The jury’s still out on whether or not students will return to in-person learning before the end of the school year. Some states’ school districts opened their doors back in August, while others opted for remote learning. Districts trying to return to the classroom have also faced understandable pushback given COVID-19’s continued presence.
Is your student still learning from home? No problem. We’ve put together a collection of STEM activities that can be done in the sanctity of your own home with nothing more than a computer and, occasionally, some supplies.
If you’re a teacher, THANK YOU for all of the amazing work you’re doing! Treat this list as a resource. Maybe you already use some of these tools, or maybe you’re looking for something new to introduce into your digital classroom. We’ve combed the interwebs for a bunch of different options, appropriate for students of all ages and grade levels.
What is STEM?
It’s always worth redefining STEM, as it’s a term used freely in education and the workforce, At its base, STEM is what it stands for: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, what STEM’s acronym won’t tell you is that STEM represents much more than four individual subject areas. It’s about how these subject areas connect. Plus, as STEM has evolved, it’s grown to incorporate arts (STEAM) and reading (STREAM).
Arts and reading? Really? Yep. The key to any great STEM program is its holistic educational approach. Note that word: holistic. The inclusion of both arts and reading emphasizes the interconnectivity of subjects. Arts encompasses design-heavy projects with a science background. And reading, well…is there any argument against the need for literacy?
Why is STEM important?
STEM skills travel far beyond the traditional classroom. Truthfully, many schools still face a mountain of obstacles when it comes to implementing STEM-heavy curriculums. The beauty, though, is that STEM skills can be obtained and practiced inside and outside of school. And there’s no better time than now to jump aboard the STEM train and introduce students to as many opportunities for creativity and innovation as you can.
The job prospects for STEM degree holders are more than promising. So, introducing students — however young — to basic STEM principles simply gives them more options when it’s time to go to college and choose a career path.
No matter what students decide in the future, experience in any STEM field leaves them with invaluable critical thinking and problem solving skills that prove helpful in any profession. When our world prospers, it’s because of quick-minded people who can look at problems and devise solutions. That’s what STEM teaches. Nurture these abilities early-on and students will be better off for it.
The Benefits of Online STEM Activities for Kids
Before we dive into all of the awesome online STEM resources available, let’s look at a few of their benefits.
Play and learn
It’s becoming harder and harder to engage students. A lot of this has to do with the world we live in; with the rise of smartphones and other smart devices, kids and adults alike have unlimited options for entertainment. Ironically, this works against us! Too many distractions, easy opportunities to lose focus.
Online STEM activities know all about today’s digitally-minded students and cater to them. Learning’s a cinch when it’s a blast! Whether it’s an online experiment or a coding game, these activities let students play and learn.
Like any STEM activity, students put their problem solving skills to the test. As we mentioned, problem solving is the essence of STEM. Here’s a problem, find the solution. We all have to fix problems on a daily basis. Being able to practice in school with intentional problem solving activities is a huge benefit.
Similarly, online STEM activities help students get their critical thinking on. You might also hear higher-order thinking thrown into the mix. Teachers make use of Bloom’s taxonomy on the daily in order to hit students with layers of questions and foster light bulb moments. Lots of STEM activities fall within the upper-half of Bloom’s, requiring students to do more with those wonderful noggins of theirs.
Sure, this might be a little bit more difficult these days, but plenty of students are still learning and collaborating from home. Project-based learning is a key feature of any successful STEM curriculum. It embodies several 21st century skills. Just like students will have to work with others in the “real-world,” they need to learn how to work with their peers in school. And with today’s video sharing technology, students can still complete online activities together.
The Best Online STEM Activities for Distance Learning in 2021
1. Khan Academy
Personalized learning awaits at Khan Academy. K-12 students can practice at their own pace with content covering everything from grammar to science to history to standardized test prep. Instructional videos accompany practice exercises, making Khan Academy a homerun for individualized learning at home. And because all of Khan Academy’s activities are standards-based, you can be sure its science content covers topics found in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Given who NASA is, it offers a bevy of resources for STEM teachers, students, and parents looking to get their kids involved in STEM and let them act as young scientists. Subjects include earth science, engineering, life science, math, physical science, space science, Spanish, and technology. NASA offers “play and learn” activities, videos, hands-on projects, interactive multimedia, and more. It’s a terrific online resource.
The Smithsonian’s easy-to-use website lets you search for STEM lesson plans by type, grade level, and topic. STEM topics include engineering design, education, life science, earth & space science, chemistry, and physical science. This is a fantastic resource for educators on the lookout for new lessons and activities.
A simple Google search can leave you with a ton of different options for at-home science projects, most of which only require a quick trip to the convenience store or your local craft store for supplies. While our linked blog post provides STEM activities suitable for 5th graders, they can certainly be amended to work for younger students. Middle school and high school teachers can also use for inspiration; sometimes the best projects have basic starting points but, coupled with higher-level questions and supplemental activities, can seriously test middle school students’ or high schoolers’ critical thinking and problem solving skills.
National Geographic has a wide variety of fun ways for kids to get involved with STEM. What’s more, Nat Geo really appeals to today’s digital learners. There’s plenty of opportunities to watch informational videos and even play some animal-filled interactive games.
PBS has always been a Mecca for learning. What’s cool about PBS Learning Media is that it hosts free resources for teachers in any state. If you’re a teacher, simply create an account and the site will tailor itself to the state you’re teaching in (particularly helpful as far as state standards are concerned). There’s also section specifically for students, so PBS Learning Media is a great tool at home.
Parents will remember good old Bill…he invaded pretty much every single science classroom in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. His website has some awesome home demos for students to complete that fall under life science, physical science, and planetary science. Each activity can be done with minimal supplies.
In light of COVID-19, virtual field trips are in! Seriously, check these out. You can find a ton of different options online. In the list we found, there’s museums, famous landmarks, farms, zoos, aquariums, and other cool spots, all offering nifty virtual adventures and sneak peeks at various exhibits.
Of course, we’ll always make the case for STEM subscription kits. Part of Thimble’s mission is to provide kits that offer the balance parents so desperately seek for their kids between screen time and hands-on learning experiences. With our kits, students receive access to live classes twice a week (and taught by expert instructors), self-paced lessons, and a kit that is multi-functional. The fun doesn’t have to stop once the project is done. Take a device apart and build something new!
A World of Imagination
Maybe Gene Wilder said it best: “Come with me and you’ll be / In a world of pure imagination.” With STEM, anything is possible, and these great resources open up the realm of unlimited imagination for students. No matter who you are — parent or teacher — you can get your kids actively involved in STEM education and prepare them for potential STEM careers!