STEM Activities in the Secondary Classroom

Teachers know the importance of incorporating science, technology, engineering and math. In today’s world, students need a set of skills for future jobs that we can’t even imagine, so we must give them a variety of experiences. My husband and I have several activities that we believe qualify as STEM activities. Our thought process is that any time you can get students to do math in a real-life situation, you are headed in the right direction. Throw in some collaboration and problem solving and you’ve got yourself an even better experience. Remember, technology does not always have to be digital. Any use of a tool could be technology, such as using tape measures or any measuring device. Technology can be as simple as collecting data. The activities that we have below are excellent and will provide your students with some valuable thinking and exploration.

Vitruvian Man

Vitruvius asserted that every structure must be strong, useful and beautiful. This assertion was one of many in his writings. He also made claims about the proportions of the human body. Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man was an attempt to take what Vitruvius claimed and capture it in a geometric drawing. This measurement lab gives the students a chance to learn some history, collect data, through measurement, set up some mathematical problems, collaborate and analyze. The students go through 6 stations to find the measurements they need, then it’s time to test the ratios to see if they prove or disprove Vitruvius. You’ll love the accountable talk and the thinking that takes place in this very interactive lab.

The Quadratic STEM Activity

This is a self-paced project where students learn how to take information and plug it into an excel sheet then produce a graph of the data. I like to use it as a project grade that will replace the lowest test grade during my quadratic unit, but this does not have to be used in math classes only. This activity has a health aspect and can be used in science, health classes or even a medical class. Students create data tables for male and female blood pressures and then they are asked to take their own blood pressure to see if the data seems accurate. The school nurse will usually take blood pressure if you ask him/her or they can get it done at the machine at their local drug store. The final part of the activity is to write a short report on the findings. Below you will see part of a page that is explaining how to get started in the excel sheet:

My advice to the teacher before assigning this project is to go through the excel sheet yourself first, so that you can answer any questions from the students. As a math teacher, I love showing students how to use excel to create a table. This can come in handy any time they want to take a data table and create a graph. This skill could come in handy when writing future reports in any class such as science or social studies.

Nutrition Label Project

Dr. H developed this project because in the past the Texas Biology EOC would contain an analysis question using a nutrition label. This project is based on information found in nutrition labels but it has the students using many scientific processing skills. They must interpret and compare quantitative data using nutrition labels from cereals that they have chosen to analyze and investigate. Some parts of the assignment requires drawing inferences from the data and constructing comparative graphs to visually communicate information they have gathered.  The final step of the project allows them to analyze and interpret the data into a written article explaining and defending their conclusions. As the students move through the assignments, you will notice the project becomes something they take ownership of and will have discussions with other students about their results. (HELLO CRITICAL THINKING!) They develop an understanding of that label on their food which they had never thought about before. Students will begin bringing you food labels and discussing ingredients or questioning if this food is good for them. The project is broken up into 4 parts that get increasingly complex and it builds confidence for many of your students. Dr. H says, “I assign this in the spring and, every year, I will get surprising work from a few students that kind of underachieved all year.”

Exponential Functions in Google Slides

This is a fun activity where students get to choose an exponential function situation and then work through the process of building a data table, graphing the situation, creating an equation and finally answering a question or two. The cool part is that your whole class is working in a google sheet all at the same time. I created this activity out of necessity one year when I was out of town. The students did the activity while I watched and helped them from my daughters house 2000 miles away. This activity is best for your Algebra 2 students. They need to have an understanding of exponential functions in order to be successful. An extension to this activity would be to allow your students to create their own exponential function activity. You would be amazed at what they can come up with!

I hope you are excited about these STEM activities. They are so much more fun and useful than the standard worksheet. It’s our job as teachers to answer the dreaded question, “When are we ever gonna use this in the real world?” I believe STEM activities are so important and will make you and your students feel satisfied about the work taking place in class.

Examples of Real-Life Arithmetic Sequences

One of my goals as a math teacher is to present real-life math every chance I get. It is not always easy, I have to admit. When I was in college and the earlier part of my teaching career, I was all about the math… not how I might could use it in real life. I’ve made it a goal of mine to find real-life situations. I’ve also tried to catch the situation in action, but it’s not always possible especially since sometimes I think of an idea while driving or when I’m falling asleep at night.

My recent thoughts have been about arithmetic sequences. Seems easy, right? They are linear. There are a ton of linear situations. Yes, but I want visuals! I also did not want the situation to be a direct variation or always positive numbers and always increasing or positive slopes.

Below are some of the situations I’ve come up with along with a picture. I’m happy for you to use these situations with your classes. Enjoy!

Stacking cups, chairs, bowls etc. (Stacking anything works, but the situations is different when one thing fits inside the other.) The idea is comparing the number of objects to the height of the object.

Pyramid-like patterns, where objects are increasing or decreasing in a constant manner. Ideas for this are seats in a stadium or an auditorium. A situation might be that seats in each row are decreasing by 4 from the previous row. I use this in one of my arithmetic sequence worksheets.

Filling something is another good example. The container can be empty or already have stuff in it. An example could be a sink being filled or a pool being filled. (Draining should also be considered!) The rate at which the object is being filled versus time would be the variables.

Seating around tables. Think about a restaurant. A square table fits 4 people. When two square tables are put together, now 6 people are seated. Put 3 square tables together and now 8 people are seated. I really love this example. You can use a rectangular table as well and start off with 6 seats.

Fencing and perimeter examples are always nice. Discuss how adding a fence panel to each side of a rectangular fence would change the perimeter. Figure one could have one panel on each side (or change it so it isn’t square). Figure two could have two panels on each side. Each time find the new perimeter. The possibilities for fencing are endless. But how fun would it be to get actual toy fence pieces and do this in your classroom?!

Even though this is not particularly a real-life situation, it’s still good because the visual is real life. The students can touch the objects or even create the pattern themselves! Use toothpicks, paperclips or even cereal to make patterns. If you’d rather set them up somewhere in the room for math centers, then that would be good too! The following is an idea with cereal. If you count total Froot Loops, it’s not arithmetic, so it’s best to stick with rows, perimeter, or sides of the triangle to stay with a linear pattern. (Counting all of them is an area problem, so that would make it quadratic.)

Negative number patterns are not as easy to find. Our thoughts usually go to temperature or sea level. There are some fascinating places on earth that are below sea level. I think it would be cool to do a study on some of them. Once you’ve talked about some of these places, then various situations could be created like, during a rainfall the surface of the water started at 215 feet below sea level and rose at a rate of such and such per hour.

Situations involving diving in the ocean could be used as well. Did you know that a diver should descend at a rate no faster than 66 feet per minute or ascend at a rate of no more than 30 feet per minute? I’m sure many students don’t know why and this could certainly create some great accountable talk.

I hope I’ve given you plenty to think about. It’s really fun to create these problems. Students need to know that their math is real and useful! I hope this encourages you to use some of these examples or make up some of your own. I’d love to hear some of your examples. Leave a comment if you’d like. We can all learn from each other!

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Some of the examples I used above are in my Arithmetic Sequence Activity seen below. When I was creating this resource, it really stretched my thinking. I wanted to create something that students could learn from and see how these patterns are involved in real-life situations. I’ve attached a couple more of my resources. I’m working on the geometric sequence activity now and hope to finish in a week or so. The second resource would be a great follow up after teaching arithmetic sequences. It’s a Boom Card Activity. The third resource is an arithmetic and geometric sequence and series game. It is really suited for Algebra 2. The resource at the bottom is a formula chart for geometric and arithmetic sequences and series. It’s a freebie, so take advantage and download from my store!