Promoting STEM Success

STEM activities provide the perfect opportunity for children to learn in a hands-on way.

Teddy building bridges with spaghetti and marshmallows.
Teddy building bridges with spaghetti and marshmallows.

What Is STEM?

STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. These subjects were grouped together in the early 2000’s after it became evident that young people entering the job market were lacking in these skills and a push to educate children in these areas was promoted. These subjects are interrelated and can be incorporated into everyday life.

Science – this includes all the areas of science such as biology, chemistry and physics. Science skills include performing fair investigations, making predictions, recording results and reaching conclusions based on the evidence accumulated.

A vital part of a successful STEM activity is failure! It is not that we are setting tasks which children cannot achieve. In fact, it’s about providing an environment where trial and error is part of the journey.

Technology – this refers to the techniques, skill methods and processes undertaken to create a product and meet objectives. This can include making a water filter or making a sundial.

Engineering – this involves the design and build of structures through creativity and imagination. Children can draw and label their ideas, consider the suitable materials and how to strengthen structures. They will go on to make models, testing if their ideas are possible. Children can strengthen bridges, test the design of paper aeroplanes and build houses using different materials.

Maths – this is more than simply counting. Maths is all around us and STEM activities are a great way to incorporate the development of mathematical skills. Children can make their own measuring devices or investigate how high a ball can bounce.

STEM is more than just promoting these subjects however, as the scope of these four areas of expertise are so broad. Overall, STEM education refers to a hands-on approach to learning which encourages children to apply their learned skills, spark curiosity and foster an interest in these core subjects. Many activities surrounding these subjects involve using investigation to solve problems.

Harry testing the strength of a suspension bridge.
Harry testing the strength of a suspension bridge.

Why Is STEM Education Important?

STEM activities provide the perfect opportunity for children to learn in a hands-on way. Our STEM activities promote curiosity, innovation and creativity. The best STEM activities are practical and require children to design, create, build, experiment and evaluate. In doing so, they make their own self-discoveries and build upon their existing knowledge.

In an educational system which relies heavily on memorising facts, worksheets and textbooks, participating in a STEM activity can support children to learn in a different way. An effective STEM challenge can support children in developing a number of key skills including:

  • Critical thinking
  • Independent learning
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Evaluation
Building houses by exploring different materials.
Building houses by exploring different materials.

Failure Is Key!

‘I have not failed 10,000 times –
I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work’.
- Thomas Edison

I love this quote by Thomas Edison, one of the most successful innovators in American history. In his journey to inventing the incandescent lightbulb he made a number of wrong turns. In response to a question about one of his mishaps he wonderfully insisted that each setback was not a failure but another stepping stone to success.

A vital part of a successful STEM activity is failure! It is not that we are setting tasks which children cannot achieve. In fact, it’s about providing an environment where trial and error is part of the journey. Where children are free to make mistakes and use these experiences to learn and improve. At Hands-On Education and in my home with Teddy and Harry, I always encourage young people to explore their ideas and discover for themselves what works and what does not.

It appears to me that our current educational system values the final product more than the process. Children are taught to strive for the correct answer and children who are successful receive ‘good’ grades. In providing an environment where failure is part of the learning process, it is perseverance and determination which is valued not just the correct answer.

Investigating how far a car will travel on different surfaces.
Investigating how far a car will travel on different surfaces.

Effective STEM Activities

As I mentioned earlier STEM education is about embracing a hands-on approach to learning. Young children are naturally curious about the world around them and it seems only right to embrace this exploratory way of thinking.

Here are some tips to providing effective STEM activities for home educators and teachers.

  • Independent investigation – choose activities which children can perform with very little guidance or even completely independently. This will encourage children and pupils to take ownership of their learning.
  • Time – innovation and creativity cannot be limited to a specific amount of time. Where children show interest and determination to find a solution to a challenge, provide them with the time they need to be successful.
  • Value failure – provide an environment where failure is part of the process.
  • Open ended tasks – Often there is not only one solution to a STEM activity so children can explore and discover many different ways to meet the criteria.
  • Minimise the rules – in order to think outside the box, do not place too many restrictions on an activity.
  • Use recycling materials – you will be amazed at the number of things children can do with a box! Hold on to your toilet rolls and yoghurt pots, for children to choose from different materials to create and build with.
  • Questions – support and encourage children to ask questions. You don’t need to know the answer. They don’t need to know the answer. Wondering how things work and why things happen is the beginning of innovation.
Harry measuring time with a candle clock.
Harry measuring time with a candle clock.

British Science Week

British Science week is a 10-day celebration of science! Every year this programme promotes a different area of science and interrelated areas of STEM including technology, Engineering and Maths. Taking part on British Science Week is a fantastic way to promote STEM subjects within your home or in the classroom as children participate in a variety of engaging activities.

This year, British Science Week will take place between the 8th – 17th March 2024 and focuses on the topic of Time. To support this celebration and get you started on your STEM journey, we are offering our own topic of Measuring Time for FREE. This will be available from now until the end of British Science Week 2024 on the 17th March. Our activities include:

  • Make a History Timeline
  • Record time with calendars
  • Measure time using a candle clock
  • Make a working sundial
  • Design and make a water clock
  • 10 Second Marble Run Challenge

To easily identify our 250+ STEM activities at Hands-On Education, look for this symbol.

STEM Activity

We hope you have fun making our STEM activities part of your child or students learning journey. Here are some related topics you may find interesting.

Key Stage One
Building Houses

Building Houses Activities

Key Stage One
Material Investigations

Material Investigations: Two Activities

key stage two
Building Bridges

Building Bridges Activities

Key Stage Two
Measuring Time

Measuring Time Activities