Some schools have time with their students in the class during their recess and lunch breaks, and others do not. In my city there is free time inside the classroom once students finished eating their lunch. We don’t have school lunches except as fundraisers, and even then students ate their lunch in the classroom.
I had multiple activities for the students to do when finished their food. Not all activities were available every single day, but there was always more than one option.
Two days a week they were allowed to pull out the STEM kits.
Other opportunities here would be during recess or lunch on:
- really rainy days.
- really cold days.
- really smoky days.
STEM Kits are a Great Investment
In a nutshell, STEM kits are like gold for your classroom.
They’re affordable, manageable, and bring a touch of magic to your teaching. Plus they are one of the great building classroom community examples.
They enhance and build school wide community as well. Join me next week to learn more about building school community., and to see some other resources that will appeal to broader age groups within the school community.
Your students will benefit from the opportunities for servant-hearted leadership, community building, problem solving and so much more.
So go ahead, dive into the world of classroom STEM kits, and watch your classroom come alive with creativity while you build classroom community! 🚀🌈
Share a question or your favourite classroom STEM kits or activity in the comments below. By sharing you are supporting your colleagues.
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