Homeschooling isn’t a thing of the past. In 2019, 2.5 million children were homeschooled in the United States. Today, that number has nearly doubled. Pandemic or no pandemic, there’s an avid interest in alternative forms of education.
While homeschooling offers plenty of advantages, building strong homeschool lessons can feel overwhelming. To help, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to incorporating effective STEM teaching into your student’s at-home studies.
What are the benefits of STEM/STEAM education?
Note the interchangeability of STEM, STEAM, and STREAM education. While the traditional term stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEAM and STREAM strive to be slightly more holistic, with STEAM incorporating the arts and STREAM including reading.
All this to say — any form of STEM education empowers students with the creative and critical thinking skills that they need to be successful in any profession. What’s more, STEM careers are at a surplus. That’s right…we have more STEM jobs right now than available candidates, and experts only expect this number to grow.
For many public schools, implementing effective STEM curriculums is a challenge. That’s why it’s so important to get students involved with STEM inside and outside of the classroom. And if your student is homeschooled, there are a multitude of activities that they can pursue, all loaded with real-world applications.
Grade level-appropriate STEM topics
If you’re building a STEM homeschool curriculum, you want age-appropriate topics. Use this chart as a starting point. Just know that it’s not exhaustive. The more popularized STEM becomes, the more we find ways to teach foundational skills early so that solving complex problems becomes easier and easier.
|3-5||Robotics (foundational skills)||Engineering / Tech|
|Gaming||Arts / Tech|
|6-8||Web-based apps||Arts / Tech|
|Design (foundational skills)||Engineering / Arts / Tech|
|9-12||Robotics (advanced)||Engineering / Tech|
|Graphic design (advanced)||Arts / Tech|
Tips for effective STEM homeschooling
You are not alone in building a homeschool science curriculum. Heed this advice and make use of the treasure trove of free resources available.
1. Review pertinent STEM standards
It helps to be privy to prominent STEM-based standards, that way your lessons and activities can be built around them. We have a few posts about building effective STEM/STEAM/STREAM curriculums. Check them out for helpful directions!
Also review the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and familiarize yourself with 21st century skills. Both are crucial in STEM education. If you explore free STEM resources online, chances are you’ll encounter lessons and activities that incorporate these standards and skills.
2. Worry about skills over matter
Similarly, STEM is all about helping students develop uber-important skills. Worry about these more than anything else. Yes, you want riveting subject material, but this material needs to be purposeful.
The best way to do this is by looking at skills first. If you want your student to complete a project on renewable energy, great! Now what skills will be taught? Practiced? Assessed? These are the questions that teachers are faced with everyday.
3. Incorporate project-based learning as much as possible
Project-based learning stands at the zenith of all “learning by doing” teaching philosophies. And because STEM learning often focuses on finding solutions to real-life problems, there’s ample opportunity to include project-based learning in your homeschool curriculum.
Note, too, that projects don’t have to be a group thing. Admittedly, it’s better that way, but we’re also living in a time where social gatherings are…difficult. If homeschooling is a solo endeavor, no sweat. You can still create wonderful project-based learning activities for your student to explore with you or on their own.
4. Borrow from what’s working
Good teachers don’t come up with all of their lesson plans on their own. It’s an impossible practice that leads to 90 hour work weeks, untenable Starbucks spending, and sinister levels of stress. Instead, good teachers gain inspiration from what works.
You should too.
There are SO many online resources (like this post!) for teaching STEM at home. And in our digitally-minded age, students can explore creativity right from their computers and explore incredibly cool online activities.
If you’re feeling weighed down by the stress of teaching your student and teaching them well, start with this STEM teaching checklist, then browse other great STEM-based platforms that you can incorporate into your at-home curriculum.
5. Adjust on the go
Just like good teachers borrow from what’s proven to work, they also adjust on the go when things can be better. Teaching STEM subjects is a challenging and ever-changing endeavor. If you feel like something isn’t working, it’s okay to go back to the drawing board.
Conversely, let a lesson or activity breathe before you do a complete overhaul. Sometimes the best lessons do take a bit of time to get right. If you’re searching for tips on how to be an effective at-home instructor for your student, check out our post on how to be a better STEM teacher.
6. Connect with like-minded parents
While we mentioned projects not having to be a “group” thing, there’s still opportunity to do so if you desire. Think back to the statistics we provided in the beginning of this post — between 4 and 5 million children are homeschooled in the United States.
In other words, you’re not alone. Connect with other parents online to trade tips and strategies for homeschooling your student. If you still want your student to be able to practice teamwork and complete projects with others, consider fostering a micro-school environment.
Pandemic pods have also proven popular over the past year, and with COVID-19 still around and schools unopened, we can expect these small learning groups to stick around.
Simple STEM projects that you can do at home
One of the best things about STEM education is its accessibility. You really don’t need much to start practicing STEM skills. Check out each of these simple projects that you can complete with your student in the comfort of your own home! Then, if you’re interested in learning more, check out our ultimate STEM supply list.
Explore how to purify water with this super simple experiment. All you need is a plastic cup, glass jar, scissors, 3-4 coffee filters, clean sand, and some gravel.
Step 1: Cut a small hole in the bottom of the plastic cup.
Step 2: Line the inside of the cup with coffee filters, followed by sand, then gravel.
Step 3: Place the plastic cup into the top of your glass jar. Use another jar to pour dirty water into the cup. Watch purification right before your eyes!*
*A nearby pond, stream, or retention area is the best place to gather “dirty,” unpurified water. However, you can also dirty water yourself with a bit of dirt and sediment.
Turn on your favorite Star Wars film and channel your inner-jedi when you make a lightsaber using this quick how-to guide. All you need is paper, duct tape, straws, a paper clip, and a few project-specific supplies that you can gather at the local hobby store: an LED light, copper tape, and coin battery.
Step 1: Print our lightsaber template here.
Step 2: Lay the copper tape where instructed.
Step 3: Stick the LED light through the template at the top of the lightsaber. Flip the paper over and bend each leg over the copper tape. Push a little of the tape over the legs to hold them in place.
Step 4: Place your battery (positive side down). Wrap the template’s corner over it to hold and use your paper clip for extra support.
Build a simple machine with just four paper plates, glue/tape, a pencil, and string.
Step 1: Glue two paper plates together with the tops facing each other, creating a dome-like shape.
Step 2: Repeat with the remaining two plates. You now have your wheels.
Step 3: Poke holes directly through the center of each wheel and connect them with the pencil. The pencil acts as the wheels’ axle.
Step 4: Wrap the string around the pencil and leave enough to grip like a leash. Slowly pull. As the string unravels, your simple machine will move forward.
Teaching probability? PBS Learning Media has a fantastic activity that uses just two dice, a pencil, and a chart for recording results. Read through the full professionally designed lesson here.
Free online STEM resources for K-12 homeschoolers
As we mentioned before, there are endless STEM resources available for homeschool families. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite resource-based posts below, as well as some other fantastic online resources to help with your planning and teaching.
Thimble’s resource posts
Other online resources
Try one of Thimble’s STEM subscription kits
Our affordable, play-at-home STEM subscription kits are a great way for your student to develop strong STEM skills and have a blast while doing so. Perfect for any homeschool STEM curriculum, each kit comes with hands-on materials and access to live instructor-led classes that help students learn the methodology behind using creative and critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems. Check out our kits today!