For the last 8 years, I have been the coach of the Destination Imagination team at my elementary school. This is a problem solving and creative competition for kindergartners up to college age. The problem with all of this is that we could only have 7 students involved in this program, which is an amazing size but doesn’t have a very big impact when so many students are craving extra-curricular activities. My school doesn’t have a ton of after-school activities, so we wanted to maximize the number of students involved, which is why I wanted to start a STEAM Club in my school.
When I first decided that I wanted to begin a STEAM Club, I wasn’t really sure where to begin. One of the problems that we did in Destination Imagination was an engineering problem, where students had to build a structure out of balsa wood that would hold as much weight as possible, so I had a little experience with a project, but this was clearly not enough experience or expertise to run a full year program for 20 kids.
After getting approval from my admin to run the club, as well as getting a small budget to purchase materials, I turned to the internet for help. I didn’t really find very much to help me, so I started making my own plan.
I came up with an outline for the year of things that I wanted to cover.
Here was my initial plan broken down into topics I wanted to focus on:
- Design Principles / Architecture
- Wind Energy
- Solar Energy
I knew these were my goals, mainly due to the fact that I thought these big-picture topics would fit in nicely with 3rd and 4th grade Next Generation Science Standards, and by the way, I was planning on having only the 3rd/4th grade students signing up for the club. (More information about these projects is below)
Getting Students Signed Up
After I had an idea of the projects/topics I wanted to cover, I started getting students signed up. I went around to all of the 3rd and 4th-grade classes in my school and discussed what STEAM Club would look like. I also passed out sign-up forms, which students and parents had to sign and bring back to me if they had an interest in the club. You can find this letter, as well as the acceptance letter here.
My initial thought was that I would have third grade STEAM Club on Tuesday afternoons and fourth grade STEAM Club on Thursday afternoons, but I was SUPER surprised when I had over 70 kids return their forms to me in the coming days. In all, I had around 35 kids from both 3rd and 4th grades. This was WAY too many kids for me to handle, especially with a club that I STILL really didn’t have any idea how to run! HA!
So, I decided to split the group up into thirds. On Tuesday, I had only third graders, on Wednesday I had a mix of kids from 3rd/4th, and on Thursday, I had only 4th-grade students. For this first year, there was no way I was going to plan different lessons for each day, so I decided that I would use the same projects for all of the groups. This will be an issue for the kids who continue on next year in 4th grade, but I will come up with some new projects next year. One thing at a time, right? 🙂
The First Meeting
During the first meeting, we went over rules, routine, and an overview of what it was we would be working on throughout the year, or at least, what I thought we would be doing. Things definitely changed, but it was a good attempt at an overview for students. Here is a copy of the Google Slides presentation that I discussed with students on the first day. Please make a copy and modify for your use.
We also did an ice breaker on this first day, just to get to know one another a bit.
The first project we completed was a STEAM tower. I know, this sounds corny, mainly because EVERYONE does this project, and it really didn’t have a ton to do with what I wanted to teach students, but I did this for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wanted to see how students worked with one another in each session. It was great to use a simple project that wasn’t too overwhelming for me and to learn the dynamics of the kids.
This is the first project I used:
The kids had a lot of fun with this project and they were super excited to come back the next week!
Throughout the rest of the year, we completed many other projects connected to science standards. Here is a list of my favorite projects that you can tweak and modify, but are totally appropriate for a first-year STEAM Club:
- Test Track– Students must build a car made entirely out of paper. They need to make the car as aerodynamic as possible through their designs. Check this out here.
- Cardboard Circuits– Students use cardboard and a few other supplies to create cardboard Christmas trees. We spent a few weeks with this project, as we built up bigger circuits and creates Christmas trees with more lights and multiple batteries. Check this out here.
- Reading-Linked Escape Room- One week, we took a break from engineering tasks and used problem-solving skills to break out of an escape room that was connected to Wreck of the Zephyr, by Chris Van Allsburg. The kids had a blast with this project. Check this project out here.
- Balsa Wood Engineering Towers– During this project, I purchase packs of balsa, which students used to build their towers. We learned about engineering principals online, watched multiple videos, and worked for a few weeks to design these towers from just wood and glue. We then placed weights on top of the structures to see how much each design would hold. Again, this is a multi-week project that takes a lot of time, dedication, and effort on the students’ part. Here is the wood I purchased for this project.
- Wiggle and Doodle Bots– My kids were 100% obsessed with this project! They make a small robot using a circuit, recycled materials, and the materials that came with this kit. They are on the pricey side, but I grouped students together to work on this doodle-bot. The kids loved trying to create a robot that made an awesome design with makers! This project took us approximately 4 weeks to complete, due to the fact that students wanted to continue making edits to the design to make the robot even more awesome. You can grab these kits here: Wiggle/Doodle Bots.
- Sail Car Vehicles– This is another favorite project of the kids. They loved learning about wind power and sail cars in real life. After watching many YouTube videos, we made our very own sail cars and then tested, re-engineered the sails to make them go even farther, and then tested again. The engineering process was a natural part of this project, which we discussed on multiple occasions. Snag the Sail Car kits here.
I had a few other ideas for projects, but the ones listed above is what we got through. You will also find that each of the projects takes different amounts of time depending on the group of kids. It was fairly difficult to keep the 3rd and 4th graders on the same time frame, as the 4th graders worked much faster than 3rd graders. I just added extra pieces of the project for 4th graders to differentiate in an effort to keep all students on the same schedule.
What I have learned…
Running a STEAM Club is hard work and time-consuming. Rewarding? Yes, but time-consuming, no doubt. I probably wouldn’t do much different if I had to start all over again, and honestly, I would probably keep all of the same projects, too.
The kids enjoyed all of the projects in a different way, and I was able to loosely connect every single project to a set of reading, writing, art, and science standards.
If you are just getting started, I would warn you to not overwhelm yourself with a large group of students. Having three days of STEAM Club, almost every single week from November until June is a HUGE time commitment, but the kids really did enjoy their time in the club and I enjoyed my time with students, thinking, growing, and learning how to be a STEAM coach.
PLEASE ask any questions you have and bounce ideas off of one another. I would love to hear your experiences, what you are planning, and the projects you are completing with your groups!
Enjoy and happy teaching!
Here are a few more pictures of the projects we completed: