Guide to K-12 STEM Resources for Teachers

 student learning science



STEM is used in the classroom as the most integrated focus of study in four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Teachers can apply STEM in their teaching programs by focusing on lesson plans that garner innovative thinking techniques among their students, as well as interactive learning activities.

The importance of STEM from early on in education is reflected in the following statistics from the U.S. Department of Education:

  • Only 16 percent of high school students are interested in a STEM career and are skilled in mathematics
  • Just 28 percent of high school freshman state interest in a STEM subject to pursue in higher education
  • Fifty-seven percent of these students are predicted to lose interest by the time they graduate from high school

The U.S. Department of Labor shows that 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations need advanced science or mathematics knowledge to be a competitive candidate for employment. At the same time, students are choosing to pursue areas of study that are not STEM. In fact, 50 percent fewer students enroll in undergraduate STEM degree programs in computer sciences compared to only five years ago according to the Computing Research Association.

However, the need for jobs in the STEM fields is clear. It is predicted by STEMconnector.org that 8.65 million jobs will exist in 2018. There is a huge shortage in potential candidates for these jobs, about 600,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the breakdown of STEM careers include:

  • 71% Computer
  • 16% Engineering
  • 7% Physical Sciences
  • 4% Life Sciences
  • 2% Mathematics

STEM is heavily relied upon in our society today, as this program of education defines the way our future leaders see the world and work together. It is a paradigm of problem solving that gives students the tools to thrive in a highly competitive global economy.


Benefits of STEM Education

One element of STEM that is different from traditional teaching of science and math is that it integrates various subjects.

Previously, mathematics and science were taught as two separate subjects with technology added in as a subtopic. However, the STEM movement joins together all three subjects and makes them a core emphasis of education.

Life skills that children gain from the learnings of STEM programs are:

  • Problem-solving - it is dramatically more developed in students who learn STEM thanks to the focus on framing problems as puzzles, allowing students to analyze and form conclusions on their own.
  • Creativity and innovation – these characteristics are evoked within students who study in STEM programs as their ability to independently work and think are encouraged in their studies. By creating and designing solutions, students learn how to be not only more logical thinkers, but also creative inventors, as well.
  • Collaborative skillset - these students excel in group settings, participation in Socratic seminar-style classroom environments, and in interpersonal relationships.

Succeeding in elementary school throughout high school and moving on to complete a four-year degree in higher education can automatically place a candidate in the higher end of the salary bracket for a STEM job.

A starting salary for an entry-level employee in a STEM job is 26 percent higher than a job in a non-STEM field

Currently, there is a shortage of STEM graduates and a high demand for opportunities in this field.

Each phase of education offers particular skills and benefits through teaching curriculum.


STEM for Elementary Students

STEM education in elementary school includes introductory-level STEM courses, as well as a basic introduction to the STEM fields and occupations that they offer. This is a critical step in a child’s STEM education since it is their first experience with the field.

The goal is to allow students to learn about STEM fields and for them to form natural interest in the subjects, rather than having the subjects forced on them. It is important at this age to provide interactive lessons that show students the fun side of the STEM coursework.

There is the largest gap in STEM teaching in elementary education. Twenty-nine percent of K-5 teachers report that they teach science on two or less days a week according to the State Technology Educators Association.


young science student


Popular Lesson Plans for Elementary School Teachers

  • Moon Basketball vs. Earth Basketball: This lesson is an engaging way to show the gravitational pull on mass. The gravity of the moon that causes ocean tides, Newton’s Second Law, forward motion, and more are shown in the differences between moon and Earth basketball.
  • All About Codes: This lesson teaches students how alphanumeric symbols can be encoded for communication purposes. Children make up their own codes with a set number of symbols, and attempt to break each other’s codes and decipher the relationship among encryption and shared keys.
  • Funology: Perfect for parents to inspire their kids with interactive STEM activities. Activities range from crafts and recipes to trivia and games.
  • Kids do Ecology: This lesson provides students the opportunity to learn about ecology through classroom projects and data science. There is a Spanish alternative as well.
  • Weather Wiz Kids: This online curriculum is designed to teach students the world of weather. It breaks out the various categories for all kinds of weather and describes experiments that students can try at home.

Earth Day and Young STEM Students

A great opportunity to engage young learners in STEM is Earth Day. There are plenty of ways to celebrate Earth Day as a classroom while educating your students on earth science and the importance of caring for the environment around them. Environmental science and engineering are two core focuses of an Earth Day activity, such as this lesson plan that educates on waste.

Students learn how decaying organic matter can be reused and turned into a source of energy. They can brainstorm ways that old materials, such as metal and plastic, can be used again as a resource. Explain how large amounts of waste can be converted into energy in a controlled environment, such as a landfill which can create enough methane gas that can be used for energy

The key is that food decay leads to gas, which ultimately leads to energy that fuels the world we live in. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover” is a great message to demonstrate to students on Earth Day. You can end your lesson by mentioning the process of composting as an additional way to recover and reuse resources while also being mindful of the environment. This is an educational, eco-friendly way to show your students STEM subject matter can be interesting and applicable to their lives.


STEM Ideas for Middle School Students

Courses become more rigorous and challenging in middle school STEM classwork. Students are well aware of STEM subjects and job opportunities in the future that are available to them, and they tend to already have an awareness of their interest in the topics at this stage.

school computer lab


Popular Plans for Middle School STEM Lessons

  • Beach Erosion: Saving our Shores:  Students learn about coastal erosion, both its causes and effects. Then the role of engineers come into play, as this lesson shows how they protect shorelines by applying engineering design into structures and policies to reduce erosion on our shores.
  • Soil Biosolarization: In this lesson, students learn about sustainable pest control and techniques like soil biosolarization that uses organic waste as an agricultural engineer. Engineers apply science and math to create sustainable and eco-friendly processes. Through this lesson, students become familiar with these processes.
  • Fun with Bernoulli: Engineers understand Bernoulli’s principle and manipulate air pressure by utilizing it. Students can use this principle in a series of fun activities so that they can observe its influence on objects around them, from helicopters to blimps.
  • Kids Ahead: Students learn about the cool side of STEM through videos, articles and activities. There is also a job board for students to learn about potential careers in the math and science field.
  • Sally Ride Science: Sally Ride was the first female astronaut and this site is dedicated to providing lesson plans that enhance STEM education. It promotes STEM literacy by providing STEM books and free lesson plans. It also utilizes virtual reality for a unique and fun experience!
  • PBS SciGirls: This resource provides free videos that follow the life of a different group of middle school girls in each episode as they learn about the exciting future in the STEM field. It is a great resource to introduce middle school girls to the vast potential of career opportunities available.

Example STEM Lesson for Middle School Students

One example of a lesson plan for middle school-aged students that develops STEM skillsets is the Car Balloon Experiment. This is an engaging project that excites students.

Objectives: When the car is built, mimicking the way real cars are, it is fueled forward by the air that rushes out from the balloon, causing the car to propel forward.

  • The principle at work is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which describes the equal and opposite reaction of every action.
  • The movement of the car is the reaction, powered by kinetic energy. This lesson illustrates potential energy, kinetic energy, and Newton’s Third Law of Motion, while allowing students to build and make their own creation.

Click here for the full plan of the Car Balloon Experiment.


STEM Projects for High School Students

By high school, students begin to study the application of the subjects of STEM. Courses are offered in STEM fields and occupations, as well as more intensive preparation for postgraduate coursework in these subjects.


notebook and electronic parts


Popular Lesson Plans for High School STEM Students

  • Urban Planning: Map the Green Space: As students observe the environmental standards of their own community, they learn about urban planning by taking a walk around the neighborhood. The lesson encourages students to understand an area’s eco-friendly strengths and weaknesses.
  • Tech Rocket: This site is designed for students 10-18 years old and will introduce them to the various types of programming such as Python, iOS, Java, and Minecraft. They also offer courses on game design and graphic design.
  • Arrick Robotics:  This site provides resources and manuals for robotics. It provides a comprehensive overview for robotics enthusiasts from beginners to experts. They provide resources on robotic competitions and contests allowing students the opportunity to build and battle their bots.
  • Code Academy:  A free interactive resource designed to help students learn to code. Students that have the ability to code will be in higher demand as the future career opportunities will cater more toward these individuals.
  • Student Science:  This resource provides science news for students in an effort to build a society for science. It offers a blog for “students who compete”.

Example Engineering Lesson for High School Students

A hands-on experiment for high schoolers to perform through STEM curriculum is developing wind power for a home.

Objective: Students learn how engineers generate energy by harnessing the wind through specially designed wind turbines, as well as where to place the wind turbines for maximum energy harnessing.

  • Students will be able to effectively describe how wind turbines transfer energy into electricity.
  • They’ll identify different types of wind turbines and understand the differences between them and their purposes.
  • Evaluate wind power advantages over other energy sources, and to be able to use the engineering design process to innovate their own wind turbine prototype.

Click here for the full lesson plan for creating wind power at home.

Engineering is the core focus of this lesson plan, as they are responsible for developing, designing, testing, and improving the ways electricity is generated for many uses within society today, such as for homes and businesses.

A fantastic element of this lesson is that it even delves into the types of engineering, such as civil, mechanical, and electrical, as they all play a part in designing and testing wind turbines. They work in tandem to determine locations for wind farms based on conditions of the area.


Additional STEM Resources for Teachers

There are many credible associations that offer STEM resources for teachers to utilize when modeling their curriculum for STEM subjects.

NASA for Educators

NASA has made a commitment to “investing in the Nation’s education programs and supporting the country’s educators who play a key role in preparing, inspiring, exciting, encouraging, and nurturing the young minds of today who will be the workforce of tomorrow.”

NASA provides hundreds of resources specific to various subjects and grade levels that assist in the lesson planning process.

See more at https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/index.html


Exploratorium is a learning laboratory that designs teaching tools for K-12. They offer professional development opportunities for teachers and interactive resources for students that make STEM courses more entertaining and engaging.

The core elements for teachers to know when considering Exploratorium are:

  • Its philosophy: to inspire through phenomena, and exploration.
  • Its mission: it works to shape the way the world learns and to empower equal learning globally. Exploratorium aims to influence the design of learning environments all over the world.
  • Its process: research and dialogue are integral to innovating and creating, as well as pausing to evaluate the learning process itself to always be making improvements accordingly.

This framework encourages inclusion in learning, to allow students to be engaged and interact with exhibits and in afterschool settings. It encourages students to ask questions and observe science, like biology and space, and to participate in workshops.

Discover more ideas at https://www.exploratorium.edu/education

The Concord Consortium

The Concord Consortium is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the education for STEM fields in all grade levels.

It incorporates digital technology in the lesson plans and makes learning interactive. Resources are broken down by subject and by grade level which allows educators the opportunity to plan lessons around specific areas.

Concord focuses on innovation and technology when it comes to STEM curriculum. Using computational models, students can watch biological evolution, interpret data, understand genetic science, form their own conclusions about evidence, and analyze models. It is real-world learning in the classroom.

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