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Simple STEM Ideas to Get Started

Simple STEM almost sounds like an oxymoron, right? Well, it is much easier than you think to try some simple ideas and get started.

This post came about because I get questions all the time.

Today’s question is all about those struggles we have as our school year begins– especially if a job is new for you.

Simple Ideas to Get Started with STEM Projects - the post includes tips, ideas, and resources. Get organized, practice teamwork, and more!

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!

The Question with Simple Solutions

Someone sent me this question recently and I completely understood how overwhelmed she was.

I have just gotten a STEM Lab job and I am overwhelmed. Where do I begin?

When you start a new position- no matter what it might be- there is nervousness as you decorate, plan, and get ready to greet those precious students on that very first day.

Oh my, I have answers for this dilemma because I have been exactly at this point. I have some ideas for this and some simple STEM suggestions!

My advice to these teachers and to you is a series of steps. This is what I did when I found myself standing in my new classroom with about 4 weeks to get ready before the school year began. I have blog posts to share about each of these steps and I linked all of them for you.

STEP 1: Organize Your Space

Simple Ideas to Get Started with STEM Projects - the post includes tips, ideas, and resources. Get organized, practice teamwork, and more!

The first thing I did was empty all my cabinets. I inventoried all the materials I had. And then I put everything away in a logical way.

I had tons and tons of materials and I placed them in groups together. I really felt like this would make everything easier to find later. And, it did!  I also created an inventory book that I use all the time.

The photos above are part of my organizing plan. I needed lots of bins and most of these are bins I use every day. 

TIPS: Grab some dishpans from the dollar store. We use them for floating boats. Also, grab some plastic shoe boxes, but they are less expensive at Wal Mart.  And, yes we do use those hot glue guns. I buy the low temp style and only use them with 5th graders.

Step 2: Classroom Procedures

I sat in my new classroom six years ago and made a list of all the procedures students would need to learn when arriving and coming into the STEM Lab. This was a brand-new space for me and for those students. I focused on procedures for the first month of school (along with teamwork and getting started with STEM). 

Here’s a funny story. The very first class to arrive for STEM was stopped near the lab doorway by their teacher. Somehow, without any thought, that became the stopping point for every class from that day forward. They walk up, stop at this same spot, and wait for me to greet them. I decided to make this a useful stop. I added a rolling easel to the hallway right near the door and while classes are standing there waiting they can see our weekly agenda.

Posting the agenda turned out to be the most fun thing. I would see kids walking down the hall and stopping to see what their grade would be doing that week.

TIP: Post your weekly agenda for students to see before they come into the classroom. Add something to it occasionally- like a science-related question or riddle.

Step 3: Teamwork

Simple Ideas to Get Started with STEM Projects - the post includes tips, ideas, and resources. Get organized, practice teamwork, and more!

About six weeks ago I presented at a teacher’s conference (about STEM) and the point I made during that presentation is that teamwork must be taught, practiced, and emphasized.

You cannot just say, “You are working as a team” and expect students to do so. Teamwork is something we work on for the first month of school – every year!

Links to blog posts about this activity are at then end of this post.

Step 4: Curriculum

Are you ready for simple STEM ideas now?

Curriculum was the last thing I tackled for that first year as a STEM Specialist. I had access to a few engineering design kits. I tested one of those kits, but I found it much easier and less expensive to invent my own resources. I relied on reading blogs and scrolling through Pinterest to get ideas for challenges. That was 6 years ago, though, and so much more is available at affordable prices.

Simple STEM for the start of the year- students design a chain made from one piece of paper! Check this post!

Now, mind you, here is a caution. When I call something a Simple STEM Challenge, this does not mean it is easy to do. Simple might mean less prep for you or fewer materials needed. The challenge is probably very complicated- but that is why we call it a challenge? #right 

TIP: The challenge in the photo is about building a paper chain.

Step 5: Keep it Simple!

Keep it simple! Those first few weeks of adding STEM to your classroom or creating lessons for a STEM Lab are challenging enough! The best advice I can give is to try simple things. STEM Challenges can have one or two materials and still be challenging and full of learning. I would never advise you to experiment with creating the best pancake as your opening project! I can say the two challenges featured below would be perfect for you!

STEM Challenge Bucket towers Activity- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

The famous Bucket Tower Challenge is a class-favorite and a best-seller at TpT.

The premise is simple: Build a structure that will support weight placed in a bucket! There are a few more rules about the height of the structure and the bucket and a special rule about inventing something about that fun little bucket!

STEM Challenge- An easy prep activity for upper elementary. Resource includes a variation for a seasonal version.

The amazing Index Card Tower is one that uses only two materials- cards and tape. The tape is optional. It is amazingly challenging to appear to be so simple. The resource has so many ideas- including alternative ways to use the challenge.

I hope this post gives you some great ideas and tips to get started in your STEM classroom. It’s a grand adventure!

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