Grab your Free Guide - 3 Steps to STEM Success

How to Get Rid of Your Fear About STEM

So many teachers have told me they are just afraid to try a STEM Challenge. Trust me, I completely understand. I have been in that same place. 

 Let’s see if I can help you!

These are the main questions I hear all the time and the answers are just so simple.

  • What do we do?
  • What kinds of things do we need?
  • Isn’t it expensive?
  • What if it doesn’t work?
  • What will the kids learn?
Are you scared to try STEM? Here are some questions and answers that will help you! Great tips for easing into STEM and about the results of STEM challenges in your elementary classroom.

So, let’s tackle those 5 questions and suggest some really simple challenges to make this easy for you!

What do we do?

You really need to just start with some simple ideas. I would also suggest you try something with very simple materials! Become familiar with the Engineering Design Process and know that those steps are important.

STEM Challenge Freebie! Build one of six structures- all using easy to gather materials!

In every STEM challenge that I share at my TpT store, I go over the steps of the process and include those same things on the lab sheets for students. I also include details on helpful hints pages about why we have a planning procedure, a sharing procedure, and more! This is not unlike the procedures you already have in place in your classroom- like when to sharpen pencils or how to line up. These procedures become a habit with kids in no time and they will automatically begin to sketch and plan and talk as they get ready to build something.

STEM Challenge Freebie! Build one of six structures- all using easy to gather materials!

The two challenges shown in these two photos are from a free building challenge that you can get right {HERE}! How’s that for easy!

What kinds of things do we need?

EASY STEM challenge that use two materials! Read more about easy challenges on this blog post!

Great little question! You don’t have to have a super stocked science or STEM lab! Just start collecting things you can use. The challenge in the photo uses two things: Newspaper and tape!
I won’t lie to you! Yes, I have some challenges that use a lot of materials and things can be costly, but my advice is simple: 

DON’T start with those challenges! 

We love our Designing Pancakes challenge, but that is not one I would suggest to you if you are a beginner! The one in the photo of Newspaper Platforms is perfect!
Here’s a short list of things you can ask parents to collect for you or donate to you and they are all easy for them (or you) to gather!
  • Newspaper
  • Empty cardboard tubes (like paper towels)
  • Straws
  • Masking tape
  • Foil
  • Craft sticks

In the long run, the large box will save money and here’s another thing: have kids take things apart and save the sticks that are not damaged. We recycle everything and use things again and again!

Isn’t it expensive?

STEM Quick Challenge: Easy materials, very quick set-up, and great fun! Check this blog post for more hints about making STEM easy!
Another great question! STEM can be expensive – If you purchase those pre-made kits that come with teacher’s guides and the materials.

But look at the photo above.

Those kids are making fabulous mazes with foam board and straws- both of which were purchased at The Dollar Tree.
Again, ask parents to help with this! Add a section to your weekly newsletters about STEM needs and include Dollar Store Finds: foam board, pre-cut foil sheets, straws, play-doh, and cups!
Don’t be fooled by those expensive kits! I have tried a few and here’s a truth for you: My kids love the simple materials so much more!
Simple, less expensive or free, easy prep and easy materials! Win-win!

What if it doesn’t work?

STEM FREEBIE: It's a tower challenge with some really specific rules about the two materials! Check this blog post for more!

This is going to be a surprise! You need to hope it doesn’t work!

Because that is where the greatest learning happens.
I still remember the day a student popped up from the floor (where his group was working) and said, 

“I can’t tell you how many times we have failed at this!”

Did he give up? Nope. He went right back to work.
Folks, that’s called perseverance and you don’t learn that by having things come easy for you.
Take a look at the photo above. That’s a quick little challenge that uses two materials: craft sticks and paper cups. It seems like such a SIMPLE task, but it turned out to be one of those that was sooo frustrating. The kids really had to work on how to stack the sticks and cups and it was only because of the falling towers they were able to work through how to do this so the towers would stay up.
I will add this: we test every challenge multiple times in my classroom. With the first test class, we use a set of constraints and the very second I notice the challenge is too easy, we toughen the rules. We learn from being challenged!
Grab the free Cups and Sticks Challenge right {HERE}!

What will the kids learn?

STEM Challenge: Design and build a straw rocket! More easy challenges featured on this blog post!
This question is so fun to answer! Here’s a short list of what kids will learn:
engineering, perseverance, collaboration, teamwork, how to work through frustrations, science vocabulary, engineering vocabulary, how to use materials in a new way, how to manage materials so they will last, how to present projects to each other, and so much more.
So, what does that photo above have to do with this?
It’s simple: I learn something every day, too, and most of the time it is because I make a major goof-up and, let me just tell you, KIDS LOVE IT WHEN THIS HAPPENS!
In the challenge in that photo, kids were using straws to make their rockets blast off. I was looking for some larger straws in my cabinet and came across those very colorful straws and thought the first graders would really love them.
Yep, they did. They were bright colors and pretty and also MADE OF PAPER! Just think about that for a minute. First graders, repeatedly blowing through paper straws, which causes some extra spit to happen, and……. you can figure it out.
So, we had to stop and throw away our pretty, wet, soggy, collapsing straws, and trade for plastic ones. So, I learned to never use paper straws.
(By the way, the Straw Rocket Challenge is by Brooke Brown and you can find it right {HERE}.
I hope this answers your main questions about STEM and that you will try a challenge soon! You will be so glad you did!
In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!


  1. Awesome post as always! One of the best things about STEM is how inexpensive it can be!

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