“Equipping our students with 21st Century Skills” and “Engaging our School Community in the Student’s Learning” are two goals often stated for the new school year. It is presented at Back to School Nights and PTA meetings to our school community. Sounds great! But just how can you help bring that about – along with the million other demands on your time???
We discovered over the past several years that the first and best step towards capturing a school’s and community’s interest is to hold a Family STEM Night. It is truly the ultimate public relations experience. Families come together to explore engineering, science and math with engaging hands-on activities. The students love to show their families, the important adults in their lives, what they’ve learned. These adults then get to participate in the child’s learning. It’s a win-win for everyone.
The single most important thing for you to do is to start very early in your planning. If you are choosing a fall date, then you need to begin planning in early spring. Begin planning for a spring date as soon as you head back to school. There is no such thing as beginning to plan too early.
Before you being planning, be sure to download our FREE STEM Family Event Planning Packet: The Nuts and Bolts of Planning a STEM Event. This packet is a timeline checklist to help you plan and keep you on track for a successful STEM celebration. It includes hints, tips and resource ideas that we have learned over many years.
One of the first things to do is to get your administration and staff on board. These are the people that you will look at to provide volunteer support and possible financial support from the administration or district. Don’t forget to get your PTA involved as soon as possible since they will help with procuring your volunteers and can possibly provide some funding.
While looking for volunteers, invite outside groups such as museums, professional organizations and local colleges and universities. Not only can they supply volunteers but often will bring an activity to share and the staff to run it.
Be sure to read our recent blog on “STEM Materials and Organization”. Planning Your STEM Class - Get Caught Engineering - STEM Resources for Teachers & Parents In it, we discuss resources for donated materials, as well as practical ideas on storing them. Just be sure that you begin gathering the materials early so that you have time to package them for easy distribution.
We typically would have a mixture of short activities that needed little oversight and longer facilitated activities that required more supervision. Each family would be assigned to the longer activity, at random, upon arrival, and would spend any time not in that activity exploring all of the other shorter activities.
Good shorter activities should:
Longer facilitated activities should
We love themes for almost any event and a Family STEM night is no different. Why have a theme? First of all, a theme can create a buzz and a sense of excitement. It gives a chance for in depth exploration of a topic such as oceans, robots, weather, or structures.
Some of our favorite themes for a Family STEM night are:
Once you begin hosting a Family STEM night, your families will look forward to it every year. Therefore, plan on expanding your activities from year to year. You cannot do the exact same activity each year.
Consider adding decorations that relate to your theme. We would typically highlight real engineers and scientists and what their career entailed.
As our Family STEM nights grew, we began to add such things as QR codes for more information. We also added food trucks to help our families who didn’t have time to eat at home before they attended.
A Family STEM night does take significant planning and prep time in advance; but it is worth every minute. It quickly became the most anticipated annual family event at our school. Most importantly, it helped build a strong community relationship
We hope you “Get Caught Engineering®” at a Family STEM Night this year!
Wendy and Cheryl