I was chatting with my brother the other day about how things are going with my two nieces learning at home while their schools are closed due to COVID-19.
My 13-year-old niece, Sophie, has continued to follow a typical school schedule each day with her school delivering a full learning program online. Her high school is doing a wonderful job providing lessons and activities to keep her motivated, learning, and engaged. She is enjoying this new way of learning, although she does report that hands-on subjects such as music and science are not quite as much fun sitting in her bedroom as they normally are at school.
Meanwhile, my younger niece, Elizabeth, has not been quite as enthusiastic about completing the workbooks and suggested activities sent home from her primary school and is needing a lot more encouragement from her parents. This started me thinking about how students might keep learning problem-solving, design thinking, and other STEM skills while they aren’t physically with their peers, teachers, and special equipment at school.
Recently, Elizabeth turned 11 and was given the gift of redecorating her bedroom complete with a new loft bed with a built-in desk from IKEA. As my brother described the afternoons he and Elizabeth worked together to assemble the flatpack furniture, rearrange her bedroom and find new storage solutions, it occurred to me that Elizabeth is onto something!
She’s been having the ultimate STEM learning experience. As she works hard on the challenge of creating her new bedroom, she’s been solving problems, thinking creatively, collaborating with others, and developing other essential skills for STEM learning success. She’s had to apply her knowledge and understanding of math, science, technology, and engineering concepts in a meaningful, real-world context that she cares about.
I’m not suggesting that we all rush out and buy new flat-pack furniture or embark on unplanned home renovation projects, but Elizabeth can give us some clues about how we can help children continue to learn STEM skills from home.
So here are 8 ways to bring STEM experiences to home learning:
Challenge One: Think about how you can solve problems that matter to you.
Many children can’t leave the house to join in with their favorite hobbies at the moment. They are missing their sports, dance, art, music and other activities. What activity do you miss the most? How could you continue to do this activity while you stay at home?
Challenge Two: Think about creative new ways to do things in your everyday life.
While we are spending more time at home, we are bound to take more notice of our surroundings. How could you make your space more exciting and interesting? Could you rearrange your bedroom furniture in a new creative way? Using digital tools to make a 3D plan of your new layout is a great way to use your mathematical thinking.
Challenge Three: Don’t settle if you are not happy with something.
STEM skills help us to solve problems and do things in better ways to help ourselves and others. Can you design a better way to do a chore or task around the house? Could you invent a new food preparation utensil or a tidier way to store your favorite toys so you can access them more easily?
Challenge Four: Work as a team.
Most children are spending a lot more time at home with their families during the COVID-19 crisis. Families make great teams! Who is in your family team? Dream up a family challenge to work on together. You could create a new garden plot outside or invent a fun game for the whole family to play together. Maybe every member of the family could design their own 3D game piece to play your new board game.
Challenge Five: Find experts to learn from.
Scientists, engineers, and inventors learn from others. They often look at the ideas others have come up with and try and make them even better. We hear lots of stories in the news about scientists and other experts addressing problems related to COVID-19. What can you learn from these stories? What problems can you help solve? Could you design a new face mask that is comfortable to wear? What about a safe way to press buttons and open doors without physical contact? See 10 Coronavirus Design Challenges for more ideas.
Challenge Six: Be resourceful and think for yourself.
There are lots of projects children can get involved with at home where they can develop and apply their STEM skills. These might be projects assigned by their teachers, or self-directed and family-based projects like Elizabeth’s bedroom project. Working on STEM projects at home may mean having to be flexible and adaptable if equipment and tools usually available at school are not easily accessible. This is a great time to be creative and find your own ideas and ways to work on projects. Do you have any old or junk materials at home you could use to create a new invention?
Challenge Seven: Learn new skills when you need them.
It is always more effective to learn a new skill within an authentic context. There are probably some great opportunities for children to learn new skills and how to use specific tools to add to their STEM learning repertoire while they are home from school. What new skills can you learn as you help around the house? Can you use the screwdriver to help hang a picture on the wall? What about the food processor or gardening tools?
Challenge Eight: Use technology.
Most of us have access to some kind of digital device and we are probably finding we have more time to spend using technology at the moment. It can be tempting to spend hours playing games, watching videos, and consuming content that other people have created. The COVID-19 crisis is a great time to revisit the way we use our devices. How can we use available technology to create rather consume content? What 3D masterpieces can you create using digital tools and software? Can you tell your own unique story as a video, blog, or animation?
At the moment there is no such thing as a typical school day for most children. Lessons and learning activities look different as teachers, students, and parents find ways to keep learning from home.
Some types of learning such as reading, math, and writing seem easier to fit into home-based learning than some of the more practical areas, especially STEM. However, if we focus on the types of skills and experiences we want children to learn through STEM, there are many great activities children can do at home. Who knows–they might even learn some skills they wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to acquire.