Family STEM: Pass the STEM, please

By Lisa M. Blank, Oregon Coast STEM Hub

Engage the whole family in a lively mealtime STEM conversation!

bird's eye view of a dinner table crowded with dishes full of food and peoples hands passing the dishes around
Image credit: Shutterstock

Stress levels elevate when our ability to predict and control daily events erode. Given the unpredictability of life right now, establishing family dinner routines can provide a much-needed sense of security and feeling of belonging.

INSPIRE

Dinnertime can also be a great time to support STEM learning! Family STEM conversations can provide insight into how others think, a safe place to try out new ideas, and an opportunity to practice using evidence to support explanations while learning more about STEM concepts and careers.

STEM conversations can be any family discussion where topics related to science, technology, engineering, or math connections are explored.

TRY IT!

To get started, we suggest downloading the Family Dinner Projects STEM Conversations Starter Pack, which includes twenty STEM conversation starters such as, “Would you rather go for a walk in the forest or along the beach? Why?”                                                                           

“Would you rather go for a walk in the forest or along the beach? Why?”

Images: C. Goodwin


Here is one of our favorite STEM family conversation starters:

EXAMPLE

Hitchbot the robot sitting on a table

Have you heard of the hitchhiking travels of Hitchbot the Robot and how he met his untimely demise in Philadelphia after traveling throughout Canada and parts of Europe?                             

Image: Hitchbot in Canada (Wikimedia Commons)

If not, read this story with your family and start a conversation over tonight’s dinner with one or more of the questions below.

  • If you could drive, would you have picked up this hitchhiking robot if you passed him on the road? Why or why not?
  • Do you think we can/should trust robots? Explain.
  • Do you think robots should trust humans?
  • While some people are mourning the demise of Hitchbot, his creators see his journey as a success. What do you think about Hitchbot’s experiences?
  • Imagine you could invent a robot. What would it do?
  • If Hitchbot’s creators tried his journey again, do you think the same kind of thing would happen to him? Why or why not?

Questions provided by the Family Dinner Project

TIPS: 1) Hide a question under each family member’s dinner plate, or 2) pass around a bowl and have everyone randomly pick a question.

Hitchbot the robot sitting at a bar and a man hands him a bottle
Image: Hitchbot in the Netherlands (Wikimedia Commons)

CELEBRATE AND SHARE

To help keep your STEM conversations going, create a conversation jar to store your conversation starters. Leave a supply of blank strips nearby so family members can add their own ideas as well.

jar full of folded paper
Image credit: Shutterstock

If you have family members who do not live in the home with you, consider scheduling a virtual dinner party. Have each family member take a turn inviting a loved one and connect using Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, etc.

GOING FURTHER

Not Just for Dinner
There is no one way to have a STEM dinner conversation. In fact, STEM conversations don’t have to happen at the dinner table. There are many opportunities throughout the day that may work better. Perhaps when going for a walk, washing the dishes, or as part of a bedtime ritual. Find what works for you and your family.

Bon apetit!


Lisa M. Blank is the Director of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

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 lessons on our website: https://oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu/

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