Why STEAM Centers/Activities?
If your school day is anything like ours, we are always short on TIME! We never have enough time to do what needs to be done let alone all of the engaging, hands-on, rigorous learning, and “I LOVE SCHOOL” type centers that are part of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) activities. They are such a GREAT way to add engaging science and engineering activities, provide cooperative learning structures, practice problem solving, incorporate kid-loving themes, and review and practice skills. SO, we know how important they are, but how were we going to get it to work when we don’t have enough hours in our school day already? Tada! STEAM Days. In our case, it is more like a STEAM hour, but it works. Did we mention that we have a half-day kindergarten program?
Where to Find the Time to Do STEAM Centers
- Look at the time that you have allotted daily or weekly to the activities that would be done during the STEAM Centers. Can that time be saved to use all at one time? We had scheduled 15 minutes a day to do themed-based activities (informational read alouds, science experiments, hands-on math games, engineering challenges, etc.). Unfortunately, more times than not, we ran out of time. Many times the activity was shortened or didn’t happen at all. When we took that 15 minutes out of our schedule on a daily basis, we were able to add more time to some of our core subjects four days a week and shorten them a few minutes one day a week (our STEAM Day).
- Other ideas are to replace a Fun Friday or Free Choice time with STEAM centers and activities.
- Replace or shorten dedicated daily science or engineering time with a STEAM center.
- Replace classroom party or holiday celebrations with STEAM Days.
Logistics: Configuration Choices
There are several configurations that you can choose from to make a STEAM Day, Hour, or centers work for you. It all depends on your schedule, your class needs, and the amount of time and help you have. We allow about 15 to 20 minutes per center. Here are several different configurations that work well.
- Rotate through all of the center activities at one time. Choose the number of activities/centers, allow 15 to 20 minutes per rotation, and complete all centers in one time frame.
- Spread the centers/activities throughout the week or over two weeks by having each group rotate through one center each day day (five centers – five days, eight centers – eight days, etc.).
- Spread the centers over two weeks by doing a few centers on one day (e.g., three to four centers over an hour on Friday afternoon and the final three to four centers over an hour on the following Friday afternoon).
Five Easy Steps for Creating STEAM Days or Centers
1. Pick a Theme – The theme can be based on a standard, a book, a holiday, a concept, curriculum topic, or any topic that your students would be excited to learn about. Some favorites are Valentine’s Day, Dinosaurs, Space, Earth Day, Groundhog Day, The Mitten or The Hat books, Habitats, Shadows, Fairy Tales). We usually choose our theme first and then look for or create the center activities that go with the theme. Sometimes, we find or think of an amazing activity (e.g., science experiment or engineering challenge) that we want the kids to do and build our theme around that. A theme connects all of the activities together and organizes the learning for students.
2. Plan the Center Activities – When creating a STEAM Day or STEAM centers, choose at least one activity for each component of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). Depending on the number of centers or activities you want to have, you can also add a reading component (STREAM) and/or do two math, science, or technology activities. Below are some tried and true ideas for each component.
- Simple Experiments: Anything involving baking soda and vinegar is a hit! We change the container, add food coloring and/or dish soap, and a new experiment is made! We have done so many that our students’ hypotheses are always that it is going to blow up! We go over a simplified scientific process with them (Ask a Question, Make a Hypothesis, Do the Experiment, Observe, Record the Outcome). Check out our set of Science and Engineering Posters HERE. We also usually use a recording sheet. Click HERE to grab a generic recording sheet FREEBIE. Check it out in the image below. Either create the experiment based on what you want your students to learn or check out Pinterest or the internet for ideas and inspiration. There are tons of ideas out there.
- Label a Drawing: If studying an animal or plant, label the different parts. The image could even be a direct draw that is done during the art center.
- Create a Life Cycle: Draw or cut and glue different images to create a life cycle if that is appropriate for the theme. Another option is to draw or glue the images directly on a sentence strip to make a Life Cycle Hat.
- Research: Listen to a story, read a book, or watch a video to learn more about the topic. We have created QR codes to link to YouTube or internet videos before, so that students can do this activity independently on a device. Students can complete a graphic organizer with new information learned.
- Boom Cards™: If you have access to any devices (Chromebooks, laptop, iPads, tablets, Kindle Fire), you can create a free Boom Card™ account and assign or use Fast Plays to have students play academic Boom Card™ games. Click HERE to read a blog post on the 10 Reasons to Use Boom Cards™. There are MANY, MANY, MANY different decks to choose with a plethora of skills, themes, and topics to choose from, and several FREE ones as well. Click HERE to grab a FREE deck to try them out.
- Learning Apps: If your students have access to devices, give them free choice to some appropriate learning apps (e.g., Letter School, Zearn, Storyline Online, Vooks, Monkey Math, etc.). Our students LOVE this option!!!
- Programmable Simple Robots: Bee-Bots, Code and Go Robot Mouse, Botley, and Dash & Dot are a couple of examples of kid-friendly programmable robots. They can be used to teach simple coding while also practicing skills. You can create a simple grid of letter names, numbers, CVC pictures, addition and/or subtraction facts, vocabulary words, etc. and corresponding cards to match. For example, the kids pull a picture card, identify the beginning sound, and program the robot to go to the letter on the grid that matches. For addition facts, the students can pull a number card and program the robot to find the matching math fact. The possibilities are endless. They are fairly simple to make, but there are also several to purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers or other learning resource websites. The students are able to grasp the concept of programming after just a few mini lessons. We usually have them record their programming with a series of arrows on paper (a blank grid) after they feel confident programming the robots.
- Listening Center: Depending on your listening center setup, this could be REALLY “old-school” technology! BUT, it is still technology. Believe it or not, it is still one of our students’ favorite options.
- Engineering Challenges to Solve a Problem: We start by creating a problem that we need the students to solve that is connected to the theme (e.g., a den for a polar bear, a pen to keep Little Bo Peep’s sheep, a parachute to help Jack get down from the beanstalk, a bridge, etc.). We provide inexpensive and readily available materials (craft sticks, index cards, toothpicks, cotton balls, foil, bubble wrap, clothespins, masking or painter’s tape, paperclips, etc.), discuss the Engineering Design Process (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve), and have the students complete a planning and recording sheet as they complete the tasks. Check out our set of Engineering and Science Posters HERE. Click HERE to grab a generic planning and recording sheet FREEBIE. Short on engineering challenge ideas or time? There are lots resources online (Pinterest, blogs, Teachers Pay Teachers, etc.).
- Build a Tower Challenge: Other fun engineering challenges to help teach the engineering design steps and the process are building-tower challenges. Challenge students to build the tallest tower or the tallest tower that can hold a stuffed animal. The challenges can be done individually, in partners, triads, or teams. Provide only one material or a few. Some examples are index cards, playing cards, toothpicks, marshmallows, gumdrop candies, dominoes, and SO many other possibilities!
- Tear Art: Tear art activities are a great way to develop fine-motor skills and use up scraps of construction paper. A true win-win! Have students draw their own picture or provide them with a clipart outline. Have them tear small pieces of paper to fill in the areas to create the picture. We have found that glue sponges make this activity less sticky.
- Direct Draw: Direct students how to draw a picture that connects to the theme or provide them with a step-by-step instruction sheet, so that the activity can be independent. We usually have the students draw with a black crayon and go back and color in, or we have them draw in pencil. Then, we trace with a permanent marker. The students finish the picture by coloring or watercoloring the picture and the background. Add writing if you would like. These are great for a memory book or bulletin board display. You can also do the same direct-paint process using watercolor paints or tempera paint.
- Craftivities: There are lots of craftivities available that combine a cut and glue craft along with a learning component (writing, life cycle, graphic organizer, retelling, summarizing, etc.).
- Process Art: Sometimes the art is more about the process than the finished process. Teaching kids how to finger paint, making tissue paper mosaics, creating pointillism art with cotton swabs and paint, teaching about primary and secondary colors and how to mix colors, etc. are all very engaging and build a foundation for enjoying art.
- Count/Add/Subtract the Room: Hang up flashcards or task cards around the room and have students record the answers on a recording sheet. Students can also just write the answers on a plain piece of paper, a whiteboard, or a Boogie Board.
- Fun Manipulatives: Provide fun manipulatives like mini erasers, food items (marshmallows, candies, cereal), building bricks, etc. to a regular worksheet or curriculum-provided problem set. Anything is more fun with stuff! to make it even more fun, add giant manipulatives. We just bought a giant deck of cards and our students L-O-V-E playing a more or less game with them.
- Sensory Bin: For math activities that have task cards or flashcards, place the cards into a sensory bin and have students pull a card and record the answers on a plain piece of paper or a whiteboard. Shredded paper, cotton balls, colored pasta or rice all make inexpensive sensory bin fillers.
- Worksheet Scoot: This is very similar to a Count the Room, however, use a regular worksheet and cut up the problems or create your own problems and hang them around the room. Students travel around the room solving the problems.
- Math Games: Teach or have students play a math game either purchased or created. A fun game is Top It (played like the the traditional WAR card game). You can use addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, etc. flashcards to make it a little more challenging.
- Purchased Products: …AND of course there is also a mega amount of math activities that can be purchased that would make amazing math STEAM Day centers or activities.
3. Ask for Volunteers – Ask for parent or community volunteers (or even older students) to help run a station if possible. Choosing which center activities to do also depends on the level of independence your students can work, the amount of support you have in your classroom (partner teacher, paraprofessional, parent volunteers, etc.). Sometimes all of our activities are independent, and we roam the room and support where needed. Other times, we run one center while the rest are independent. We are also fortunate to have a school student leadership team that volunteers in our classroom. The advisor (a sixth grade teacher) has set up a rotation that sends us a couple of sixth grade students once a week during our STEAM centers to help. Since the students rotate, they are only out of class about once or twice every trimester. It has been amazing.
4. Ask for Donations – Put out a paper sign-up sheet or send requests out via your communication app to get some of the extra items you may need (if you are allowed to ask for donations). If this is something that works for your school population, it is a great way to get some of the items needed to provide these activities.
5. Prep and Organization – Designate a tub for each center/activity and put everything needed (recording sheets, manipulatives, materials, art supplies, scissors, glue, etc.), so that it is easy to set up the morning of your STEAM day. Put the tub on the spot students will be working (table, group of desks, floor, counter, or even outside space) and have students set up and clean up whenever possible. Laminate any items for longevity that can be used again. We have our science and engineering posters laminated, and they stay in the Science and Engineering tubs.
We hope these tips encourage you to try a STEAM Day or even a few STEAM centers. If you are looking for some little-to-no-prep STEAM activities already done for you, check out our super-engaging, themed STEAM Days by clicking on the images below. They include at least one activity for every component (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) and many times more than one, an interactive read aloud lesson plan connected to the theme, a class sign, a STEAM Day banner, recipes, complete and easy to follow directions, and even more great stuff. Click HERE to follow our store to see when we add more STEAM Days. Our goal is to add three to four new ones each month! We have SO much fun doing these STEAM Days in our classroom weekly! Comment below on how you incorporate STEAM into your day. We would love to hear from you!