Children and Adolescents are naturally curious, and providing opportunities to develop that curiosity and other critical thinking skills is an important part of educational programs today. STEM learning, draws from four key areas—science, technology, engineering, and math—is a great way to engage students in fun and meaningful ways while helping them develop 21st Century Skills.
Conducting STEM experiments in a hospital environment, such as a behavioral health setting or residential treatment facility, may seem a daunting task at first due to the large variety of equipment, supplies and tools needed for some experiments. In these settings, teachers need to be mindful of items that are not allowed within units, such as items that may pose a danger to students (including everyday items like scissors or shoestrings), items that could be ingested or may cause a reaction with medication, or those that could be potential used to inflict harm (whether self-inflicted or towards others). However these restrictions do not make STEM learning impossible—on the contrary, it pushes teachers to use their own critical thinking skills to come up with safe alternatives!
When preparing for STEM experiments in the hospital setting, be sure to follow facility protocols and guidelines. Identify what objects are allowed, and what needs to happen to projects after completion (some may be allowed to remain with student-patients, some may need to be locked away or removed entirely from the unit).
Here are a list of 10 great STEM experiments that require minimal preparation and supplies that may be allowed in hospital settings. Always check with your facility as rules vary from place to place!
Safe STEM Experiments For Hospital Settings
- Create Crawling Colors to help teach about how colors change and blend. Have students make predictions about what will happen. If glass jars are not allow on units, clear plastic cups work just as well.
2. Test out engineering theories using Paper Building Blocks. To keep it safe (and to get right to the building fun), precut the paper using scissors or a paper cutter ahead of time.
3. Discuss angles, gravity, and motion by constructing Waterslides out of random materials. Aluminum foil, cardboard tubes, and building blocks make for great design exploration. Just make sure to have plenty of paper towels to clean up the watery mess for when the slides need re-engineering!
4. Blast into Outer Space by making Straw Rockets. Requiring only a few straws, a printable template and coloring utensils, students can learn how distance is affected by changing angles of launch, or force from breath.
5. Connect Reading and STEM by having student design projects based off of challenges they find in stories. Carol over at Teachers Are Terrific has some great ideas for projects and book pairings!
6. If food is allowed, mix up some Edible STEM Experiments—not only are the informative, but they are tasty too. The Oreo Phases of the Moon is a student favorite! Be sure to check for any allergies or food restrictions prior to bringing items in or starting projects.
7. Gooey projects are always fun, and make for a great sensory experience as well. There many different recipes for making Slime available online, including some with only natural ingredients or even taste-safe slime!
8. Let imagination run wild with Tangrams. These geometric shapes can be made out of paper, plastic, foam or even sponges, and can be arranged into almost limitless designs. For a more structured activity, try tangram puzzles, patterns, and for a super-sized hands on experience, use life-sized shapes.
9. Teach using technology with these free STEM websites. They are full of activities to get students thinking and processing, and are a great solution for 1:1 tutoring or for making use of limited space or extra time.
10. STEM activities are great for students with special needs as well. Experiments help promote processing skills and higher order thinking, and most experiments can be modified for full inclusion for students with special needs.
Class Engagement Through STEM Learning
Incorporating STEM learning into the hospital classroom drives student engagement and willingness to participate in academics despite other challenges student-patients may be facing. By taking the necessary precautions and planning safe STEM experiments, teachers can guide their classes in a fun manner towards developing critical thinking skills.