by Elaine Luther
What do you do when your school doesn’t provide as many STEM activities as your child craves? How do you help them when you were an English major? Here are some fun and easy ideas for things you can do as a family, and add in to your already busy life without much trouble.
Listen to Podcasts together
Tumble Science Podcast for kids http://www.sciencepodcastforkids.com
These are short, about 20 minutes, and the hosts discuss a real question from a kid, and then go out and interview scientists who are experts in that topic. They’re well done and hold children’s interest.
Tumble has joined up with Listenwise.com, https://listenwise.com which provides discussion questions to go with each podcast. Listenwise also has lots of other podcasts and radio stories that you can listen to right on the site.
Find more podcasts for families at TheWondery. https://wondery.com
Watch SciGirls and do the Activities
SciGirls is a show on PBS where real girls choose a question, are matched with a real adult female mentor in science or engineering, and the girls go out and use the scientific method, or the design build process, to solve the problem as a team. The shows are well done, entertaining, and show the process, the ideas tested and ruled out. In a world where fear of failure and perfectionism can be problems for kids, this show shows that failure is just part of the process.
You can print out the images of the flow charts for the Design Build Process and the Scientific Process and when your child is building and gets frustrated, you can just remind them that the Design Build Process is a circle and we revisit each step. You can ask them, “where are you right now in the Design Build Process?”
Watch full episodes at http://pbskids.org/scigirls.
Visit SciGirls Connect
For each episode, the SciGirls folks create a companion activity for parents and teachers to use. Many can be done in an hour and nearly all of them use items you probably already have around the house. Find all the activities at SciGirls Connect.org, under resources. http://www.scigirlsconnect.org
Many of these activity guides are also available in Spanish and Season 4 will be entirely in Spanish!
They have also paired up short sections from the shows, about 5 minutes to use as an introduction to the activity. Even though the show is called SciGirls, the show and activities appeal to boys as well. And the site has role model profiles.
You can do all of the SciGirls activities as a family, but sometimes it’s more fun with friends, especially if that deadline of friends coming over helps make it happen. You could start an informal, once a month STEM club, where each parent takes some turns facilitating the activity. Like a book club, but for STEM! Kids particularly enjoy design-build challenges, in my experience, where they are given materials, constraints and a challenge and told to go for it.
The most important job as the activity facilitator, is to control the urge to help too much, and say too much. We as parents have to learn to hold our tongues, sit on our hands, and let them figure it out. Ask the kids questions instead of giving answers.
Sci Girls 7
One of the amazing contributions the folks at SciGirls have made is to gather the relevant research on how to get girls involved in STEM. Here they are.
Girls benefit from collaboration, especially when they can participate and communicate fairly. (Parker & Rennie, 2002; Scantlebury & Baker, 2007; Werner & Denner, 2009)
Girls are motivated by projects they find personally relevant and meaningful. (Liston, Peterson, & Ragan, 2008; Lyon & Jafri, 2010; Mosatche, Matloff-Nieves, Kekelis, & Lawner, 2013; Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, & Samarapungavan, 2009; Thompson & Windschitl, 2005)
Girls enjoy hands-on, open-ended projects and investigations. (Chatman et al., 2008; Denner & Werner, 2007)
Girls are motivated when they can approach projects in their own way, applying their creativity, unique talents, and preferred learning styles. (Calabrese Barton et al., 2013; Calabrese Barton, Tan, & Rivet, 2008; Eisenhart & Finkel, 1998; Lyon & Jafri, 2010)
Girls’ confidence and performance improves in response to specific, positive feedback on things they can control—such as effort, strategies, and behaviors. (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007; Dweck, 2000; Halpern et al., 2007; Kim et al., 2007; Mueller & Dweck, 1998)
Girls gain confidence and trust in their own reasoning when encouraged to think critically. (Chatman et al., 2008; Eisenhart & Finkel, 1998; Kim et al., 2007)
Girls benefit from relationships with role models and mentors. (Holmes, Redmond, Thomas & High, 2012; Liston, Peterson & Ragan, 2008; Lyon & Jafri, 2010; Mostache et al., 2013; Weber, 2011)
Another great source for design/build challenges is the TV show Zoom. http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities Zoom even has activities for preschoolers.
LanceMakes.com http://www.lancemakes.com is the website of author and build Lance Akiyama, who wrote Rubber Band Engineer, a terrific book that uses tongue depressors and paint stir sticks to make pretty cool things that really work. He has links on his site for where to buy just a few extras such as wheels and propellors, that are inexpensive, but really help raise the cool level of each project.
Goldie Blox is a toy designed to encourage engineering thinking in girls, and while you may not like that the toys are pink, the story books that accompany each building kit engage girls and draw them in. Girls can build each project as instructed, and then there are variations and they can build their own creations too.
A large collection of Lego and quality wood unit blocks, such as from Melissa and Doug, are a good addition to any home. These investment toys last for years. Magnatiles are another wonderful building toy, and my favorite, because they are magnetic, they are actually fun for kids to clean up. And Keva Planks, or Kapla blocks, allow for advanced building and all of these toys can hold the interest of children older than you might think.
These are all quality “toys” that can be passed from sibling to sibling, or kept handy for visiting children.
To make building really fun, it’s important to buy enough of each type of building toy so that kids can really make cool stuff! It’s frustrating when you want to build a whole town of Lego but you can only build a house and a half.
Three Citizen Science Projects Your Family Can Participate In
What microbes are in your shower head?
Listen to the Tumble episode that explains it:
Lincoln Park Zoo is watching animals in our urban environment and you can help! Learn more here: http://www.lpzoo.org/conservation-science/projects/chicago-wildlife-watch
Find more citizen science opportunities here:
SciGirls has some episodes on citizen science, find some of them here, including the one about monitoring frog populations:
Find the pdf activity guide “SciGirls Participate! Citizen Science Adventures” here:
The last pages of the pdf lists kid-friendly citizen science projects and even three apps to help you be involved. And you’ll also find a printable nature journal there.
Attend a STEM FEST or Maker Faire
In the Greater Chicago area, there are many Maker Fairs and Northern Illinois University has a STEM FEST each October. This year’s STEM FEST will be October 21st. http://www.stemfest.niu.edu/stemfest
Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana also usually has a Stem Fest each spring, theirs is called STEMapalooza.
You can find the Maker Faires here https://makerfaire.com