When teachers think about teaching STEM subjects, (science, technology, engineering and maths) the playground is perhaps the last place they imagine delivering those lessons. However, STEM is about integrating those subjects and thinking out of the box, so perhaps it's time to reconsider the outdoor space as somewhere where children can get value from those subjects. Here are some of the reasons to teach STEM in the playground and the equipment you can use to help you.
STEM in the outdoor space
The great thing about being outdoors is that it provides far more space to conduct experiments and, in some cases, it’s by far the safest place to do them. If you really want to test how high those air propelled rockets your class has designed are going to reach, a room with an 8-feet high ceiling and shed loads of expensive equipment all around isn’t ideal. Indeed, any experiment that involves testing propulsion is best conducted where there is space to do so and where children can watch from a safe distance.
It's not just propulsion, either; there are occasions where STEM projects will require building big things, like towers or bridges that there simply isn’t room for inside the classroom. The playground, on the other hand, is perfect, especially if the teacher has resources like outdoor, standalone whiteboards, etc., to write instructions on and for children to note down the results of their experiments.
Make the most of nature
If you want to teach your pupils about natural sciences, then it's best to study things outdoors in their natural environment instead of bringing them inside. If pupils are studying how plants grow, their experiments aren’t going to be accurate if they are studying plants left on the windowsill in a classroom. Instead, provide them with a playground growing tree with enough room for everybody’s plants to grow in natural conditions, such as sunlight, heat, wind and rain. For more detailed analysis, why not use a discovery planter so they can see the formation of the roots as well as the upper part of the plant, and examine things like soil, water penetration and the creatures that live in the soil and affect the microenvironment.
You can also install bird feeders and bug houses, etc., for close examination of the fauna that lives in the local environment and to monitor their numbers and behaviour. It's an opportunity for real science that can complement the theoretical work going on in the classroom.
It’s not just biology that can be studied either. With a weather station, for example, pupils can monitor things like precipitation, air pressure, temperature, wind direction, etc. and study how weather changes over time and relate this to seasonal changes or the impact of global warming.
With a range of curriculum-focused, scientific, wall or post-mounted, switchable work boards to choose from, students are able, while in the playground, to measure and track changes, write down their discoveries and make connections between them.
Give maths a new dimension
While maths has enabled theoretical physicists to calculate numerous dimensions, school maths can be a rather one-dimensional subject. For many children, the biggest challenge is not the difficulty of the work but the continual book and pen exercises. Getting outside into the playground can help them break the cycle of doing things in a book and give them a new and more engaging way to explore the subject. What’s more, you can use the outside world to contextualise the exercises being done, asking them to calculate real-life things so that they have genuine meaning.
There is also a whole range of maths resources that can be installed in the playground to help. These include tessellation and coordinates boards, tangram tables, symmetry boards and soma cubes. If you want to get even more adventurous, there are playground dominoes games and even a traversing wall that is designed for following sequences or calculations.
When it comes to design and technology, there are also outdoor classroom work boards for weaving and isometric drawing.
In a world where science and technology are so important, it is vital to inspire young minds to develop an interest in STEM subjects. Working outdoors frees up the mind to new ideas and provides a whole lot more for students to explore and experiment on. Now, with lots of new STEM-based outdoor curriculum equipment available to schools, teaching STEM has never been easier.
For more information about our outdoor STEM products, visit our Outdoor Curriculum page.