10 STEM activities for $10 or Less
The subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are so important in our ever increasingly technological world. Here are ideas that are inexpensive and low-prep. These easy, low prep, cheap STEM activities work for any age child. Great hands-on, summer projects for children and teens.
Why are STEM activities for kids so important?
As a parent or educator, you may have started hearing people talking about STEM activities and wondered what it means and why it seems so important all of a sudden. STEM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It is usually referring to activities for children that help them to gain real-world practice in these content areas.
This style of teaching math and science has become increasingly more popular as occupations in these subjects have become more prevalent. Improving skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is crutial for students to understand and contribute the world around them
Children of all ages can begin to practice thinking about ways they can apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems. From a toddler holding puzzle pieces to a highschool student programing a robot, all children can practice developing a mindset of creative problem-solving.
Here are 10 STEM activities that can be done with children from preschool to highschool for less than 10 dollars. As you complete the projects, make sure and save time out for kids to go back and make revisions after their first attempt to solve any of the problems...a big part of STEM is learning from your experiments and changing your design.
1) Don't crack the egg
In this activity students will each be given one egg and a variety of materials. They must use recycled materials to create something that can hold the egg and keep it from breaking after being dropped 10 feet.
If you want to make the activity more challenging you can add time limits for creating your contraption to protect the egg. You can also make the task easier by dropping it from a shorter distance.
Make sure and be clear with the kids that they will only receive one egg. Only give the kids their egg when they say they are ready and tell them they must be very careful with the egg as they build their protective case.
You can also make the activity easier by giving the students examples or by only providing materials that are best suited to take the impact.
This activity is a great real-world connection for how engineers make vehicles safer in case of a crash. It helps kids understand how different recycled materials take the impact of the fall.
Any recycled materials you have in your house: paper plates, bags, straws, sponges, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, cardboard, newspaper, and styrofoam are all examples of things you could collect. You will also need tape and glue to allow students to create their structure.
Teacher drills or punches a hole into two sides of a two-liter pop bottle, fills it up with water halfway and sticks a dowel through both holes. Then tie a string with a small dixie cup to one end of the dowl. The students will be given a styrofoam ball and a variety of materials. They will need to create the blades for the windmill from recycled materials. Once they have fastened the blades onto the styrofoam ball they will place the ball on the other end of the dowl to form the windmill. Blow a fan on the windmill, if it spins it will twist the string and lift up the dixie cup. If it spins well, unravel the string and begin again, placing pennies into the dixie cup. See who can make the fan blades that catch the wind well enough to lift up the most amount of pennies in the cup.
You as the educator only need to make one bottle with the dowel and dixie cup. The students can each place their styrofoam ball with their blades on the windmill one at a time.
Make sure when you punch the holes for the dowels, they are round enough that the dowels will spin.
Make sure when you tie the string on the dowel that the knot is tight, otherwise the dowel
will spin, but the string will just slide and not begin to twist up.
This is a great way to teach about sources of energy and how we can use renewable energy. You can also talk about how energy is used to make electricity with older students.
To make the blades use recycled material from your home like: toothpicks, paper or plastic plates, bags, cups, or sheets. Also use things like tin foil, plastic wrap, tissue paper, cardboard, popsicle sticks, etc.
You will also need to have tape and scissors.
For the windmill, you will need a dowel, a dixie cup, string, a pop bottle, styrofoam balls, and a fan.
3) Sail Boats
Students will be given a variety of recycled materials and will need to create a boat that will float, with a sail that will catch the wind. First kids make a raft and sail for a boat. Then the students will place the boat in a bathtub, small stream, kiddie pool, or plastic tote filled with water. Then wind will be created with either a fan or the students blowing. Either you can see which boat goes the farthest distance in a certain amount of time, or which boat goes a certain distance the fastest.
Make sure there are sufficient recycled materials to create a raft that will float and a mast that can be secure.
The angle of the wind will affect how well the sail catches the wind too, so if none of the sails are working well, blow the wind from a slightly different angle.
This activity is also great for teaching about sources of energy and renewable energy.
It can also be a good opportunity to teach about buoyancy and weight distribution.
There is also a social studies application. You can use this activity and talk about different models of boats and ships that are used in different cultures or throughout history.
The sail and raft are made from recycled materials from your home like toothpicks, paper or plastic plates, bags, cups, bowels, or sheets. Also use things like tin foil, pie pans, plastic wrap, tissue paper, cardboard, popsicle sticks, etc.
You will also need a source of water like a bathtub, baby pool, tote or small stream.
Finally, you will need a source of wind either a hairdryer, your own breath, an air mattress pump (you will need to stand far away because the wind will be very strong) or a fan.
4) Paper Airplanes
There are many different types of paper airplanes and lots of blueprints on how to make them. Have the students create a paper airplane and see which one goes the farthest, which one goes the farthest, fastest, highest ...there are all sorts of things you could measure.
You can differentiate this activity by having easier or more difficult patterns or blueprints prepared for students of all different skill levels.
You also can challenge the students to create their own designs of a plane without a blueprint.
This is a great way to help tie in STEM concepts to something that students frequently like doing on their own outside of academics. Making paper airplanes and talking about design, aerodynamics and the engineering process may help them think like an engineer as they do everyday tasks.
All you need is the internet to find different blueprints and paper!
5) Programing Practice
Have students work in pairs. Give one student the name of a task (for example: making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or peeling a banana). Student one must tell student two exactly what to do to complete the task. Student two may only do EXACTLY what the student one says. For example, if a student one is describing how to make a PB&J and they tell student two to put jelly on the bread, student two must take the whole jar of jelly and put it on the bread. Student one must practice until their directions are specific and detailed enough that the task is completed correctly. Then students may switch roles.
It may be helpful to show the students an example by first being the partner who is completing the task. The task only works if the student following the steps, follow sthem EXACTLY as they are told.
You can also take this activity further by having students make mazes with tape on the floor. One partner is blindfolded and has to listen to the other partner’s directions to follow the maze to the end.
This is a great task to help students learn the idea behind coding. The students will learn to be very specific and clear in their directions and this will help them when they start coding to make their codes accurate, look for bugs and fix their mistakes.
You will need specific materials for the task you give each student to describe and complete, but this activity is essentially free because you can give them a task that fits the materials and setting you have at your disposal.
6) Index Card Towers
This activity is very simple and students of every age enjoy it. Even groups of adults have fun with this challenge. Give the students a stack of index cards, a pair of scissors and tape. The student or group of students who make the tallest tower that can hold a beanie baby or small stuffed animal wins.
You can make it more challenging by only giving a small amount of tape to each group or no tape at all.
You can also give groups a time limit.
I always told the students they could hold the stuffed animal to feel it’s weight, but could not test it on their tower until the end.
This activity is great for talking about shapes in architecture or talking about how to make a structure strong.
All you need are index cards, scissors, and tape.
7) Grow a Crystal
Growing crystals is pretty simple and fun. There are lots of different mediums you can use to grow crystals. If you want to make a sugar crystal all you need to do is boil water, dissolve sugar in the water, pour the water into a jar and place a stick or string in the water for the crystal to grow on. It can take several days for the sugar crystal to grow, but in the end, you should have a tasty treat!
You can put a paper towel or coffee filter over the tops of the jars as the crystal grows, that way the evaporated water can escape, but the crystal will remain clean.
If crystals begin forming on the top of the jar, eat or remove them so that they aren’t competing for the crystal you are growing in the water.
You can add food coloring or flavoring to the water if desired.
This activity is a great way to teach basic chemistry. The kids can see how the solid dissolves in the water and then how it solidifies in a repeated pattern as the solution cools. It can also be used to explain states of matter.
All you need for this activity is water, sugar, a mason jar and string anr a small dowel.
8) Baking Soda and Vinegar Balloons
Baking Soda works by releasing air as it is heated. How much air does baking soda release when baking cookies? Cake? Let’s find out! You can answer this question by mixing vinegar and baking soda in a water bottle, covered with a balloon. Try different amounts of baking soda.
Put the baking soda in the balloon, and the vinegar in the empty water bottle. Then place the balloon on the opening of the water bottle and let the Baking Soda fall into the vinegar...that way the balloon captures ALL the air released.
To add in more elements of design to this experiment, have students change the amount of baking soda to a recipe and see how it changes the recipe. Or have them create their own recipe of an item that is baked.
This activity is a little weak on the design elements of STEM, but it gives students information about the chemistry involved in cooking which is a very practical skill. This may hit the interest of a student who is not typically interested in STEM activities. It is also a gateway to lots of creations students could make involving food if they have a deeper understanding of the chemistry of cooking.
All you need is a water bottle, balloons, baking soda, and vinegar!
9) UV Sensitive Beads
These UV Sensitive Beads change color in the sunlight. Have the kids find different materials around the house and see if it keeps the UV rays from hitting the beads. For example, they could hold a tissue between the bead and the light, cover the bead in sunscreen, hold a piece of cardboard, a thin cloth, a kid's hand, etc.
Make sure the sunlight is directly on the beads. The sunlight needs to be very direct for the beads to change color.
To avoid the problem completely, you can also buy a UV flashlight and use that for the project.
This is a fun way to talk about waves and how they act. You could use this activity to discuss light waves and the spectrum of waves.
You may want to have specific materials for the kids to use to test on the beads, or you can just buy the beads and let them find materials around the house.