1. LEGO Bricks
Some of the best materials to have in your classroom for STEM are LEGO bricks. These can be really great learning tools as most students will already be familiar with them, and feel confident using them to build creative structures and designs.
Additionally, LEGO combines both creative and technical thinking, allowing students to build from their imaginations with a material that they can hold and experiment with (compare this with Minecraft). Once the building has finished, cleanup is as simple as quickly disassembling designs or just sweeping them into a box for later.
Here are a few ideas for lessons or activities that you could run in your classroom using your collection of LEGO bricks:
- All students/groups receive the same amount and type of bricks – you decide how many, depending on your resources and the students in your class. Students then have five minutes to build the tallest tower possible out of these bricks without being held to the ground/table. The class can then discuss with each group what did and didn’t work on their tower.
- Are you studying history, culture or geography with your class? Get students to speed-build (in two minutes or less) different monuments or world landmarks that you have been looking at in class. This is a really quick and fun activity that is perfect for the start of class to get brains working, and will often render humorous results.
2. Drinking straws
Straws are extremely inexpensive and also make a great STEM material.
Bridge building is one thing that this material is certainly built for. With a little masking tape (see below) and around 15 minutes, students can be challenged to build a small bridge that is required to hold the weight of a classroom item such as their own pencil case.
This provides the opportunity to look at the design and engineering decisions made on different iconic bridges such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and the London Tower Bridge. Ask students what shapes have been used in the structure of each bridge and where the bridges receive support from the ground.
Done multiple times, this activity can help students to have lots of fun while progressively learning from previous mistakes and the designs of real-world bridges.
Another simple activity that can be similarly exciting and educational is the construction of straw ‘towers’, with students being tasked to see who can construct the tallest tower.
Tip: to challenge students by making these activities more difficult, limit the amount of straws and time students have to complete their construction.
3. Masking tape
Every teacher should always have a roll of masking tape on hand. It’s super-useful for sticking all sorts of stuff (not just for STEM activities) and is quite inexpensive.
One of the great things about masking tape is its ease of removal after construction. When used on cardboard, walls and paper, other tapes will cause peeling and damage to the material underneath, whereas masking tape should simply peel off easily after use.
We’ve already discussed how you can use masking tape with straws to build bridges and towers (see above).
4. Modelling dough
Modelling dough is something that most younger students will be very familiar with. For students in early stage one, this material is effective for allowing them to express their ideas, designs and imaginations in three dimensions with a material that they have fine control over with their hands.
Be aware that there may be a little cleanup required after each lesson, but applying butchers paper over desks before letting students loose, or using a warm damp cloth to clean them afterwards, will help minimise mess and the time required to clean up.
For older students, use balls of dough to connect straws to create different shapes and structures.
5. Rubber bands
Holds anything together. Can also snap with scissors for different uses. You’ll have to be careful that students don’t use these as some sort of weapon from across the room.
Keeping a collection of those brown rubber bands can be a bit of a task, given how easy they are to lose and even organise once you’ve got them all together.
Rubber band balls, like the one pictured above, are quite inexpensive and can be purchased from ‘dollar stores’ like The Reject Shop. They’re also really cute and colourful which is definitely a plus and will help to make the rubber bands easier to spot around the classroom during cleanup.