STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math

Facilitating the STEM subjects is just as fun as learning them! My high F.I.V.E.S for STEM are:  Fun–logic challenges are done through games and inspiring activities.  Interactive— mental comprehension, oral interaction, and hands-on manipulation of materials is always present. Varied–these subjects are taught in tandem with each other, such as using math during an engineering build or technology for a science project, and are always made fresh and exciting through monthly themes. Engaging–the lesson is designed to draw the child’s participation out to share with his/her peers and/or the teacher to learn how to vocalize curiosity and feedback.  Simplified–each lesson is design for simplicity of steps and work so that the child can develop their learning without being overwhelmed or frustrated.

What better way to understand our STEM program than to see it in action!  Below are examples from each month’s theme:

January (Jobs and Money): Wednesday in Week Two is ‘Animal Jobs’, so we are learning about the different jobs bees have.  For STEM, our project is about hexagon shapes within a beehive and how the bees build their home.  We look at a picture of a bee’s legs through a microscope to see how they collect pollen, talk about how bees chew wax to mold the hexagonal shape of their hives, and I show the children a real honeycomb (they get to sample some honey from it too!).  Then they have a choice of building materials to create their own hexagon beehive: molding clay, paper shapes (cut and paste), gluing Q-Tips, or outlining a hexagon template with glitter glue (gold of course!).

February (Time and Travel): On Monday of Week 4, the topic is ‘Dinosaurs’.  We use clues to learn about the Pteranodon, Brontosaurus, and the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex!  Did you know that the average male Pteranodon’s wingspan was nearly 18 feet long and that they lived here in North America? Children will get to measure and make Pteranodon wings!  We also look at a map of North America and compare what it looked like then to what it looks like now.  We learn about how Pteranodons travel by flight (including flapping and soaring) and do a flapping test with the wings we made.  Also, we use our “field guide” to sort and match the “fossils” that we dig up and match to the right dinosaur (or pterosaur in the Pteranodon’s case).  (We talk about fossils during Circle Time earlier and the children get to hold a real fossil!)

March (World Cultures): On Tuesday of Week 2, the topic is ‘East and Central Africa’.  For our STEM period, we are making a Moroccan tile mosaic patterns after looking at different pictures of Moroccan architecture and design.  We use the same geometric pattern shapes often found in TK-2nd grade classrooms, which helps familiarize the children with the tools they will use in elementary school.  More advance students can also use the rubber-band peg board for shape creation. As they choose the colors and geometric shapes they want to incorporate into their pattern, we count the shapes and talk about their shape names and colors.   During the lesson, they get to sample some Moroccan snacks!

April (Life Cycles): On Tuesday of Week 1, the topic is “Butterflies”.  During Circle Time, we read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and looked at the live caterpillars we have for our butterfly garden.   For our STEM project, we set up our butterfly kit together (live caterpillars, butterfly net habitat, and food).  After this, we get to design our own caterpillars! Using pipe cleaners, egg cartons, and other materials, children get to be as creative and imaginative as they like with their caterpillar creations!  While we do this, we learn about different parts of the caterpillar like the head, thorax, and abdomen.  (During the month, we watch the caterpillars grow, go into their chrysalis, and emerge as butterflies that we will release into our garden!)

May (Science Fair and Makers Fair): The topic for the whole fourth week is ‘Makers Fair’.  For Monday of that week, during our STEM period, we are making our own abacus!  Children get to see how the abacus works and then each child makes their own from a variety of materials.  We then learn how to use it (each child learns at their own level), and can take it home to keep!

June (Performing and Fine Arts): The topic for the Monday of the first week is ‘Finger Puppets’.  This is a fun way to learn how to use our fingers to count up to 10!  I demonstrate my monkey finger puppets as I tell them the story of 10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.  They each get to design their own finger puppets and tell a finger puppet story that involves counting and quantities.

July (Imagination Camp): Every week we have a Harry Potter-themed ‘Potions and Herbology’ period during STEM.  On Tuesday of Week 3, our STEM topic is “impedimenta”, which, in muggle terms, is about the force and resistance of movement.  We build an obstacle course for marbles to both speed up and slow down their movement.  Because we keep our student/teacher ratio so low (8:1), it is easy to customize this to every student’s developmentally appropriate level and to help each student comprehend and create his/her own track.

August (All About me!): On Tuesday of week three, the topic of the day is ‘Five Senses’.  This lesson is all about experimenting with our senses.  For smelling, we have a smell and match game to match the object to its scent: Orange, coffee, mint, lavender, eucalyptus, and cinnamon.  For taste, we talk about sweet, sour, salty, and spicy and then get to do a blindfolded tasting challenge (excluding the spicy).  For hearing, we talk about volume (loud vs soft) and play the game ‘telephone’ to show how sometimes what we thought we heard is not always the right thing; a social lesson about rumors is incorporated here.  (The other senses, sight and touch, are covered during the Arts and Crafts period.)

September (Community): All of Week 3 is the topic of “Schools Around the World”.  My international teacher pen-pals put together a class pen-pal video showing what their school community is like and with either a STEM or Arts/Crafts theme (depending on the day).  After watching their video, we make our own to send back to them, acknowledging their message and replying to their questions in addition to asking our own.  For that Thursday, our class video-pals are in Mexico, so we can do a live video stream to ask and answer all sorts of questions, which is applied practice of scientific inquiry that we have discussed beforehand and at developmentally-appropriate levels.

October (Plant and Animal Habitats): On Monday of Week 2, a week when we’re talking about the ocean biome, we use the live webcams of the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a virtual class trip.  I answer their questions about the animals and we record our observations in our scientific field journals.  The live web cams we observe are the: Aviary cam, Coral Reef cam, Jellyfish cam (my favorite!), Kelp Forest cam, Open Sea cam, Penguin cam, Sea Otter cam, and Shark cam!  Previous to this STEM period, the children got to see real coral, taste a seaweed snack, and handle (safely) shark teeth during Circle time, so they are excited to see the real things!  They record their observations to use during Arts and Crafts time to design their favorite ocean animal.

November (All About Earth!): On Tuesday of Week 4, the topic is ‘Crystals and Stones’.  Each child gets to create their own sugar crystal project that we will watch grow during the next couple of weeks.  We examine differences between stones and their natural (rough) versus polished states and have a chance to break open geodes, of which each child gets a half of.  We also play bingo to teach the children about characteristics and observation.  “Does anyone have Malachite?” I ask (every child has before them a grid of stones with their labeled names) We sound out the letter ‘m’ to help out.  If I don’t get an answer right away,  I will begin to give clues like, “Its color is all green…”, which teaches observation and how to describe objects.

December (Space Exploration): On Tuesday of Week 1, the topic is ‘Our Solar System’.  On our felt story-board, children take turns selecting and putting the planets on their rings according to specific directions (for learning terminology).  For example, I will have nine (I just go ahead and include poor, controversial Pluto) felt planets on the table, and ask one of the children to select the biggest planet to put on the felt board.  The next child selects the planet that is between the planets with rings.  We proceed like this (e.g. in front of, next to, etc.) until all the planets are up on the felt board.  Children then take turns pointing to the objects on the felt board (e.g. sun, planets, space station, satellites, asteroids) for an open Q&A that includes seeing satellite images of the objects.

We want our parents to join in the excitement and wonder of learning along with their children, so please click here to explore the Extracurriculars page to view our family field-trips that complement the above topics!

The general knowledge objectives for our math curricula are: shapes, size and superlatives, patterns/sorting/matching, measuring and weighing, logic puzzles and mazes, quantity discrimination, concept of addition and subtraction, concept of number line, counting and numeral literacy for 0-30+.  Worksheets are only used for literacy and assessments, so nearly all of the math lessons are done via games and as applied math during science projects, technology use, and engineering design/builds.  Children will go into Kindergarten fully prepared for the math vocabulary, tools, knowledge base, and academic behavior expectations.

On a personal note, I believe in loving support and mentorship for teaching STEM in order to empower children to think critically and ethically in addition to feeling self-confident in their abilities.