STEM in the Great Outdoors

STEM in the Great Outdoors

The other day, I was on my back patio with my own two and four year old kiddos, Ellie and Beau, basking in the beautiful spring sunshine as I watched them play.  My son found a stack of small planter cups that we were planning to use, and immediately sat on the patio to start stacking them in towers. His sister then joined in, adding rocks, leaves, and flowers to his creation.

Well, if you know anything about the way my brain works, you might guess that my wheels immediately started turning and brainstorming all the different materials that could be found in nature that we might be able to engineer and create with. Ellie, Beau and I searched all around our back and front yards, gathering rocks and stones, sand, sticks, wood chips and more and added them to our creation.  Before we knew it, Outdoor Discovery STEM Bins were born!

What You Need

By the time my husband got home from work, I couldn’t rush out the door fast enough to head to Hobby Lobby and see what else I could find! I found the wood slices (also called “tree cookies”), flat wood chips that are perfect for stacking, thick wood cylinders, glass blocks, and mosaic tiles, all for less than $20.00!  I also stopped by Dollar Tree to pick up some watertight containers in the food storage section (3 for $1.00).

The next day, I also stopped by a local flooring store and asked if they had any samples or scraps that I could take off their hands. They donated three HUGE boxes of stone and tile samples that I also added to my bins! Score!

How They Work

After I got my new STEM Bins put together, I could hardly wait to try them out with my kids at home and students at school.  Needless to say, they were a huge hit! The collaborative piece was truly amazing to watch. Students naturally broke into partners or groups and assumed different roles, creating large and elaborate structures and scenes.  No arguments.  No behavior issues. And very little guidance from me. Just kids being kids, creating and engineering together in the sunshine! Now that’s the perfect remedy for Spring Fever!

As in my original classroom STEM Bins, I provided task cards with real world photos of structures that might motivate students. Some students choose to use them and some do not, but they are a wonderful source of inspiration.

As far as storage goes, they need to be portable and easy to carry.  I stacked mine in a heavy duty reusable tote that I found in the back of our pantry, and it works great!

Truly, it’s kind of magical what kids are capable of when you step back and give them the time and space to create. So many  trials, errors, improvements, and problem solving as they experimented with the properties of different materials and how they work and fit together.  I even heard my first graders talking about how “cool” natural resources are and brainstorming materials at their houses that they could use to create with. Take a look at some of these amazing structures!

Extra Supplements

Some of my groups also took iPads outside and took photos of their creations to add in the Pic Collage Kids app! Simply air drop the template to students and they can insert it as the background.

Other written components are also provided in this pack, including a “Nature Hunt” for students to gather their own materials for engineering, a parent letter for students to bring natural materials from home, and a mini recording booklet.

I’ve also included all new Basic Engineering Skills posters to encourage more high-level vocabulary in their conversations.

Overall, I’m in love with our new Outdoor Discovery STEM Bins, and my students are right there with me and can’t wait to get them out again.  If you are interested in adding outdoor engineering to your classroom, please click the photo below!

For more information on my original STEM Bins, check out the post below!

STEM Bins: Hands-on Solutions for Early Finishers