5 Benefits of Using STEM in the Upper Elementary Classroom

It is more important than ever to give our upper elementary students the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in today’s rapidly changing world. STEM challenges, which integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have become an increasingly popular way to engage elementary students in hands-on learning experiences that will prepare them for what lies ahead. Whether you are just dipping your toe into the waters of STEM education, or you’ve already implemented it in your own classroom, keep reading to learn 5 benefits of using STEM in the upper elementary classroom.

Create a Love for Learning

STEM challenges can make otherwise boring topics exciting and relevant. Take the rock cycle, for example. Learning about the three types of rocks may not be enthralling, but designing a rock that is hard to the touch and true to its type using only pebbles, soil, sand, clay, white glue, and plastic wrap? Suddenly the rock cycle makes you a rock star. By engaging your students in practical, hands-on learning activities you will help them discover the joy of exploration and a love for learning.

If you would like to rock rocks, check out my Rock Designer STEM challenge, here.

Develop Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

The open-ended nature of a STEM challenge encourages students to think critically about real-world problems in order to create a logical solution. Teaching 2+2 is easy, but teaching students to think critically and creatively is not nearly as black and white. There are often many paths that can lead to the completion of a STEM challenge, so students must use trial and error to determine their next steps. STEM challenges offer a safe space for students to make these mistakes, analyze their errors, and learn from them. As teachers, can we ask for anything more?

Encourage Collaboration and Communication

We’ve all heard the saying, “two heads are better than one.” But have you heard the saying, “three heads are better than two?” It’s true! Our young students often forget the benefits of sharing and working together, but STEM challenges are a great way to get students communicating effectively and working respectfully toward a common goal. Perhaps two students disagree about how to create the tallest tower that will withstand an earthquake using only toothpicks, craft sticks, rubber bands, building blocks and tape. (This is a fun one, by the way!) A little lesson in compromise from you will have them collaborating again in no time.

Check out this popular Earthquake STEM Challenge!

Promotes Hands-On Learning

One of the greatest advantages of using STEM challenges in your classroom is the hands-on nature. Students get a break from traditional textbooks and worksheets to explore concepts they are learning about in a real-life scenario. By building, conducting experiments, or designing prototypes, your students will develop a deeper understanding of the concept. Bonus? Studies show that when students actively engage in hands-on learning, they retain 93.5% in comparison to only 79% retained by passive learning activities. Talk about learning that sticks!

Instill a Growth Mindset

Let’s face it, learning can be tough. Our students often get discouraged when they get something “wrong,” or they just don’t understand. Providing students with opportunities to make mistakes is so valuable in helping your students to develop a growth mindset. Use STEM challenges in your upper elementary classroom to teach your students that mistakes are learning opportunities, not failures. Helping your students to develop a growth mindset will not only help them succeed in STEM challenges, it will also give them the confidence to tackle challenges that arise in future learning. Win-win.  

STEM challenges can provide an incredibly powerful learning experience that will leave a lasting impact on your students. From developing critical thinking skills, to working collaboratively, and encouraging a growth mindset, there are simply so many benefits. If you haven’t already tried using STEM challenges in your elementary classroom, don’t wait! Your students will thank you for providing them with such a memorable learning experience.    

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Hi, I’m Tara!​

Hi, I’m Tara! I’m a third-grade teacher, curriculum creator, and lover of all things literacy. I’m on a mission to help elementary teachers by sharing ideas that will engage your students and inspire your teaching. So, take a look around. I’m so glad that you’re here!

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