STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in Primary schools is really REALLY effective. Showing students real work uses for the subjects they are learning, and pairing it with their nature curiosity and enthusiasm is a great success if planned and implemented well. Here we give 10 examples of great STEM lessons to get you started.
I teach English in a Primary school in Hong Kong, and i have used these lessons to both spice up my lessons and to show the value and real world applications of my subject. When students can see a purpose for the subject they are learning their engagement and motivation will skyrocket. (not unlike the balloon rocket experiment below!)
I know we call it STEM education now, or STEAM if the Art department get sniffy about it, but really in the opinion of this long in the tooth teacher most of these activities have been around for years, if giving them an umbrella term helps make them more accessible then it is all good i suppose, but ( links aside!) there are people making a lot of money for re-branding what a lot of teachers have been doing for years. Simply engaging their students. So here are 10 ideas that you don’t have to buy a book to do 🙂 Where i have full lessons or instructions ready made i have included the link to the page.
Classroom – Ice cream. (5 minute version)
It works, it just does. Your students will of course be very excited to make ice cream in the classroom, when i was at school we just made Muesli ( and my teacher ate most of mine!) so to make something decadent is an automatic win. This happens because of the reaction between Ice and Salt (it lowers the freezing point of water)
You don’t need many ingredients, though be aware of mess when you have students shaking the bag for 5 minutes! If you like living on the edge some food colouring may make it more risky.
- 1 large ziploc bag
- 1 Small ziploc bag
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste.
- 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1⁄3 cup salt
- ice, plenty of it!
Put the ice into the larger bag till its about 70% full and mix the salt in. Then, fairly swiftly. put the milk or cream, sugar and vanilla or what ever flavour you chose. Now put the small bag inside the larger ice filled bag and let students shake the bag. Of course, PLEASE, make sure both bags are zip-locked really well, especially at the beginning otherwise the floor will be the first to taste the ice cream. Although it will work with lower fat milks, it will work better with full or Half and Half fat milk.
2. Make your own Volcano – No Junior science page is complete without this!
It is likely that most of the people reading this will have tried, or at the very least seen this experiment. It is designed to show a basic chemical reaction. ( there are other ways more explosive as well) Here is an example of it just in case.
If you are doing STEM, not STEAM ( sorry Art teachers) then you can pick up cheapish sets of these from Amazon, (https://amzn.to/2QXcrND) or more expensively from places like Toys R US, to save the hassle of making your own. Both ways are fine, but the papermache one tends to disintegrate after a few uses, so would need to be remade. Either way, amazon link is here and a video on how to make a Paper one is also here. ( you could use some glass container but although the reaction is the same, it doesn’t look as good.)
Like most science activities it is good for introducing procedural texts to students, especially ESL students which is my main reason ( 😉 ) for doing it. For this one you put a few table spoons of baking soda ( bicarbonate of Soda) into the volcano, add some food colouring, red yellow and orange are more authentic.) then add some white vinegar when you are read to ‘erupt’ your volcano. After tasks can be anything from sequences activities to full report with reasons why depending on your students level.
Splitting Colours – Chromotography
Doing this when i was in primary school, oh so many years ago, is one of the few memories i have from that time. So i have decided to try it with my students in grade one when we were learning colours I thought it would be a different way of introducing the topic, and as a way to teach them something they didn’t know. I loved it, as did they. I have the full resource kit ( you buy your own paper and pens of course!) for free on this site and the link will be at the end. Just let me know how it went if you use it please.
Basically its a way of showing how some colours, inks, dyes, are more dense than others and can be used to introduce that concept with older learners as well. It isn’t to messy, though of course someone will knock over the water so i suggest plastic pots ( most schools should have them somewhere)
You will need:
- Blotting paper (filter coffee paper works fine and it’s cheaper) even tissues work ok
- Water-based felt pens of various colours.
- Water in small containers
- tape and chopstick, toothpicks or similar.
- After experiment tasks
- more paper (trust me)
I have made a free worksheet and activities below. let me know if you try them!
Although the full instructions are in the page linked above, I will explain briefly. Ask your students to name the colours of the pens you hold up, in ESL classrooms this should be fine as they have had it drilled into them all the way through Kindergarten as well, then tell them how to make a colour. ( they wont know). Then explain that colours, most colours, are made of lots of different colours and we are going to find out how to make them, but first we have to split them apart. Then demonstrate one colour, i would choose black. Put a dot or two of the colour onto the filter paper and make sure there it is not right at the bottom of the strip.
Then stick the top to the chopstick and put it so the bottom of the paper, NOT the colour is in the water.
THe water will travel up the filter paper, till it reaches the colour and then it will take the lighter, less dense colours up with it splitting them. Then you can ask your students again, what colour do they see in black.
you can then ask if they want to try it ( they do!!) and let them go. It does matter what markers you use. I tried these and they work pretty well.
Secret Writing – Lemon Juice Experiment.
Easy and no mess experiments, one showing how acid deals with heat, and the other showing how water can be repelled by certain materials.
You will need for both…
- Lemon juice
- White wax crayon or candle
- Watercolour paints and brushes
- a source of heat ( preferably not a naked flame!) heater or even hairdryer should be ok. if not an iron.
Lemon Juice Writing: First squeeze one of two lemons into a bowl and add a splash of water. Ask the students to use a paintbrush to write their secret message on to the paper and then let it dry. Let them do more than one. Once completed let the messages dry and then pick a message and hold to the heater to see what happens The acid in the lemon will turn brown in the heat and reveal the message. If you demonstrate this first the students will want to rush off and write their own. as an English teacher it is amazing to see how keen a class can suddenly be to write in English!
Wax Writing: This is the less heat related version of the task above. For this you write a message or draw a picture using a sharpened candle. Leave it for a minute or two and then you take a paintbrush and some water colours. When you paint over the words the wax will repel the water-based paint and leave them white, while the rest of the paper will absorb the colours.
Both of these lessons are on this site as well with the links below.
I promise I am not obsessed with colours. Its just there are so many cool things to do with them when it comes to STEM or project based learning. However, this will be the last one i mention.
This is a potentially messy activity so make sure your room and students are well covered with old newspaper or similar.
You will need:
- Full Fat Milk
- Oil Based food colouring
- cotton buds
- plates, plastic or other wise.
- Sink to clean up after. (or bucket i guess)
This is a great little experiment and i have used it numerous times in class. Briefly you have to set up a little before hand and have some milk and food colouring on the table. Instruct your students to put a little milk on to the plate or bowl, enough so it covers the bottom. Then to place a drop, no more is needed, of food colouring in different places in the milk. Have them do this carefully as it can splash. Once done, they can take a cotton bud, dip it in the soap and put it in the middle of the drop of food colour. Then sit back and watch the results.
I have a free worksheet and activities below if it helps
Make a Floating Compass
This is a more in depth science experiment that the previous ones, so it might be more suitable for older learners. However I have done this with grade three second language students, and they managed to complete it well, my only concern is the science behind it might be a little beyond them at this stage. However, It is a good activity and opens up a huge number of directions to follow up on.
The idea is to make a compass from a needle, a magnet and some cork and have it point to North.
You will need.
- a cork cut into slices
- some pins or needles
- a bowel of water
- a magnet
- some tape.
- A real compass (for checking)
This Experiment is lovely to do outside on a nice day. I introduce it as a survival skill after reading a book about being lost, or marooned ( Robinson Crusoe, or after watching a clip from the Martian (would this work? – there’s another lesson though!!)
I have a free worksheet and some activities below.
I have a worksheet and some activities, quiz etc. you can edit as you need.
This teaches the basics of pressure, and what happens when it is increased, and it gives the students a toy diver to play with! They have to make a diver to put in a bottle filled with water, if you are an art teacher you can recreate a seascape in the bottle. ( using methods similar to a ship in a bottle though, and has to be plastic not glass!)
You will need:
- Plastic bottle ( 2 litres in better)
- strong card or foil ( if you want it to last longer)
- paper clips
- A bendy straw
- tape or glue
The idea is the same as the octopus picture, so you could get one of those if you don’t want the craft part in your lesson, or make it yourself before. ( i haven’t tried the octopus but it works on the same theory.
This lesson is on this site so you can click the link for the full rundown and resources. or email me if you need more. However, once the student has made the diver and stuck the small straw on the back they place it into the water bottle. ( so small enough to get through the lid) once. The diver will float due to the air trapped in the straw. If they squeeze the bottle all the air, including the air trapped int he straw will compress and the diver will dive to the bottom. This will continue until the card turns into a soggy mess, unless you made it more robustly. Check out the lesson.
I have made a free worksheet and activities below if it helps you .
This experiment has been done for years. Students are given an egg that they have to transport from a height by dropping it. the challenge is to make sure it doesn’t break. You can do this literally any way you wish, i had a paper cup for them to keep the egg in as a basket and then they have to construct a parachute to slow down the fall. It can be run as a competition for students to see whose works or looks best, who used least materials, who could drop it from the highest point etc.
You will need:
- Eggs, or something else fragile
- plastic bags
- paper cups
- colour pencils to decorate the cups
The science with this can be anything from air pressure to momentum, i have air pressure lessons on here as well (Rocket Balloon, Floating table tennis ball etc) so if you want to expand these are there as well. Try them and see.
Make your own Slime.
I have not done this yet, its on my list to try this year, so i will let you know how it goes! I have done something similar with make your own quicksand ( non Newtonian fluids) which is below but would be nice to have something students can play with longer! I spoke to a teacher here who has done it and it is a surefire hit with students. I will link some of the safe recipes for slime here so if you try before me maybe you can post and let me know how it goes! If you have already done it and want me to post your blog link please get in touch as well. You can also get it from amazon, which might be quicker. both are here though.
The advantage of you making it is that you can Dye your slime different colours as well, but be warned it will likely get all over your students hands! Mess is part of the fun though 🙂
How to make an Egg Float?
A simple denisty experiment to help younger, and older, learners understand the concept.
The idea is simple an egg wont float in normal water, it is too densie and will sink. ( if its fresh) , so we add salt slowly to the fresh water and try the egg ( see if you can get it to suspend in the water as that is quite cool! but you add enought salt till the water becomes mroe dense tthat the egg and the egg will not sink.
I have written a basic worksheet which you can use or adapt below. Let me know what you all think!
About the Author
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!
Post by Marc of Making English Fun
Let me know in the comments if you have any other cool science for Juniors, sharing is caring!
Sorry to advert spam at the bottom, but i just got this and it was really good! Four experiments in one box!! Exploding Volcano, Solar Oven, Artificial Snow and a tornado vortex.