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STEM Outside of the Classroom: Let the Challenge Begin

Dee Dee Whitaker
Product Content Specialist

August 2017

STEM activities are a great way to encourage students of all ages to participate in science, engineering, and mathematics outside of the classroom. There are so many topics to choose from to interest students and challenge them to solve a real-world problem in a fun way.

It’s not a myth: STEM is fun

Rocketry, robotics, and solar car engineering have gained club status through local, national, and international competitions. In 2016, the FIRST Robotics Competition reported that 3,128 teams with 75,000 students from 24 countries built robots. There were only 28 teams in 1992, the first year of the competition. Since then, participation has increased annually. Even Legos aren’t just for play anymore. The FIRST LEGO League, where students work on real-world problems like people/animal interactions, nanotechnology, and climate, boasts more than 255,000 participants in 32,000 teams in 88 countries. It’s not a myth: STEM is fun!

In a club, camp, or after-school setting, students have the time to navigate the engineering cycle, which includes brainstorming ideas, designing prototypes, testing, and refining. The added incentive of a competition may foster teamwork and improve both time and people management skills for participating students. 

STEM Challenge®

If you’re not quite ready to jump into a national or international competition, Carolina can help get the fun started and your students engaged and excited about STEM with our exclusive Carolina STEM Challenge® kits. Here are some great ideas appropriate for clubs, camps, or after-school settings with problem-solving challenges that also fit a tournament-style format:

Carolina has a few resources to help you start organizing a STEM challenge. Check out our engineering design cycle infographic,  design process worksheet, and the article “How to Plan an Engineering Design Challenge.” As you guide students through the engineering design process, think about the following: 

  • Make certain the challenge is age, time, and cost appropriate.
  • Make sure supplies are readily available. Determine if supplies will be donated, provided by a teacher or club sponsor, or purchased by team members. You may wish to restrict supplies, cost, and/or time.
  • For more advanced teams, consider incorporating business concepts and entrepreneurial thinking that could include cost analysis, supply chain information, and environmental impacts for prototypes.
  • Guide students through the engineering design process as needed, reminding them to document everything. 

Sir Ken Robinson, a British author, speaker, and international advisor on education, once said, “If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original.” Make sure your students know that STEM challenges include trial and error. It may take 2, 3, or even 5 trials before a designed model works. This is part of the learning process, and it can help improve your students’ problem-solving abilities.

Full STEM ahead, and let the challenge begin!

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