What is STEM education? As teaching STEM in the early years becomes more common, many educators may find themselves asking this question. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education develops crucial skills in children that they will use the rest of their lives and apply to other areas of learning beyond science and math.
Bubbling Baking Soda
- You will demonstrate how two substances can be mixed to produce a gas. The children will use their sense of sight, hearing, and smell.
For your demonstration:
- Test tube or 8-ounce water bottle
- 2 ounces vinegar
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- Timer or stopwatch
For each child:
- Egg carton or recycled lids
- Pipette or dropper
- ¼ cup vinegar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Red, yellow, and blue food coloring
- Explain that vinegar at the bottom of a test tube will be mixed with baking soda inside a balloon. Have the children predict what will happen.
- For demonstration purposes, place 2 ounces of vinegar at the bottom of the test tube (or water bottle). Use a funnel to put 1 tablespoon of baking soda into the balloon.
- Carefully stretch the opening of the balloon over the mouth of the test tube, and hold it tight at that spot with one hand. With your other hand, hold up the other end of the balloon, and shake the baking soda into the test tube.
- Ask the children to observe what happens to the balloon. When the two ingredients are mixed, fizzing will take place at the bottom of the test tube, and the balloon will begin to inflate.
- Note that you created a gas, which is causing the balloon to inflate. Emphasize that the gas is a new matter that was produced by mixing the vinegar and baking soda together. Explain that because you cannot get either ingredient back, a chemical change has taken place.
- Move around the room, and let the children feel the balloon.
- Following the demonstration put about ½ teaspoon of baking soda in a section of each child’s egg carton or in a lid. In separate sections, provide about a teaspoon of vinegar in each of the three colors - red, yellow, and blue- for each child.
- Allow the children to fill their pipettes with colored vinegar and drop the vinegar onto the baking soda in their containers. Ask them to listen and watch as the baking soda fizzes inside the trays.
- Let the children experiment with dropping different colors of vinegar on the same batches of baking soda. They will see that the combination not only fizzes, but it also changes colors. They find this visible change very exciting!
Pouring and More: Funnels and Test Tubes
- You will introduce the funnel as a tool scientists and other individuals use to prevent spills. Once children know how to use a funnel, you can add it to the sand-and-water table. You will also introduce test tubes as tools for holding liquids. The children will explore the proper use of test tubes and the use of funnels to make pouring easier.
- Food coloring (optional)
- Variety of containers
- Cups in a variety of sizes
- Small portion cups (available at dollar, party, and restaurant-supply stores)
For each child:
- Test-tube rack and plastic test tubes (Note: you can use 8-ounce water bottles as an alternative.)
- Plastic container large enough to hold test-tube rack
- Plastic container filled with water
- Give each child a test-tube rack. Instruct the children to place their test tubes inside the plastic containers to be used as catch basins. Each child will also need another container filled with water and small cup. If you use colored water, the children will find the activity more interesting and easier to see.
- Demonstrate by putting a funnel into the first test tube in a rack. Hold the test tube in the air, and show the children the top and bottom of the test tube or little water bottle. Using a cup, scoop some water from the plastic water-filled container. Ask the children to tell you when the water poured into the funnel reaches the top of the test tube or bottle. Slowly begin pouring, and stop when the children tell you to stop.
- When the first test tube is filled, demonstrate moving the funnel from one test tube to the next. Practice filling the other test tubes and letting the children tell you when the water reaches the top of each one.
- Give the children a chance to practice pouring the water into their own test tubes or water bottles. It will be easier for smaller children to do this standing up.
- Once the children know how to use funnels, you can leave funnels in the sand-and-water or sensory tables along with various containers for practice and free exploration.
Find the Long-Lost Animals
- The children will learn about the role of a paleontologist, a scientist who studies fossils- the ancient remains of animals and plants. They will act as pretend paleontologists as they explore fossils with different plastic animals. The children will also sort attributes and learn about characteristics of different types of dinosaurs.
- Contact paper or plastic page protectors
For each child:
- Container (16-ounce size works well)
- Small plastic animals, such as dinosaurs, snakes, and insects
- Tweezers (optional)
- Take digital photos of the toy dinosaurs, snakes, and insects. Make charts with the specimen photos, and cover the chart with clear contact paper or place it in a plastic page protector. Tape it to the underside of each tray to use for sorting at the end of the activity.
- Before working with the children, fill the containers with Playdough. Press the plastic animals inside each container.
- Give each child a tray with pretend fossils. Have the children dump the contents of the containers onto their trays. Demonstrate how to pull the Playdough apart and search for plastic dinos and other hidden critters. You can also give the children plastic tweezers to pick out their findings. Using tweezers as well as squeezing and ripping the Playdough apart will also help the children with fine-motor skills.
- Once the children have extracted all of the hidden treasures, instruct them to line up their specimens. Give each child a chance to point to each item and count how many he has found. This is a great way to practice one-on-one correspondence.
- After the plastic toys have been extracted and counted, instruct the children to flip over their trays to reveal the charts of photos of the fossils. Have the children match up their items to the items in the photos. You can also discuss then names of the dinosaurs and other items as they are printed alongside the photos. Younger children can identify the first letter of each.
Look Out! Volcano Erupting
- While creating a simulated volcano that erupts, the children will explore the concepts of chemical change, creating a gas, and how volcanic eruptions occur.
For each pair of children:
- Paper bowl
- 4-ounce paper cup
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 2 ounces vinegar
- Red food coloring
- Use food coloring to turn the vinegar red, and give each pair of children a 2-ounce portion, along with the other materials and ingredients.
- For each pair, place the paper cup into the small disposable bowl, and put the baking soda in the bottom of the cup. Alternatively, give the children portion cups holding the baking soda, and allow them to pour the baking soda into their drinking cups.
- Tell the children to place their funnels inside their cups and quickly pour the vinegar into the top of the funnel.
- Because the children get so excited watching the eruptions, have one pair of students at a time do their demonstration. The children will not get bored watching this over and over again!
Find more great hands-on STEM activities in Hands-On Science and Math!