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15 Minute STEM: Quick, creative Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics activities for 5-11-year-olds Review by Michelle Gibson

Emily Hunt
Crown House Publishing Limited
Crown Buildings
SA33 5ND
Tel: +44 (0) 1267 211 345

While shopping last week with my son, Bo, who is eight, I finally remembered to pick up mini marshmallows. He saw them on the shelf and remembered (for me) that we needed them for the “Marshmallow Challenge.” While I had forgotten about the activity, he certainly had not. Later with three kids gathered around the table, it turned out to be a sweet experience as we used the book 15 Minute STEM: Quick, creative Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics activities for 5-11-year-olds, by Emily Hunt, to answer the question “What is the tallest structure we can make using spaghetti and marshmallows?” We experienced what it might be like to be an architect or civil engineer as we thought about foundation and shape and twisted noodles deep into sticky marshmallows to make sturdy joints to hold up long slender strings of dry pasta. I enjoyed watching as they tried different techniques to see who could build the tallest tower; I am glad he remembered the marshmallows!

15 Minute STEM: Quick, creative Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics activities for 5-11-year-olds is a 64-page paperback book that retails for £16.99 and was written to help parents and teachers fit STEM education into their student’s day. If one was not too familiar with what STEM stands for (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and why one would want to do these activities, the book makes a case for itself in the introduction wherein we learn the value of incorporating the cross-discipline approach that STEM activities offer to teach children how to solve problems in the real world. With colorful “sticky note” graphics, illustrations, and photographs of real kids doing the activities, the book has plenty of kid appeal.

In this book, the reader will explore 40 different STEM inspired activities that each take 15 minutes or less to complete (some need further observation). Because the activities are designed to be quick and easy, they use items commonly found around the house, classroom, or office, such as straws, balloons, and tape. The book also has a glossary with 30 STEM jobs plus more ideas for igniting a passion for STEM activities in children. It also has a few pages in the back to take notes (or ask more questions).

Each STEM inspired activity first asks a question. For example, in activity number 23, “Paper Cup Phones,” we ask, "How can we make our whispers heard a long distance away?" Second, we are given a list of supplies to gather from around the house and classroom. For this activity, we needed two paper cups, string, a sharp pencil, and scissors. Third, we are told how to do it. Detailed instructions are listed numerically and encourage the student to build their own paper cup phones to experience how sound travels. (My students were fascinated to learn that sound travels around a corner!). Each activity encourages students to investigate the topic further. In this activity, we are encouraged to research the life and inventions of Alexander Graham Bell. Real world STEM careers that relate to the activity are also included. (For this activity, we were sound engineers and electricians.) Often, a diagram or illustration is included to further enhance the lesson. Some activities include a template to copy, and all the activities have helpful little icons that give the learner quick information about the activity.

While the kids were out playing with the neighbor children one day recently, I enjoyed letting them be physicists as they counted how many drops of water a penny can hold. With guesses as low as six and as high as 16, I heard awes of delight when the water spilled over the edge of the penny on the 36th drop. Malachi, who is 14, rattled off what he knew about surface tension before he raced off to finish his game of four-square. From start to finish, our experiment took just a few minutes, but it was meaningful and engaging.  

While not specifically written for homeschoolers, this book fits in well with any homeschool curriculum. I primarily used this in our homeschool with my son who is eight. His siblings who are 12 and 14 participated in many of the activities (and led some of them), too. While I wanted to do most of the activities in this book, it was more practical to do about one to two activities per week.

My kids were eager to look through the book and pick out activities to do. We were aerospace engineers when we did the “Spinning Helicopters” activity on page 46 and made helicopters to answer the question “How can we make a helicopter out of paper?” Then when we did “Rock Rummage” on page 41, we were geologists and asked, “In how many ways can we organise a selection of rocks?” We sorted and organized rocks and identified them by igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, which turned out to be an extension of our science memory work this year.

I am looking forward to doing the “Robot Obstacle Course” where we will ask “How are robots controlled?” We will see if we can be computer programmers and robotics engineers and successfully navigate our human “robot” through an obstacle course.

What I love about this book is that it was written to the student and each activity introduces young children to the scientific method by teaching them to first ask a question. Then, it gives them clear, logical steps to answer the question, just like a scientist. I also like that it tells us what we are learning and offers ideas on how to further investigate the topic.  

Eliana, 12, said her favorite activity was the “Marshmallow Challenge” because “it is not as easy as you think, and it was really fun to eat the marshmallows afterwards.” Her older brother thought this one was a challenge, too, and wanted another 15-minute round to try again. She enjoyed leading some of the activities but thought the activities in this book would be most enjoyed by children from ages five to ten.

When I asked Bo what he liked about the book and what his favorite activity was, he said, “I like all the activities, but my favorite activity was the Marshmallow Challenge because it was tasty and it stayed up for five minutes before it toppled on me. The balloon car challenge (Air Powered Car) worked well with bottle caps but not as well with cardboard wheels.” He did the latter activity with his 12-year-old sister, and I love that they experimented with different materials for the wheels to see what will make their car travel the farthest to answer the question “How can we power a vehicle using a balloon?” I also love that they are learning to solve problems like a mechanical engineer.

While one can find many STEM inspired activities online these days, I am happy to have a reserve of 40 hands-on activities that I can use across the curriculum to inspire problem solving and creative thinking. I certainly recommend it for anyone who would like to have an open-and-go source for such activities. I also recommend it for anyone who would like to hand their child a colorful, kid-friendly book they can use to explore STEM activities on their own, too — just have them place sticky notes on the ones they want to do, and do not forget to have them make a list of supplies!

-Product review by Michelle Gibson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2019