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Unexpected Things I Learned from First Grade STEM

What can we expect from first grade students in STEM classes? You can learn so much from this age groups!

After a few years with upper elementary grades, I found myself in the midst of a new adventure – first and second-grade STEM! Oh, my! Let’s just say this is a tad scary…..But, a few surprises came my way during the first days with the very smallest engineers.

With the first graders, it all started when we built bridges!

STEM Challenges and First Graders! This post will encourage you to try first grade STEM Challenges with first graders as I describe the things the smallest engineers taught me. They love STEM and approach tasks with their own unique style.

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links to resources. This means that Amazon will pass on small percentages to me with your purchase of items. This will not create extra costs for you at all! It will help me keep this blog running!

I really wanted to dive right in with a STEM building event because I knew these little engineers would not sit still and listen for as long as my big kids. So, we watched a “Crash Course” video about Engineers which included a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. This gave us a good way to talk about bridges and then kids went to their tables.

Each student had ten counting cubes and four craft sticks. All I told them was, “Build a bridge.” I did not tell them each one of them should build the bridge, but that is what they did (and it’s what I expected.)

Here are things I did not expect from first-grade STEM!

First and Second grade STEM and things I learned with these age groups! They love STEM and this blog post will give you ideas of what to expect and resource suggestions.

After each student built their individual bridges, we shared them. First graders love, love, love to talk about their projects.

The photo to the left is one student’s bridge.

Then I asked them to put all their materials together and build one big bridge.

Some groups actually cheered when they discovered they would be able to join the materials!

First and Second grade STEM and things I learned with these age groups! They love STEM and this blog post will give you ideas of what to expect and resource suggestions.

Look at this photo. This group actually talked about what jobs each would have.

 “You be the snapper and I will be road layer, and then Carlie can straighten it when it gets crooked.” 

It was fairly amazing to see the kids work together and talk about what they were doing! 

Keep in mind, I allowed them to EACH build a bridge first and then build one big bridge. This is something to think about as you move forward. This age group seems intent on building their own structure. I learned to allow this for a few minutes and then create the instructions for building a group structure.

Also, something to think about…

Posters for grades 1-2! This Engineering Design Process set will help students learn the steps they will follow in building structures in STEM class.

It is not too early to start talking about the Design Process with your younger students.

I created a very simple design process set that has engaging and first-grade-friendly images and vocabulary they can understand (with my help).

This is displayed on a cute bulletin board and we do refer to it sometimes.

Do I emphasize the steps constantly? No, I mention them as we discuss what our next task will be.

Example: “Boys, and Girls, it is time to stop building and test your bridge.” Or, “Can you help me imagine what we can build with these materials?”

Could they use the materials effectively?

First and Second grade STEM and things I learned with these age groups! They love STEM and this blog post will give you ideas of what to expect and resource suggestions.

Another unexpected thing! I had no idea if they could build a bridge with those wonky materials, but just look at this photo.

Another thing, you would think that all their bridges would look alike, since the materials are so limited. But, they built amazing little bridges with ramps and turns and extras- like a team that built a boat to go with their bridge! It’s the top left bridge in the photo- the boat is going under it!)

Talking about what an engineer is…

Posters for grades 1-2! This Kinds of Engineers set will help students learn what types of jobs engineers do.

One thing I try to do with these small first-grade engineers is use the word ENGINEER often.

But, do they know what an engineer is or does? Probably not!

So, I created a poster set of Kinds of Engineers. Each poster describes a type of engineer.

IDEA: Open each STEM class session by looking at one poster. Read the description and have a brief discussion before beginning your regular class!

Will first graders add details to their structures?

First and Second grade STEM and things I learned with these age groups! They love STEM and this blog post will give you ideas of what to expect and resource suggestions.

Speaking of ramps! Yes, there were some groups that made ramps because, 

“You have to drive up on the bridge!” 

There were some students that used extra cubes to hold the ramps in place since they did tend to slide. Some even had ramps right in the middle of their bridges and when students pointed out that the ramps in the middle would lead straight into the water I heard this, “Well, you know, bridges don’t have to be over water!”

Total fun learning to be an engineer!

First and Second grade STEM and things I learned with these age groups! They love STEM and this blog post will give you ideas of what to expect and resource suggestions.

Some students wanted a double-decker bridge with stacking roadways. The bridge in the top photo shows what students did often. They pulled apart the cubes and slid the craft stick between cubes to hold it in place.

Y’all these are first graders! I thought that was really clever!

And I noticed something that was incredible- given the ages of these little engineers…

Total engagement!

Of course, adding little cars to the activity was also a hit!

Learning the vocabulary of STEM and Science class

As your first-grade students become more experienced with STEM projects you will notice another thing I learned! The vocabulary of STEM and science becomes apparent.

In this bridge-building activity at the beginning of the school year, students learned what the word precarious means! (As in Don’t Bump the Table!) I noticed this and realized they could learn a lot more vocabulary that is needed- safety rules and the names of tools we use.

Posters for grades 1-2! This Science Safety Rules set will help students learn the basic rules they need to follow in Science or STEM class.
Posters for grades 1-2! This Science Tools set will help students learn the names of common lower elementary science tools.

These two poster sets are referred to often when students cannot remember what the “squirty-things” are (pipettes or eye droppers) or when they need to be reminded to wait and listen to the task before beginning! You can grab these poster sets in my TPT store. Just click the images to see the details!

First-grade STEM class is definitely a learning place- for students and for the teachers!

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