Review: STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading

Giving my children an opportunity to guide their own learning, and to use their imagination are two important goals for my teaching method.  Anytime we can incorporate lessons that allow this to happen, I am ecstatic.  When given the opportunity to reviewSTEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading from Tied 2 Teaching I was over the moon.

STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading includes over 60 STEM challenges that will engage your child into the STEM process.  If you are not familiar with what STEM is, it is an activity that allows its users to use concepts from Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to complete a project.  With this particular product, the user is directed to an article from Wonderopolis either through a link, or a QR code.  They spend time reading an article to learn about their specific prompt.  Once this is completed, they will then answer questions based on the information they read.  Finally, they will work through the STEM process, including planning, and creating.   After your child completes the design challenge, they are asked to analyze their performance.  What worked well?  What didn’t?  During this improvement stage, they get to address any issues that they observed. 

STEM activities are a great way to reinforce science concepts such as gravity, simple machines likes levers or pulleys, and kinetic and potential energy.  During our exploration of STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading we found ourselves having deep conversations about these topics and more. 

During our review time, we completed several of the challenges. I am going to highlight a few of those in this review and discuss why we really enjoyed those activities.  I will say that not every STEM challenge was a hit with each of my kids.  My sons did not enjoy doing the Valentine challenges because they still think girls, other than their mom, are disgusting.   Rather than make Cupid’s bow, they made a bow that Chewbacca could use to defeat a Stormtrooper.  Same principle, just different characters.  Whatever it takes, is my motto!

One of the first challenges we started with was to “Design a Foil Boat”.  I thought this would be a great one to get us started, as it didn’t require a lot of materials, and was simplistic in nature.  When we clicked the link to view the Wonderopolis article, it took us to the wrong one. However, when I scanned the QR code, it worked correctly.  We had learned about the Titanic not long before completing this activity, so it was more applicable for them.  We enjoyed being able to explore the Titanic more through this site.  After we completed all the planning and it was time to construct our boats, I found that their designs styles were varied.  This was beneficial to us, because after testing them, we were able to discuss what worked and what didn’t with each of the designs.  We determined that the boats that had a larger area to put the pennies in was able to hold more pennies than the boats that had a smaller area, because the weights were more evenly distributed.  We discussed surface tension and properties of water during this challenge. 

Living in Kentucky, you get a wide variety of weather.  Sometimes our winters are extreme, and others are more mild.  This was a very mild winter for us.  At our house we only had about five inches of snow the entire season.  We grew impatient waiting for snow deep enough to build a snowman, which is why “Building a Marshmallow Snowman” was one of our favorite challenges.  The Wonderopolis site helped us learn about the history of marshmallows as well as various ways to use them.  S’mores anyone?  When it was time to design, my kids loved getting to use a variety of materials to create their snowmen. To make it more challenging we used mini-marshmallows. They had to figure out how to make them stick together. This proved to be gross at times, when my son resorted to licking his to moisten them. The finished products looked like something straight from “The Blob”, but they had fun creating them.

For St. Patrick’s Day, my kids wanted to “Design a Leprechaun Trap.”  I remembered seeing that there was a STEM for it but hadn’t planned on doing it.  I am so glad that we did.  I told them that to complete it they could only use items that were in our “recycled materials”.  I also chose to let them work on this together, to facilitate group work, and because I knew my OCD might go a little crazy with all sorts of materials strewn all over the house.  The result wasn’t anything visually appealing, but they created doors, and rooms to trick the leprechaun.  They even put candy in it to use as bait, which we used to discussed animal habits and how people use bait to hunt and trap animals.

One of our absolute favorite STEM challenges was to “Design a Paper Airplane” to see whose could fly the furthest.  When my sons were in public school they, or kids in their class, often got in trouble for making paper airplanes.  As a former public-school teacher, they were the bane of my existence.  However, for STEM purposes, they are very fun to teach about air, aerodynamics, measuring and many more concepts.  Again, the hyperlink in the file did not work, but we searched for the article “How Far Can A Paper Airplane Fly?” and we quickly found it. 

After doing these challenges, I found that my kids way of playing changed.  Instead of my boys playing with their Superhero figures (I have to remind myself not to say dolls) to fight crime, they created ziplines and pulleys for them to get from one location to another.  My daughter created a parachute for one of her dolls.  To see their learning transfer to other areas of their lives has been truly rewarding.  We LOVED STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading and look forward to completing more as our year progresses. 

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