Here is my running list of websites that have wonderful STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) activities & projects for kids:
Several books have greatly contributed to the wealth of “How Things Work” knowledge my almost 12 year old son has accumulated over the last few years. It is amazing what he learns from these books!
Cool Stuff Exploded is my son’s favorite! It also comes with a CD that has some amazing animations. The book shows the insides of all kinds of modern technology by showing them taken apart – hence “exploded” - and explaining what each part does. It’s a pretty cool book I must admit!
Cool Stuff and How It Works is my son’s second favorite “How Things Work” book. It also has glossy images and explanations on so many of our modern gadgets and technologies.
The New Way Things Work is a favorite of mine! My son likes it too, but the other 2 books tend to cater to his love of the latest technologies & gadgets. I love David Macaulay’s books! They always get wonderful reviews on both content and illustrations. The New Way Things Work is wonderfully illustrated and is less about the latest modern gadgets & technologies and more about the machines and devices that form the basis of our modern technology. It covers simple machines and how they are used in larger scale items. For example, it explains (and illustrates) how levers work and are used in bicycle brakes and hydraulic platforms, or how the wheel and axle works and is used in hydroelectric turbines. It covers floating, flying, pressure power, exploiting heat, nuclear power, light, images, photography, printing, sound & music, telecommunications, electricity, magnetism, sensors & detectors, and the digital domain (computer, storage, logic processors, software, modems & robotics).
In my opinion, all three of these are wonderful books oozing with “kid-cool” knowledge for their thirsty brains to absorb like a sponge…
Want to get your child’s building and engineering juices flowing? Try these wonderful books. I, personally, own each one of these books and use them with my own kids.
Steven Caney’s Ultimate Building Book is one of the best ever building books for kids. It uses very accessible building materials such as q-tips, newspaper, pasta, cardboard, straws, sugar cubes, string, plastic wrap, gum drops, sponges, paper bags, and the list goes on and on. It even contains PVC playhouses and art stands. If I had to recommend just one building book for kids, it would be this one because of the huge variety of projects and the accessibility of materials.
Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare is a great book, for all kids – but especially a Tween Boy! They will learn engineering & physics without even knowing it! It uses readily available items such as paper clips, plastic spoons, clothes pins, etc. My son loves this book! He is always building little contraptions out of household things.
Howtoons: The Possibilities Are Endless! has fun building & engineering projects presented in a comic book format for kids. My kids built the marshmallow gun from PVC pipe and camoflauged their guns with Sharpie Markers. Their marshmallow guns not only work well with mini marshmallows, but also work great with Nerf gun suction darts. Imagine the fun!
Bridges: Amazing Structures to Design, Build & Test (Kaleidoscope Kids) is a great way for kids to learn the engineering & physics behind bridges by trying out different bridge designs and learning the design’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as why.
Google SketchUp is a fabulous 3D Modeling tool to introduce to your kids. SketchUp is a tool your child could use throughout their school and college career, on into the adult workforce and life. It is versatile & powerful, so it can be used for a myriad of purposes. You can even model things for Google Earth with it! With SketchUp you can model anything you can imagine!
Google has provided excellent training videos on SketchUp. And best of all, it’s all FREE. To get started with Google SketchUp follow these steps:
- Watch Make Ideas Real With SketchUp to get an idea of what SketchUp can do. It’s pretty cool!
- (Go full screen when watching the following videos) On that same page, watch the 4 videos “Getting Started with SketchUp” Part 1 – Part 4 (in order).
- Now Download and install Google SketchUp.
- Start Google SketchUp and try out some of what you learned. Can’t remember everything? Try viewing the videos while running SketchUp, and actually doing the actions at the same time in SketchUp. You can always pause the video and go back to anything you missed and repeat it. It is fun and easy to learn! Here are individual links to each video on YouTube:
- Get Started with SketchUp – Part 1
- Get Started with SketchUp – Part 2
- Get Started with SketchUp – Part 3
- Get Started with SketchUp – Part 4
- To expand you knowledge on SketchUp, here are other training videos. You have done the first 4 under New to Google SketchUp. View the Google SketchUp Toolbar Series videos under New to Google SketchUp. Then, proceed to other video sections in the order listed:
- To keep up with the latest on SketchUp, follow the Google Sketchup Blog.
Have fun with SketchUp and please let me know how it goes!!
Here are links to some free programming environments & tools geared towards elementary & middle school kids. I introduced them in the order listed:
Elementary School Age (4th & 5th graders) & Early Middle School (6th grade):
Note: My 3rd grade daughter plays with Scratch, so younger kids can do it. It just depends on the kid. My experience at a local elementary school was that 5th graders seem to pick it up easier than 4th graders, but the 4th graders got it with a little more help. For the best way to learn Scratch using free web resources, see my Scratch Tutorial.
Middle School (6th – 8th grade)
Once your child has a good grasp on programming with these tools, you could introduce them to Arduino which is, basically, a programmable microprocessor/circuit board. It’s not free ($85), but it is way COOL! My geek momness is coming out…. We purchased ARDX – v1.3 Experimentation Kit for Arduino for my 11 year old son. Ben had a lot of fun building and coding the blinking LED. Coming soon… an Arduino tutorial on the best way of learning to use and program the Arduino utilizing free web resources.
These sites are wonderful for giving your child a little extra help in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math:
As a software engineer, I wanted to introduce my children to computer programming concepts in a way that was fun. Scratch fit that quest. Scratch is a free graphical, drag and drop style, programming language for elementary & middle school age kids written by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It is a wonderful way to introduce your child to the concepts of computer programming! Not only did I use it with my own kids, who loved it, but I also piloted a summer fun programming series with 4th and 5th grade students at a local elementary school. Over the summer, I emailed the kids detailed instructions each week and, of course, answered any questions via email. At the end of the programming series, the children had learned enough about Scratch to head off on their own. They also had a very cool program, which they wrote themselves, to show off to their family, friends and teachers. Most all of the students reported back that they loved it! Many went on to create some neat projects of their own.