STEM Learning Outside the Classroom

According to the much-discussed 2010 paper “The 95 Percent Solutionby Falk and Dierkling, US young adults are actually better informed about science than their international peers, yet not because of their in-school education. Students spend less than 20 percent of their waking hours in school every year, meaning a huge portion of their learning and education happens outside the classroom. Falk and Dierkling postulate that the sources of knowledge children are exposed to outside of school have been underestimated for science learning, such as museums, aquariums, and broadcast programming.  Like science, there are lots of opportunities outside school curriculum to learn about math, too! As many teachers have observed, the STEM concepts that kids are most likely to retain and master are those that have applications in their real lives. Here are three settings where kids can take math off the worksheet and into the real world.

1.) Game play

Playing critical thinking games like Mancala, Chess, Checkers, Dots and Boxes and many app games like 2048 have students developing the higher level thinking skills that will advance them in the sciences.  Having them realize that it isn’t all about the first move but the consecutive moves which help students with those multi-step math problems.  Games also help to establish those practices that all good mathematicians and scientist strive to possess; perseverance, reasoning and proof, communication, connection, and precision.   

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2.) Building kits

Building things is one of the healthiest STEM activities for children and young adults, as it combines science, engineering, and math skills. Students who are involved in wood working and kit construction like Legos® and K’nex® learn good geometry ideas like angles, slop, degrees etc.  Building projects are great for after school programs with many kids or for at-home learning. Making a simple “bird house”is a fun activity that brings out an eye for detail and an understanding measurement calculation in many children. An easy to do activity is have a competition to see who can make either the tallest self-supporting Popsicle stick tower or the tower of a specified size that can bear the most weight.  Without even knowing it students learn about the incredible strength of the triangle.

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3.) Cooking

 Cooking and using recipes are a fantastic way for children to apply their math learning and develop an understanding of chemistry and can be a great activity in homes, schools, and after school programs. When cooking with kids it is fun to crack eggs and lick the beaters but make sure they understand the measurement concepts. Try using different sized measuring cups and spoons to achieve the right amount. For example, if you need two cups of flour for a recipe, ask them how many scoops it would take using a half-cup or third-cup measure, and so on. For older children, try halving or doubling a recipe and have them write out the new amount of each ingredient.

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There are so many opportunities for STEM learning outside the textbook. In your school, program, or home, give children as many opportunities as possible to use math concepts in new and engaging ways, and check out our website for hours of exciting math games for children ages kindergarten-middle school!

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