Cross-Curricular STEM Challenges

STEM requires problem solving, and problem solving requires a broad spectrum of thought. Because their brains haven’t been conditioned to think in a vacuum, many times young students can tackle problems that have stumped engineers.

Because of this, we at Energy Day understand all too well the importance of the application of STEM whenever possible. In this regard, cross-curricular teaching and learning becomes incredibly powerful, especially for elementary students.

Here are some ideas that allow teachers to apply STEM to situations that students may already be familiar with, like popular children’s stories.

In all of these scenarios, this “lesson plan” should be followed:

  1. Read the story
  2. Identify the problem and opportunity for solution (allow the students to lead the discussion)
  3. Brainstorm solutions (if research is required, this is the step in which to do it)
  4. Choose the best solution
  5. Test the solution (construct something using things like Legos, plastic cups, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, Q-tips, pipe cleaners, foil, straws (different sizes and colors), masking tape (different colors), duct tape, clear tape, string, glue, clay, foam wedges (for makeup), balloons, paper towel and toilet paper tubes (and any other recycled materials), cardboard and boxes, paper and card stock, cereal boxes, coffee cans, plastic bags, water bottles, coins, magnets, dried beans, balls, blocks, and anything else you can think of)
  6. Evaluate the solution (redesign/improve or go back to step 4) – take this opportunity to explain that “failure” is actually a step in the process that leads to success
  7. Presentation of the solution (this could be in the form of a contest with an announcer or a big show with a story and props)

The list of children’s literature below is a great place to begin:

  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff (STEM challenge: build a bridge that will support the goats’ weight in order to get to the other side)
  • The Three Little Pigs (STEM challenge: build a house that will withstand strong wind forces)
  • Dogzilla by Dav Pilkey (STEM challenge: build a dog bone launcher)
  • Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Suess (STEM challenge: build a castle – research medieval castles and what purpose each part of it served)

Make sure you allow the students time to research and explore; that’s where the learning takes place. Follow up with something written (or a class discussion depending on the age) that allows students to describe the challenges and how they overcame them. In addition, you may encourage them to “fail” several times before they come up with a solution.

See our post with suggestions for STEM challenges, and check out Cross-Curricular STEM Challenges Part II.