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Bringing STEM learning home during social distancing

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Bringing STEM learning home during social distancing

These are difficult times for so many of our young people and their families. With school closures impacting families across the country, and extracurricular activities put on hold, finding ways for students to stay busy and engaged is likely at the top of mind for parents and guardians. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite STEM activities and curriculum to help keep both students and adults engaged during these times.

We’ve broken our list out into different topics areas, ranging from tinkering and engineering that can be done inside, to citizen science activities that allow young people to engage directly in scientific inquiry and research.

Tinkering and engineering

Activities involving tinkering or engineering can often be done with everyday household materials. We’ve pulled a few great low-to-no cost activities from the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio, but be sure to check out all of their activities here.

Instructables is another great resource for finding activities developed for students and adults to do together. Recently, Instructables held an “Afterschool Challenge” to identify some of the best activities for kids, including a few STEM related ones. Take a look at those here, and be sure to view more on the Instructable website. Science Buddies, a nonprofit offering free K-12 resources, also has a number of low cost STEM activities that involve everyday household materials.  

Computer science/coding

For families with access to computers and the internet, a number of free resources are available to provide students with opportunities to learn computer coding. Scratch, the block-based computer coding language, is one of the most effective ways to teach the basics of computer programming. Scratch even includes a built-in tutorial to guide students and adults through courses to explore coding. For young people a bit more advanced, or those who progress through Scratch, Code.org provides additional courses in multiple programming languages. Additionally, Code.org has launched a weekly webcast, starting March 25, called Code Break for students to receive instruction from the Code.org team and engage in weekly computing challenges.

Citizen science

At the Afterschool Alliance we also love STEM activities that engage youth in citizen science research. What better way for adults and students to stay engaged with their surroundings and communities than participating in real research projects? Below are a few of our favorite citizen science initiatives.

Cure some of your cabin fever by going on a bird walk and contributing to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s migration data through ebird. Thousands of scientists across the world use ebird data for global conservation research. Ebird can be accessed online or through a downloadable app to your smart device. If you are new to birdwatching, Cornell Lab of Ornithology also offers a begginer tool for bird identification with the free Merlin Bird ID application.

If you’re looking for activities to do inside that also contribute to real scientist’s research projects, look no further than Zooniverse.  Zooniverse is a free online citizen science platform that hosts a variety of projects from labs and museums across the world. From identifying animals on safari camera footage to helping transcribe handwritten museum records, Zooniverse is a unique platform and opportunity to contribute to real scientific datasets.

Chemistry/Gastronomy

Another great everyday activity that can facilitate scientific engagement is cooking. Molecular gastronomy, or the science of cooking, provides a way to look at cooking through a scientific lens. Activities like making yogurt or sauerkraut that can lead to discussions of the microbiome and the role of bacteria in making food. Finally, in order to incorporate as much science and math into the cooking process, the National Education Association (NEA) has a guide for adults to utilize in their meal preparation with young people.

Biology and Life Sciences

And when it comes to biology and life sciences, one of our favorite activities in the extraction of DNA from a strawberry, which can be done with everyday household items and a strawberry. If you find yourself with bread or fruit in your house that’s going stale or is past its prime, don’t throw it away. There are many ways to use these foods to better understand the world around us, including conducting observations on how mold may grow on these foods.

That’s just a small number of the STEM activities and curriculum that are available. To find more, take a look at our curriculum and activities page.

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