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Picture of STEM Based Extension Projects for Young Engineering Minds

STEM, STEAM, coding, engineering design, there are definitely a lot of buzzwords zipping about the education world. Sadly, these words are often used as just that, buzzwords, and that is all. So often I have seen "STEM-based" projects that really are just arts and crafts projects with very little science, technology, engineering, or mathematic principals involved. Don't get me wrong, slime is cool and all but I think it's best that we stop grouping it into the STEM world. My students have always shown a desire to build things and use tools. Anytime I take out a Dremel, drill, hand saw, or even hammer many of them get extraordinarily excited and say "You're going to let us use tools? My parents never let me use tools." Now, I don't know how true that is, but nonetheless they get excited when the tools are brought out for a project.

I typically do more hands-on, project-based learning than any other form of education throughout the school year. Although, I will sometimes front load the project with information pertaining to the curriculum, there are more times than not that I will simply give the kids a few parameters and then let them loose. The problem with this style of teaching is that I often have multiple classes with upwards of 30 kids in a class. Thirty 7th grade students and sharp tools can be problematic under the right (or wrong) conditions. After a project that really would engage the students (like building miniature electromagnetic motors) I would a fair number of students who would want to go a step further or build a larger model, or even install it into a car. With varied talents, abilities, efforts, and overall educational prowess, differentiating for projects like this can become impossible. That, coupled with state required standards, standardized tests, and district wide initiatives leaves very little bonus time to extend projects. But, how could I stifle interest in engineering and design?

What I decided to do is create a set of projects that would allow students to take the designing and building to their home so that they can work at their own pace and explore the lessons that most interest them. I call these projects very simply "extension projects" and have a number of classroom incentives that accompany them. I created 14 of these projects and they span the gamut of science and engineering. The way I incentivize the projects is by:

1 - Providing extra credit for completed projects

2 - Allowing students to communicate their completed work with their peers in the classroom

3 - Providing key components for their projects (wiring, motors, propeller blades, etc...)

4 - Giving end of the year awards out to any students who complete a certain number of the projects

I do not provide extra credit in any other form and this system has worked for the past eight years with no problem. I teach two separate years of science, sixth grade and seventh grade. I will often have kids that cycle through two years in my classroom so I made a total of 14 projects so that the students could pick seven out during each year if they wanted to do them all. I have an open date for the projects where students decide on which project they want to do, complete the necessary research for the project, get the project approved during a short meeting with me, and finally receive supplies that I can provide them with. The project then has a closing date where the student has to turn in their final form of communication and, if necessary, the physical project. There are three forms of communication I allow the students to use for the projects:

1 - Create an instructional Youtube video that shows the process from design, to building, to testing the project.

2 - Create an Instructable that clearly shows the entire design, build, and testing procedures.

3 - Create a graphic poster that clearly shows the entire building process and testing of the project.

I like providing choices since each student has their specific skills and abilities, and not all kids like to create a video or create something seen by anyone on the internet. The one form of communication I do not allow are slideshows. No offense, but they are often pretty boring and quickly lose the interest of the class if they are not done correctly. I typically will spend a class period at the start of the year discussing how the extension projects work and how to use Youtube to publish videos (after getting parent consent) and helping kids get logged into Instructables through our school Google accounts. We talk about what makes a good Instructable, how to upload pictures, and how to use the rubric I provide to insure all parts are included.

What I am providing here are the links to all fourteen of the extension projects I have designed along with some examples of how students have communicated their efforts. Some of these are Youtube videos and some are Instructables. I will provide a few examples of what the graphic posters look like too. My hope is that this will inspire more teachers, parents, and students to get kids working with tools and building awesome stuff!

Just as a reference please check out my website for the complete list of projects.

Step 1: Getting Organized

One of the most important things about doing these projects is that you have to stay extremely organized throughout the year for both your own sake and for your student's sake. I typically have 100 to 120 students in a school year and have had upwards of fifteen kids complete a project at one time. With fourteen different projects and fifteen kids completing them it could become a logistical nightmare. What I have done to prevent this is creating a similar pattern with all of the projects. The rubrics, initial information, design process, and overall format are very similar throughout. I post all fourteen projects on to my website so the kids can peruse them and find ones they are interested in. Once a project "opens" they have a specific amount of time to bring in their plans and research to get approval (usually about 2 weeks). I created a simple spreadsheet to keep track of each student's project for each opening date. I have seven total opening dates throughout the school year and I give the kids the challenge to complete as many as they can up to seven. Any students who complete six or seven projects is awarded at the end of the year. Typically I get the PTO to help out with a small token of appreciation for the scientific efforts. In years past I have purchased infrared thermometers, mirascopes, LED pocket microscopes, and the like, which is also a good incentive for the kids to do the projects. I mark all of their completed projects on their license to learn cards that we make at the beginning of the year. This lets the student see their own progress and also shows the progress to their peers, hopefully encouraging a few of them to jump in on the fun.

Each project is broken into the same parts, which keeps things consistent for both your sake and the student's, they are as follows:

1 - Introduction of the project with some basic, but important information about this specific project along with details about the research necessary for the project.

2 - A design section so that the student can clearly identify what the project will look like, what tools will be necessary, what skills are needed, and how they expect the project to work.

3 - A section for your approval signature after you review the work with the student to problem solve and troubleshoot any areas you expect them to encounter.

4 - An explanation of what they are expected to record while building the project and how they plan on communicating the images / videos.

5 - A rubric for each of the three forms of communication. I use a grading system I created that uses a speedometer and a number of other unique factors. I use this same grading system for all assignments throughout the year so they are very used to the set up.

That's about it, let's get on to the projects! For each project I will first post a link to the document I have created along with some examples of previously completed projects.

This is all brilliant! This truly engages students in hands-on STEM!
Thank you so much, I am happy you like them and I hope that you get to implement some in your classroom! Happy summer!!
Covo made it!3 months ago
Finished products...
ctstarkdesigns (author)  Covo2 months ago
Excellent work! They all look fantastic. What did you end up having the kids do with them? Another cool piece of software I use with the sundials and my seasons unit is
It's free and fantastic to use to explain the changing length of daylight throughout the year. Thanks for sharing your work!
Covo made it!3 months ago
“Make a sundial” activity was phenomenal. Plan to incorporate this into my yearly activities as part of “seasons” unit!
AllanA23 months ago
Thank you for your guidance has to how I may approach my STEM students next year. Some great ideas.
Now if I can just get them from stop dropping the tools.
ctstarkdesigns (author)  AllanA23 months ago
You're welcome! Thanks for the comment.
nedchurch3 months ago
I have to agree with your comment about how teachers typically look at STEM and turn it into art and craft particularly as in New Zealand we call it STEAM (includes "A" for art). While there's lots of learning skills like measuring, cutting and gluing most of the thinking that I see/hear is around how to decorate it. I have been teaching technology/science for years to the equivalent of grades 3 to 6 and love to see the excitement that you see when you start getting saws and hammers and soldering irons out. I really like the way you have posted some great open ended projects that include research, planning, resourcing, making and testing. The kids get to choose their pathway rather than the "make a ... by following these instructions" approach.
I have just retired but still get to go into school and work part time and give the kids and other teachers the benefit of my year's of experience
Keep up the great work.
ctstarkdesigns (author)  nedchurch3 months ago
Thank you so much for the encouraging words and I am happy that you have seen that same excitement when the tools come out. Enjoy your retirement and your time working with the students!
Thank you for sharing these Extension Projects! It's great to see how you are inspiring your students to design and build all of these awesome things and how they tackle the challenges that naturally occur during their builds. Your passion for teaching really shines through in this instructable! Thank you for doing all that you do!!!
ctstarkdesigns (author)  WeTeachThemSTEM3 months ago
I have another four projects I am going to try posting before before school gets out... invisible ink lab, a full month-long lesson plan I created on the moon, something I call Invertebrate Insanity (, and a green screen project on National Parks. Thanks again for the comments!
Sounds like a set of awesome projects that would also be great to enter into the Classroom Science Contest. :) I'm looking forward to checking them out when you get them posted. Your projects are always fun and inspiring!
ctstarkdesigns (author)  WeTeachThemSTEM3 months ago
You are so welcome! I hope they come in handy. Thank you for the kind words and encouragement. I am very proud of my student's work and really appreciate the positive feedback. More importantly, I love seeing them get excited about building things. Thanks again!
Covo3 months ago
Wow... I cannot agree more on your interpretation of STEM activities. I am teaching MS summer school this summer and plan on using AT LEAST 2 of your ideas. Thanks for the handouts!!! I’ll post projects.
ctstarkdesigns (author)  Covo3 months ago
Thank you so much! I am happy you are able to use a couple of the projects and please do post anything you and the students work on, I would love to see it. Happy upcoming summer!
audreyobscura3 months ago
Impressive collection of projects!
ctstarkdesigns (author)  audreyobscura3 months ago