STEAM activities help children solve problems

Sabin, Davis, Hetrick, Anderegg, Macalady, Walker, Darling and Katers

STEAM teaching is a way of helping children think like scientists, technologists, engineers, artists (architects) and mathematicians as they solve meaningful and interesting real world problems.

When children use STEAM they are making hands-on projects and following the problem solving model real engineers use: Talk about and define the problem with a team; research it; talk about and draw possible solutions; talk about and choose a plan; talk and create; talk, test and evaluate; talk and improve; talk and redesign until the problem is solved.

Families can help their children by using the STEAM model and vocabulary while doing everyday chores like cleaning, cooking or doing a family STEAM activity.

Family STEAM Fun

With family holidays coming up here is a cheap STEAM activity for young cousins: making drinking straw structures. You’ll need a box of drinking straws with the flexible bend cut off, a roll of masking tape, child scissors and a piece of paper for a base.

Define the problem and talk about it. You can choose a problem like building a sturdy bridge, playground structure like a swing set or a climbing dome that will hold many action figures.

Research and talk about it. What kind of structures do the children have at school? What kinds of shapes are they? Triangles, rectangles, circles? What makes them sturdy? Do they have reinforcing bars that make triangles? Triangles distribute the weight and stress.

Draw pictures of ideas for structures based on the discussion. Choose a plan, and create it with straws and tape. Help young children cut the straws, tape and wrap it around the straws. Are there triangles?

Test the structure and evaluate. You can use action figures to test for strength. Look for parts that bend under the weight.

Talk and improve the design. Do you need more reinforcement straws to make more triangles? Is the structure able to hold more weight now?

Redesign and talk until the design works and the children like it.

Very young children can start with a square pyramid structure. Cut a straw into four equal parts and tape them to a paper to make a flat square. Then cut four more straw pieces of equal size. Anchor them on each corner and the top with tape to make a pyramid.

Smaller straw pieces can reinforce the pyramid until there are many triangles and trapezoids. When they look through it can they count the shapes? Is the structure sturdy? How can you test it? If the top is made like a little basket or platform will it hold a small gourd or little animal without collapsing? What other sturdy structures can children design? For more see and Through the Seasons.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Grandparents Teach, Too is a non-profit organization of elementary and preschool teachers from Marquette, Michigan. The writers include: Jan Sabin, Mary Davis, Jean Hetrick, Cheryl Anderegg, Esther Macalady, Colleen Walker, Fran Darling, and Iris Katers. Their mission since 2009 is to help parents, grandparents, and other caregivers of young children provide fun activities to help prepare young children for school and a life long love of learning. They are supported by Great Start, Parent Awareness of Michigan, the U.P. Association for the Education of Young Children, Northern Michigan School of Education, the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum and the Northern Michigan University Center for Economic Education.