8 STEM Activities Perfect for Middle Schoolers
8 STEM Activities Perfect for Middle Schoolers
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs are important in schools because they can help prepare students for these types of jobs when they enter the workforce. Despite the heavy importance of STEM in creating innovative solutions in society, middle schools may only include science and math in their curriculum.
Teachers and faculty can incorporate interactive and fun STEM activities for middle schools into their classes, helping support existing courses and create new and exciting units.
Why Middle School STEM Programs Are Essential
Middle school is an important period for kids to learn and discover their interests. Because they are beginning to learn about subjects more in-depth and think about their futures, students start to recognize where their academic strengths lie and what they would like to continue to pursue in the future.
Because of this, kids should receive exposure to many different subjects. Including units that cover several topics and applications can introduce kids to a subject they love and can grow their passion in. Developing a strong understanding of what they like and are good at can help kids chart a path for their future later, especially as they prepare to enter high school.
Diversity in STEM
Introducing kids to STEM courses sooner can help break down negative stereotypes associated with the field. While STEM is a large field with many real-world applications, women only held around 27% of the jobs in 2019. Young girls often display a strong interest in STEM subjects and applications, but lack of accessibility to practice and use these skills deter them from seeking STEM degrees and careers.
STEM programs tend to have very little racial diversity as well. Black Americans only make up around 9% of the STEM workforce, while white Americans account for 67%. Hispanic Americans account for 8% and Asian Americans for 13%. Introducing kids in middle school to STEM subjects can help reiterate that everyone has a place in the field, regardless of gender or race.
Incorporating STEM in middle school programs can introduce kids to subjects and materials they will need to succeed in high school, college and beyond. Kids can also develop and hone essential soft skills like problem-solving and critical thinking. Soft skills are more challenging to train, causing employers to seek out people with those skills already.
The interactive nature of STEM allows kids to practice their developing soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and innovation to complete assignments and activities. These are essential areas of development and are the top skills desired by employers, especially as technology continues to change workplaces. Communication and dealing with complex problems and situations also rank highly with employers. Incorporating these skills into fun STEM activities helps kids develop early on.
STEM in middle school curriculums provides an excellent opportunity to teach students about a new area of study. It can also set them up for success with the soft skills they will need in the workplace as adults. Even if students choose other careers outside of STEM, they can still implement the soft skills they practiced in those classes.
What Does STEM Education for Middle Schoolers Look Like?
When developing your middle school STEM activities and programs, you should keep some factors in mind to help you continually engage your students and provide them with a thorough STEM program. Some ideas include:
- Teaching STEM units versus electives: Middle schools already require math and science courses, but many overlook technology and engineering in their curriculum. STEM electives are a great way to appeal to students who are already interested in the subject, but these electives should also aim to reach students who show less interest or understanding. Students can discover how they feel about the subjects with units that cover basic introductory engineering and technology information, like in a beginner robotics class.
- Incorporating real-world applications: Introducing STEM in middle school may spark interest in only some of the kids. Other kids may need to understand the relevance of these subjects more to be interested. When creating your STEM program, courses and units, be sure to include real-world examples, applications and problems in lessons. Demonstrating how STEM is used in life outside of the classroom can help kids see the relevance and importance of their studies, boosting interest in the courses and possibly leading kids to their future careers.
- Focusing on interactive lessons: While learning introductory information is essential for teaching students what they need to know about STEM, it is a very hands-on field, so the classroom should reflect that. Fun STEM activities and experiments can allow students to apply what they learn and develop critical problem-solving skills necessary for success in the STEM field. Breaking up lessons with relevant activities where students take charge can keep kids interested and engaged in the subject matter.
- Promoting inclusivity: Since middle school STEM programs aim to diversify the field, creating a program available to all students at your school is essential. This includes making them accessible to kids with disabilities or to kids who speak English as a second language. Allow all your students to discover their passion and give them the foundation they need to succeed in future programs.
Incorporating these tips into your middle school can help you develop a strong STEM program that keeps students engaged and piques their interests in the subjects and education.
Technology and Engineering
Regardless of how you integrate technology and engineering into your STEM programs, be sure to have extensive introductory information to allow students to decide how they feel about the subject. Technology is a broad field, so try to cover several aspects. Covering a wider variety of elements will enable kids to understand all the different applications and try their hand at these topics. Consider covering topics such as coding, web design and robotics.
Engineering is in a very similar situation to technology. Introducing students to the various engineering applications and allowing them to design and build using different engineering techniques is an excellent way to engage middle schoolers with engineering.
8 Middle School STEM Activities
Interacting with STEM in middle school has numerous benefits for kids. Finding activities can be trickier, as there are many options to choose from. It is also essential to find STEM activities that cover the four subjects in a fun and engaging way.
If you want to incorporate some middle school STEM ideas into your courses, consider these eight fun STEM activities to keep your students engaged and learning real-world STEM applications.
1. Balloon or Wind-Powered Cars
A great way to incorporate different physics laws in an activity while testing your students’ engineering skills is to have them build vehicles. You can choose how the cars move depending on the subject matter, lessons and materials you have available in your classroom.
Balloon-powered cars are great for learning about Newton’s laws. In this experiment, your students will use a bottle, straws, skewers and bottle caps to create a car that can effectively roll when your students push it around.
To attach the wheels, the students will have to follow these steps:
- Start by cutting two straws slightly wider than the bottle and taping them to one side of the bottle.
- Cut two skewers and make them slightly longer than the straws.
- Teachers should pre-cut holes into four bottle caps to serve as the wheels. Students can push a wheel onto a skewer, insert the skewer in the straw and stick another wheel on the other end of the skewer.
- Repeat with two more bottle caps and another skewer for the other axle.
Kids will need to practice their problem-solving skills to figure out how to attach the wheels and axles so the vehicle moves. Students might have to try different straw and skewer lengths and configurations to make their car move smoothly.
Kids will stick a third straw up a balloon and tie it with a rubber band to power it. After cutting a small hole in the bottle opposite the wheels, kids must stick the other end of the straw into the bottle and out the top. They will then blow up the balloon through the straw and stop air from releasing with their fingers. After releasing the straw and the car, students can observe Newton’s three laws of motion as the air leaves the balloon and moves the car forward.
A wind-powered car is similar to a bottle car, except that your students will use cardboard and paper instead of bottles. You’ll still use the same supplies to make axles and wheels, and kids will use paper with a skewer through it as a sail. Students can see how far their cars go when they put them in front of a fan and change design elements, like sail size, to see how that affects distance and friction.
This gives students a hands-on approach to more physics concepts. You can place the cars in long hallways or classrooms and measure how far they go while having students guess why.
Kids must use problem-solving and critical thinking in both experiments to ensure their cars’ mechanics function and determine how to get the desired result. Further, you can group students to help develop their teamwork and communication skills and create a fun competition against other teams at the end of class.
2. Rubber Band Cars
Rubber band cars are a more complicated way to have your students test their engineering skills by building cars. For this middle school STEM idea, you will need a cardboard square for your car’s body, much like the wind-powered car. You will use the same straw and skewer axle method. However, for the wheels, you will use CDs with the holes stuffed with pieces of sponge and secured together with tape.
Your students will need to cut a square at the front of their car that goes through the straw of their front axle to power this car. They will then tie a rubber band into a loop around the exposed axle skewer. In the car’s center, cut a slit and twist a paper clip through it. Then, attach the rubber band loop around it. Students will rotate the front wheels and release them to send the car rolling.
While this project is similar to the others, it requires more problem-solving. If your class does this experiment before the balloon and wind-powered cars, they may need to troubleshoot the axles to ensure their car rolls smoothly. They will need to test how much sponge and tape is required to secure the wheels on the axles.
Lastly, if their car doesn’t roll or doesn’t go very far, they may need to look at the rubber band to ensure it’s secure or test the car on a surface with more friction.
This project gives students a way to interact with potential and kinetic energy. When they wind up their front axle they create potential energy that transforms into kinetic energy when they release it. You can also discuss how energy is neither created nor destroyed but becomes friction as the car stops, making this a great middle school STEM experiment.
3. Egg Drop Landers
This science activity for middle schoolers requires students to combine their knowledge of gravity and engineering. Students must build a structure to keep an egg from cracking when dropped from high heights. You can determine a set list of supplies or let kids bring what they think will help them from home.
Egg drop landers encourage kids’ creativity and problem-solving because there are various ways to build them. Students can test their products throughout a set time and make changes depending on the results. They will need to determine where the problem with their design is and how to fix it.
This fun STEM activity involves gravity and physics, combining students’ understanding of science with engineering. You can discuss various scientific concepts as students work through multiple stages of their projects, allowing them to connect ideas with actions and results.
4. Straw Skyscrapers
Consider having your students build straw skyscrapers for a fun and engaging engineering activity. For this activity, give your students a set amount of straws and tape and ask them to make the tallest tower with those materials. You can determine how much of each you want to give them depending on your time and available materials. Turn this activity into a competition for extra fun.
Building straw skyscrapers will allow students to practice what they learned in class about engineering to create a stable structure while stretching to high heights. Students will need to be creative and innovative to determine how to build their skyscraper that can stay standing while striving to make their tower the tallest. Once the activity is completed, kids can see how others approached the exercise, highlighting everyone’s creativity.
This STEM activity will also test kids’ problem-solving skills. If their tower falls, they will need to determine the cause and how to avoid it as they try again. If they run out of materials before reaching the height they want, they will need to develop a new plan to execute their goals while maintaining a stable structure.
Doing this activity can help teach kids how engineers design skyscrapers with height and stability in mind. Students can learn more about engineering while having fun and competing against classmates.
5. Candy Gears
If you want an easy and fun STEM lab activity for middle schoolers, try making candy gears with your students. This activity requires at least two lids, gumdrops, brads and a marker. The two lids need to be different sizes, so one is slightly larger than the other. It is also a good idea to poke holes in the lids ahead of time and insert the brads yourself if you want to avoid using scissors in the classroom.
Starting with the larger lid, have your students line the edge with gumdrops so they are just touching each other. Then, instruct them to remove every other gumdrop so there are spaces between the ones left. With the leftover gumdrops, they can glue them to the lid’s edge. It can be helpful to mark the spots with a marker to track where they need to go. They should then repeat this process with the other lid.
After having everything glued in place, students can place their gears together with the gumdrops interlocking. Then, you can instruct them to try a series of tasks where they move the gears and note what happens. They can also draw a line marking each gear’s radius, see which moves faster and think about why. This activity can help cultivate their critical thinking skills by applying the concepts they learn in the classroom to their experiments.
As students work on their questions, you can guide them through real-world applications, comparing their candy gears to gears on bikes and in clocks. You can discuss how this allows people to create automated processes and even mention more complicated applications to understand how gears function in real life.
You can let your students eat their extra gumdrops as a treat. Be sure to check with parents about dietary restrictions or allergies to ensure students can safely eat the candies. Students might even hear about this activity from earlier classes, so they arrive excited and ready to learn when they get to your class.
6. Toothpick Bridges
Toothpick bridges are a common STEM project for middle schoolers. Many schools introduce students to engineering by asking them to build bridges from household materials like straws or toothpicks. This activity is great for middle schoolers because it tests their problem-solving and creativity skills. You can also change elements of it to fit your classroom needs.
Many teachers elect to use bridge designs for this project, though your students can design their bridges themselves. Kids will use toothpicks to create the bridge’s structure and an adhesive, such as glue, to hold everything together — some teachers like to bring back gumdrops for a tasty take on the project. Students will have to determine how much each material they need to create a stable and functional structure while staying within their material amount.
You can have students test the success of their bridges by judging how well they can hold objects of varying weights. Start with something light, like a pencil, and slowly add weight until you reach your heaviest item, like a textbook. Even though toothpicks are thin, a good design will support even heavy items. This activity can introduce kids to how structures like bridges can stand while supporting heavy objects.
Raise the stakes by making this a friendly competition between groups of students. Measure how much weight each team’s bridge can hold, and whoever’s holds the most while remaining intact wins.
7. Edible DNA
You can incorporate biology into your STEM activities for middle schoolers through this edible DNA activity. Students will look forward to working with candy in the classroom and you can introduce them to vital parts of the subject in a hands-on exercise.
In this project, you will need gumdrops, licorice strings and toothpicks. The licorice will act as the strands of DNA and the gumdrops will function as the genes attached to it. Everything will be secured by sticking the toothpicks through gumdrops at both ends. This activity can help your students visualize DNA and interact with the various components while discussing them and employing their creativity.
8. DIY Marble Runs
Your students can have another exercise in engineering by building marble runs across the classroom. In this exercise, students can learn how to support and move the marble from one side of the room to the other using elements of science that they learned in previous classes, like gravity and the laws of motion.
Different materials can be used for this exercise as with the egg drop loaders. You can either provide the materials for the activity or ask your students to bring in items they think may be helpful. Cutting paper towel rolls in half is an excellent way to create a track your students can use.
To make things more challenging, you can require your students to include specific elements, like hills or turns, to cause them to think and problem-solve as they determine how to get their marbles through those obstacles. You can time how long each student’s track takes to encourage them to find a way to make their tracks more efficient from friendly competition.
Integrating STEM Activities Into Middle School Playgrounds
Playgrounds are a great place for middle school kids to explore STEM subjects. Teachers can bring students outside to use the open spaces to conduct experiments if they need more room than the classroom can provide. Further, schools can invest in dynamic and innovative equipment to explore movement and other scientific concepts they learned in class.
Whether students are guided by teachers or explore by themselves, playground equipment can further classroom education in an environment where kids feel safe to test theories and observe results. Inclusive playground equipment allows students of all ages and abilities to play, explore and learn together.
Invest in Equipment That Inspires STEM With Miracle Recreation
Middle school is an excellent time to introduce kids to STEM. As students learn their strengths and explore their interests, teachers and faculty can help introduce kids to something they will become passionate about for the rest of their lives.
Our playground equipment allows kids to explore and apply STEM material they learn in the classroom to playtime. With thrilling and fun equipment, kids of all ages can interact with gravity, motion, force and other scientific principles as they play. This interactive equipment fits into the hands-on experience kids need when learning about STEM, so your students can also continue to learn outside the classroom.
Contact a Miracle Recreation representative today and discover how your school can benefit from Miracle playground equipment.