Teaching STEM concepts can be a tricky process. You want to make these subjects engaging and accessible for the students to understand. That’s the goal anyway, but coming up with actual projects that excite them can be another story. It takes imagination and innovation to give our kids interesting challenges for learning STEM subjects.
STEM itself, as most teachers know, is the curriculum of teaching four specific subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When you combine all of these ideas together to show kids how they relate to real life applications, you reveal the heart of true understanding.
Getting them interested in these concepts is so important, because less and less students are going on to higher learning for careers in these STEM fields. By investing in innovative projects early on, you can set up students for gaining an interest in STEM subjects for life. These following formative projects can help you with making that happen.
Here are 10 innovative middle-school project concepts for learning STEM subjects that will excite your learners. Although aimed at middle schoolers, we encourage you to explore ways that you could adapt them for higher or lower grades.
1. Homemade Five-Minute Ice Cream
Kids get a big kick out of this experiment (mainly because you can let them eat the results). This is all about the chemical reaction of ice and salt. You’ll be doing it using a one-gallon plastic bag and a pint-size plastic bag. All you need are 4 simple ingredients:
- 1 tbs sugar
- ½ cup cream
- 7 tbs kosher salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Fill the gallon bag half full with ice and mix the salt through it. Then in the smaller bag, put and seal the sugar, cream, and vanilla extract. Finally, you place the smaller bag into the larger ice-filled bag. Now the students take turns shaking the bag constantly for five minutes. That’s all it takes to make ice cream.
2. Twinkley Volcanic Eruption
The old erupting volcano experiment is something students still love, even though it’s one of the most basic to teach about how different substances react to one another. Start with a vase if you don’t have a ready paper mâché volcano at hand. First, add ¼ cup baking soda in the bottom of the vase. Then add food coloring and glitter of the students’ choice on top of the baking soda. Finally, add a ½ cup of vinegar to watch the twinkley volcanic eruption go.
3. Lemon Juice As Invisible Ink
This project teaches how an acid reacts with heat. Squeeze a lemon into a bowl with a little bit of water. Using a paintbrush, have the students paint words onto a piece of paper. Once this is done, wait for it to dry and then hold up the paper to a light bulb. Watch how the acidic lemon turns brown when confronted with the heat, allowing the mystery words to be read.
4. Multi-Coloured Weight Jars
The goal of the multi-colours in a mason jar is to show how different liquids can measure all kinds of different weights. You need five different liquids and five different kinds of food colorings. You can use a variety of liquids, but here are five that work really well: honey, dish soap, olive oil, cranberry juice and just plain or coloured water.
5. Build Your Own Robots
When learning STEM subjects, you can get as complex or as simple with them as your supplies will allow. This is one of those projects that lends itself to a wide range of student innovation and creativity. It’s always easy to start with a Lego base of blocks and attach it to movable objects, like remote control cars. More importantly, ask your learners what kinds of purposes their “hypothetical robots” would be able to serve.
Kids of all ages and experience levels can dive into this one and create amazing robotics projects that are functional and useful. FIRST, a mentor-based program that builds science, engineering, and technology skills, has a cool robotics competition that may interest your learners.
6. Build Gingerbread Structures
This doesn’t have to be a holiday activity anymore. It’s a fun creative activity that teaches kids about architectural design and building. Have them draw up their blueprint plans first and then actually build them out with edible items like graham crackers, marshmallows, and pretzels. Frosting, as any crafter knows, makes a great glue and mortar for these structures.
Again, depending on the supplies at hand, you can get as complex as you want with this activity. If you want to see what it’s possible to achieve with gingerbread houses, check out these stunning examples.
7. The Mousetrap “Rube Goldberg” Machine
Explore cause and effect with this experiment, which is the main theory of the Rube Goldberg machine. It’s a simple contraption that uses small movements to produce a domino effect. You can use dominos if you like for some components, or you can build the old school “Mousetrap” game which uses a tiny marble to trigger the different stages.
This is yet another experiment that can range in its levels of complexity. It all depends on your learners’ imaginations combined with what they have to work with for materials. This article features some relatively simple ideas. However, if your kids are feeling really ambitious, let them be inspired with something from the guys at OK GO .
8. Egg Parachutes
You can use an egg or some other fragile food item, like a crumbly cookie, for this experiment. Whatever you use, ultimately the goal is to not break the item. That said, eggs work best because they can be the most delicate and therefore the most challenging.
Have the students build individual parachutes for a dixie cup, holding the egg. This is meant to teach the relationship between force and momentum, when they drop their project from a height of at least six feet.
9. Homemade Slime
Students go bonkers for homemade slime. This is also an activity that teaches how to turn a couple of elements into something completely different. There are so many different recipes for slime online that you can really get creative with it. These 5 recipes are non-toxic and mom-approved. Dye your slime different colours and have a contest for who can make the coolest slime.
10. The “Annoying Orange” Buoyancy Test
Here’s a density science experiment that only takes two oranges and a large vase of water. First, show the kids what happens when you drop a regular orange into the water. Does it sink or float? How about when you peel the orange? The kids will have fun guessing what will happen with both of the “annoying oranges.”
What are some of your favourite project ideas for kids who are learning STEM subjects?