Sunday, January 25, 2015

Push and Pull STEM Activity

Are you doing STEM in your school? It's a big thing now-a-days, isn't it? I had heard about it. I had even done a little research in my grad program about it. Had I done it? I didn't think so. To me, it was one of those buzz words that I thought one day I would figure out. Then right before the holiday break my school was given a STEM grant and now its all the talk in the building. Well, and that I'm on the STEM committee so I keep having meetings about it. Maybe that's why I keep hearing about it. :)

Anyway, I needed to know more in order to be a participant in the committee. I already knew that STEM stood for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I knew that there was a big push to help young people become more interested in these areas. I did some research and learned that, "Cultivating STEM literacy is associated with developing and using 21st century skills in individuals’ daily life endeavors. Through the development of these skills, the next generation will be equipped with the skills needed to solve their daily problems and to contribute to meeting the ever-changing needs of their society" (Sahin, Ayar, Adiguzel, 2014, p. 310). I had to break this down to 1st grade basics.

At the time we were learning about force and motion so I decided to use that as a building block. If the STEM part didn't work out, at least we were learning something. I have to be honest, I didn't know if this was really a STEM activity. Nothing is being built (which is what I keep seeing when I search for activities). I consulted my engineer husband and he said this is a basic force activity. The kiddos are using materials and learning how they work, the beginning stages of engineering. I  need exactly this for growing minds. I decided that since they are being critical thinkers, problem solving, using oral and written communication, collaborating, analyzing, and using creativity and imagination (all of the 21st century skills) that I would consider this a STEM activity for first graders.

Here is what we did:
First, I took the materials and put them in bags for each group. I used a floral stone, popsicle stick, string (cut to about 8 inches), and a straw (cut in half to save supplies) for each member. All of these things can be purchased from the dollar store. I prepped this the night before the activity.
On the day of the activity, I put the kiddos into pairs and challenged them to move the stone without touching it with their hands. Before beginning, they had to look at their materials and create a question, a hypothesis, and design a plan. It was a little tricky because most of them had no idea what they would do with the string or rubber band. (Scroll to the bottom for a freebie of the handout I used.)

Next, they investigated and tried out their plans. I gave them black construction paper to use to help them see their stone since I had gotten the clear ones.
When I was thinking of this, my plan was to tie the string around the stone and pull it that way. None of the kiddos even did that. They had simpler ideas than I did. Of course... the mind of a 6 year old.
Sorry for the blurriness. This is the only good picture I have of using the rubber band. After a couple minutes of investigating, one boy came over to me and said he didn't think the rubber band was good to include because some people might use it as a sling shot and fling the stone across the room. I reminded him that you couldn't touch the stone with your hands so that wouldn't work anyway (and luckily there were no flying stones in my room). I don't have any pictures of using the popsicle stick, but I'm sure you can imagine how you could push and pull with that.

Here is a video of a little girl using the string to push and pull the stone. I have to warn you that it isn't the best quality video. This is the best I could do with my iPhone.

At first, the kiddos were using the straw to push and pull the stone the same way they used the popsicle stick. Then one person blew into the straw to move their stone with their air. Boy, that got around quick and was the most fun part. 

Once the challenge was complete, partners went back to their seats to record their findings and state whether or not their hypothesis was correct. Click on either of the images below for free copy of the challenge and the recording sheet. (Note: The free download does not have the VA Science SOL listed on it.)

Until I learn more, I'm still on the fence as to whether this is true STEM. What I do know is that my class used 21st century skills to learn more about force, and they came up with how all on their own. I hope your kiddos have as much fun with this activity as mine did.

Best wishes!
Sahin, A., Ayar, M. & Adiguzel, T. (2014). STEM Related After-School Program Activities and Associated Outcomes on Student Learning. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 14(1), 309-322


  1. I'm just beginning to plan our First Grade Physics unit - beginning with force and motion. I love the experiment you came up with - so simple, yet so meaningful to learning. Thanks!

    1. You're so welcome! I hope your kiddos have as much fun with it as mine did. I've had some of my students request to do it again, months afterward.

  2. Such a great idea! I can't wait to do this with my kids next week!

  3. Love this activity! I am trying to introduce STEM to my first graders and I think this activity will be perfect for them.