STEM Storytime was born as a product of our “Princess Engineers” picture book list that was published a year ago. We thought about doing a related live event for kids and after partnering with Kelly Burns at Carrollton Public Library, we refined and broadened the idea into a 10-week series. GoEngineer would host Storytime at Hebron and Josey Library, each week, featuring a different STEM topic. We pre-selected picture books related to the topic and paired it with a hands-on activity for 3 to 8-year-old boys and girls.
Can it really be called “STEM”?
STEM activities encourage students to exercise the total engineering process involving problem-solving and critical thinking. So, the short answer is, no, (but I did it anyway). Instead of immersing our children into a STEM curriculum in elementary, middle, or high school, we can provide a way to condition their minds to be ready for actual STEM. Early childhood is the time where we want to teach them to be curious. They are full of Whys and thirsty for new vocabulary.
This is the age range where kids develop the building blocks for science and math. According to The Whole-Brain Child, they are developing the left side of their brain, trying to reason and understand cause and effect. As we asked in our gravity lesson, “How come the penguins in Antarctica don’t fall off of the Earth?”
What was the agenda?
Students had to pre-register for each lesson since we capped at 25 students. We are all seated in a big circle and start off with a topic, such as Measurement. I introduce the topic and share why it’s important to be precise or to take measurements. I’ll give real-world examples of what can happen if we don’t take proper measurements, such ruining a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies! (All of my examples are related to food).
Then, we move into the story portion. I selected some books, both Fiction and Non-fiction, to gain their interest. My favorite book of this lesson was Just a Little Bit, a story about an Elephant and mouse who want to play on the seesaw, but they need help getting the right balance. Then I quickly conclude with tying the story to the topic, making sure they don’t lose the connection.
Finally, we move onto a hands-on activity. We looked at different measuring devices: A clock measures time, a thermometer measures temperature, a ruler measures length, etc. The kids pass around each item and the kinesthetic learning helps the concept stick! Then, we play a game. In this lesson, they had to guess which toy was heavier, and then use a balance to make the final decision. Bigger is not necessarily heavier, which gave us a segue into a new topic – density!
The Words Coming out of My Mouth
I’m using big words with kids. They LOVE it. They WANT to use big words. So, I find a way to teach them horizontal and vertical. Then teach them the parts of the body, like the skeletal system and arteries. And, I even teach them decagon and other shapes. It’s unbelievable what they can retain!
How to teach STEM, if you are not STEM
Parents who don’t have STEM backgrounds don’t know how to propel their kids into STEM.
Much of what we teach our kids, versus 30 years ago, hasn’t changed. We just have a fancy label for it, plus, a little more awareness. STEM foundation concepts, for this age range, occur in our everyday activities.
I see STEM in all of my chores and honey-do lists.
Just the other day, I read about ‘stripping laundry’ where you need to combine 3 different ingredients…well, that’s fractions, and I showed my kids what I was doing. Fixing things around the house? That’s troubleshooting, a life skill. My cabinet hinge has a loose screw, so I asked my daughter find me a Phillips head screwdriver. A four-year-old can identify basic tools if you teach them.
If I’m making salad dressing, I’m showing them how two liquids don’t mix, until I emulsify them. I tell them, “we have to make them play together nicely!!!” And, it’s fun to say emulsify…and they love shaking salad dressing in a mason jar.
Each student received a 3D Printed ‘achievement’ charm for each lesson they completed. They could collect all ten and hang them on their backpack. The wow moment in each of my lessons deserves a nod to my colleague, Erick Vega. Erick brainstormed on and off for weeks trying to make the coolest interactive 3D Printed charms on our Stratasys printers. My favorite was his Scissor Life charm for our Construction Vehicles lesson.
Getting Ahead of Gender Bias
This is also the age that they quickly start to classify activities and skills by gender (i.e. that’s girl stuff or that’s boy stuff) due to social cues, media, and influences around them. Gender biases are born early, deep-rooted, and often culturally driven. It takes multiple generations to exhaust (even if you are intentionally trying to avoid them).
Admittedly, my mom (and I love my mom), an immigrant from India, is STILL doing this around my kids. Grrr. It’s her quick solution when my son and daughter fight over the same toy. “Sweetie, that’s for boys.” She doesn’t necessarily believe this, but she’s still sending those wrong messages….loud and clear, mom! This is where you can hear me silently screaming like the Mother of Dragons. Gender bias is what made it even more important for me to lead this effort.
Summing Up the Series
I’m grateful to the Carrollton Public library for this opportunity, for being forward-thinking and to allow GoEngineer to add value to the community. I was able to teach kids about specific topics and coach parents on DIY methods, bringing this practice into their homes. We don’t have to rely on a STEM program to see results. By the end of Spring, I recognized my regular attendees and knew them by name. We had established a rhythm and the kids showed up after school eager to hear about the next lesson. I successfully found a way to bridge the left brain and the right brain and fully engage my audience. To my surprise, and perhaps coincidence, my very last class was all girls. I may have been looking at a group of future Princess Engineers!
GoEngineer and SOLIDWORKS Edu will be sponsoring Summer STEM Kits for guests of the Carrollton Public Library this year. Stay tuned and follow @solidworksgirl for updates!
All Photos here are provided by Dallas Heroes Project. Thanks to Dallas Heroes Project for the support and for making a difference in the community. @dallasheroesproject