Family STEM: A Week of Fun Challenges

By Cait Goodwin, Oregon Sea Grant

Are you tired of all of the screen time associated with work and school? Are you looking for simple STEM activities that you can do at home with your family? Check out the daily challenges from STEM Week Oregon. There’s an activity for each day of the week!

INSPIRE

STEM Week Oregon is a week-long event that takes place annually in May. This state-wide movement celebrates and engages communities in activities involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Although this year’s STEM Week was officially celebrated May 9-17, you and your family can participate in daily STEM challenges any time!

This spring has been unusual, to say the least. A lot of us have been stuck indoors and spending a lot of our time looking at screens. That’s one reason why Oregon’s STEM Hubs decided that the theme for this year’s STEM Week would be:

STE(A)M Unplugged: Explore your world, Design your world.

Below are seven daily challenges – one for each day of the week. Each is suitable for the whole family, suggests using materials that you already have at home, and doesn’t require you to be on a computer!

Download all of the challenges in English or in Spanish

TRY IT

MAKE IT MONDAY

Paper Tube Raceway
Design a structure that is either freestanding or attached to a wall. This structure will be your raceway for marbles, a car, or another object of your choice.

Download the Monday challenge description in English or Spanish

Image: K. Townsend


TAKE APART TUESDAY

Take Something Apart
Take something apart and try to re-purpose the pieces into something new! Some of the items taken apart by last week’s participants include a vacuum cleaner, bicycle wheel, computer, model locomotive, feathered costume, skateboard, and the front suspension of a Jeep.

Download the Tuesday challenge description in English or Spanish


WHAT ARE YOU WONDERING WEDNESDAY

child holds and examines an insect

Notice and Wonder
Find a live animal and observe its characteristics. Write about or draw what you notice. Ask any questions you have about what you see. For more ideas about how to make and record observations of the natural world, see this FAMILY STEM blog post.

Download the Wednesday challenge description in English or Spanish


THINK ABOUT IT THURSDAY

Build a Paper Structure
Using only paper and tape, create a freestanding structure that is at least one foot high, and can hold a small stuffed animal or toy. Think about what shapes will work best. Could you build a structure that holds a heavy book instead of a stuffed animal? Try it!

Download the Thursday challenge description in English or Spanish


FIELD TRIP FRIDAY

Backyard Scavenger Hunt
What can you find outside? Explore the outdoors by staying in one place and making deep observations, or search for a list of natural items that could be discovered near your home.

Take a walk from your home to a place you’ve never been before, or try making a map for other members of your family to follow.

Download the Friday challenge description in English or Spanish


SOUNDS AND SHADOWS SATURDAY

Create Shadow Art
Line up objects and trace their shadows. Even if the sun is not out, you can still do this activity using a strong light inside. Once you start noticing shadows, you’ll start seeing them everywhere. What makes shadows longer or larger? Write down some thoughts and test your ideas. You can also create a profile portrait or tell a story with a shadow puppet show!

Image: C. Goodwin

Download the Saturday challenge description in English or Spanish


SOARING SUNDAY

Paper Airplanes and Flight
What is the best way to fold a piece of paper to make a paper airplane fly the highest, the farthest, or the fastest?

For this project, use paper from your recycle bin! If you need more design ideas, consult online resources like Fold N Fly, but then unplug once again to generate more iterations and test your design. Make this challenge meaningful by creating an engaging and real-world context. For example:

“Mary the librarian wants to share a message with a coworker who is shelving books on the other side of the library, 15 feet away. However, they are both practicing social distancing and neither wants to speak loudly and disturb others who are working. Design a paper airplane to help Mary send her message.”

Download the Sunday challenge description in English or Spanish

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

STE(A)M PRACTICES

Each of the daily challenges described above provide opportunities to use different skills and disciplines, just like most real-world activities. Looking back, how did your activity involve science or engineering, the “S” and “E” parts of STEM? Educators have identified eight practices that people use in science and engineering. Did you do any of these things when you were engaged in one of the daily challenges?

Science and Engineering Practices
from the Next Generation Science Standards

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using math and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Think about how you used math during your challenges. For example, did you count, take measurements, make graphs, or make alterations to scale, proportions, or angles? 

How did you use technology in these unplugged challenges? What tools did you use to make structures, dismantle objects, and research new designs?

Finally, you may have noticed the (A) tucked in to the word STEM in this year’s theme. “A” stands for art, which is another subject that can be found throughout disciplines. Did you draw, build, or use other forms of art in your challenges?

STE(A)M FOR ALL

No matter how old you are or whether or not you become (or already are) a STEM professional, everyone can participate in activities involving science, technology, engineering, art, and math! Our daily lives are full of STEM, and there will always be opportunities to use STEM to learn more about our world.

Scientists are always wondering about the world around them and those curiosities are what inspire them to learn more. Here’s what scientists from South Slough Reserve were wondering during the 2020 STEM Week What Are You Wondering Wednesday Challenge.

Image: https://www.facebook.com/SouthSloughEstuary/

CELEBRATING AND SHARING

During the 2020 STEM Week Oregon (May 9-17), thousands of families and educators across the state participated in one or more of these challenges, and their activities populated the online STEM Week map. Some participants (including folks from Tillamook, Newport, Florence, and North Bend) even received prizes when their names were drawn at random.

Image: Google Maps 

STEM doesn’t stop when STEM Week is over! Share your family’s activities with the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and the rest of the state any time through social media using the hashtag #STEMWeekOR.

Good luck, and have fun Exploring and Designing Your World!

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Cait Goodwin is a Special Projects Coordinator at Oregon Sea Grant, and is also the Communications Coordinator for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

STEM Week Oregon is a collaborative effort involving STEM Hubs throughout Oregon.
Learn more at http://stemoregon.org/stem-week-oregon-2020/ or https://oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu/stem-week

The 2020 Family STEM series is brought to you by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and its partners as part of its Let’s Keep Learning! Initiative. You can find more resources, live events, and lesson on our website: https://oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu/