Teaching STEM to first graders is one way teachers are stimulating a lifelong interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

At Owasso’s Mills Elementary School in Oklahoma, a science fair introduced parents to young children’s STEM projects, and aimed to increase the awareness of STEM fields and opportunities among families.

Many teachers at Mills believe that STEM should be introduced to students in kindergarten. Rather than introducing complicated formulas or computer programs, teaching STEM to first graders involves encouraging creative thinking so that students recognize systems and see potential uses for items in their surroundings.

When first graders learn web based coding, it begins with taping cutout shapes together on a sheet of paper.  Later, they connect information typed into a program. Building blocks are also useful, being stacked up, lined up, and arranged in ways to make a structure sturdier.  Later, this will emerge as building bridges and testing them for strength.

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“To them, it’s just tinkering or playing,” said reading specialist Lori Brandt, who helped to coordinate the science fair event, commenting on teaching STEM to young children. “And they might not realize yet how much learning they’re actually doing.

“It’s all exploration, some of it’s guided, some not, and they’re learning in a new way. You can’t show this on a test, but it’s very logical, real-life thinking.”

Last year, first graders were introduced to daily activity bins which hold popsicle sticks and plastic cups. Students can  play with them at the start of the school day. It is a warm up for creative activities and guided exploration.

“These activities incorporate the relationship between thinking and doing,” Brandt said. “The same way students will need to use it later in their education.”

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