Getting Into STEM and Robotics at Home
Over the past twenty years, education in the United States has shifted to a heavy emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics— commonly called STEM. Many leaders see STEM education as essential to preparing students for the workforce as the world approaches the middle of the twenty-first century. However, students do not have to dream of starting the next Apple® or GoogleTM to benefit from STEM education. STEM can help children gain a better appreciation of science and mathematics in everyday life—and it can be a lot of fun, too.
Great for Unit Studies
STEM education often heavily influences engineering because engineering incorporates elements of science, technology, and mathematics. As a result, many STEM projects focus on building models or simple machines. However, some STEM curricula include art (STEAM) and others also cover reading (STREAM). This makes STEM very versatile and lends it to unit studies where science, math, reading, art, and other subjects all focus on a single topic or project.
Great for Tactile Learning and Teamwork
One reason students enjoy STEM is that it usually includes hands-on activities. Instead of simply reading about science or solving math problems, students get to carry out projects. This can make STEM an excellent option for tactile learners. Students also develop problem- solving skills as they learn to navigate challenges that inevitably arise during STEM projects. Many STEM programs offer exposure to basic ideas about electronics, computer coding, and logic. Many of these skills carry over into other areas of learning.
STEM learning also is ideal for group projects. Teams of students from a family or homeschool group may enjoy working together on STEM projects. Homeschoolers may even want to consider conducting or participating in STEM competitions and expos with other students in their communities.
Getting into Robotics
One popular field in STEM is robotics, which gives students an opportunity to build and program robots. Joanna Hankins is a professional engineer who participated in robotics as a student. "Robotics makes learning fun," Hankins said in an interview. "In school, you learn on paper, but you have no idea how to use what you learned. Robotics allows students to learn through trial and error, hands-on experience, and even apply what they learned on paper."
Many different companies offer ways for students to get into robotics. Younger students may start with something like Wonder Workshop’s Dot and Dash robots that can be programmed and controlled with a tablet. Older students may enjoy building and programming robots from kits. While building a robot may sound daunting, even from a kit, many are like the remote-controlled cars and quadcopters with which some students may be familiar.
Homeschool families may consider pooling their resources to purchase robots and learn together. Local libraries and museums may offer opportunities for students to learn robotics. Depending on local regulations, homeschoolers may be able to participate in robotics activities through a local private school or public school district as well.
Other STEM Projects at Home
The internet makes it quite easy to find great ideas for STEM projects at home. A classic STEM experiment involves growing sugar crystals—also known as rock candy—by suspending a piece of string or pipe cleaner in a supersaturated solution of sugar and water. Similar crystal experiments can be carried out with salt or Borax. Other popular projects include making slime from water, glue, and Borax; constructing a sundial from a pencil and a paper plate; and building simple catapults. Besides being fun, all these projects give students an opportunity to learn more than a little about science.
Students may enjoy crafting with marshmallows and toothpicks or skewers. Younger students might use them to build simple geometric structures such as cubes and pyramids. Older students may use them to construct models of atoms or molecules.
Where to Learn More about STEM
The internet arguably is the best resource for homeschoolers who want to learn more about STEM. As STEM projects have grown in popularity, many companies have begun marketing different lines of STEM-related kits. National Geographic sells quality supplies for growing crystal gardens at home. NASA has an entire section of its website devoted to resources that educators can use to teach students about science, technology, engineering, and math. Even the classic building block company, LEGO®, has a series of STEM products. Local libraries, schools, and museums also may offer STEM programs for homeschoolers. With a little effort, families may find that there is simply no shortage of opportunities to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math into their home education curriculum.
Copyright 2021, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.
David Cox is a freelance writer. He and his wife home educate their children in rural Kansas.