Category Archives: Science

Why The “A” in STEAM?

Lego HouseA  is for Arts

Since 2007 there has been an refocused awareness on the teaching of the STEM subjects – the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics – using hands-on, real life problems. However, this should not be done by eliminating the arts. They are an integral part of the sciences. Think of the importance of aesthetics and art in designing bridges and robots, drawing meaningful biology diagrams, imagining the universe, and in representing patterns in numbers.

STE[A]M goes beyond the 4 STEM subjects. The bracketed A stands for the arts. These include the fine arts, music, dance, drama, and literature. In STEAM education the focus is on nourishing children’s curiosity, imagination, and creativity by drawing on the arts in the context of exploring science, math, technology, and engineering projects. Well-designed STEAM activities teach children to become astute observers, designers, and creators, while introducing them to the critical thinking and decision making skills needed for successful STEM careers and for the enjoyment of life.


STEAM = Science & Technology

interpreted through Engineering & the Arts,

all based on Mathematical Principles 

In addition, the arts are a powerful learning tool: The University of Florida has created a graphic showing why the arts belong in STEM education:

University of Florida’s Online Master of Arts in Art Education




Sunflowers: A Science & Math Observation Lab

sunflower headScientists use their senses to observe and formulate questions.

In this lesson a first grade class observes sunflower heads.

WOW [Wonderful Object of Wonder]: 5 large sunflower heads and 1 sunflower still on its stem.

Objectives:  Children will name their senses and then use them to make observations and create questions (Linguistic, physical, cognitive, and creative development). Children will estimate the number of seeds in a flower head and then count them. They will estimate the height of the sunflower plant and measure it (Common Core: CCSS.Math.Content.1.NBT.A.1; CCSS.Math.Content.1.MD.A.2)

Presentation: Sit children in small groups and set a sunflower head before them. Ask the following questions and allow time for every child to share his or her ideas several times.


What can we observe about sunflowers?

…with our eyes

  • What colors do we see?
  • What shapes do we see?
  • How many do we see?


“The seeds are striped.” “They’re white and black.” “And gray and brown.” “The leaves are green and brown.” “There are yellow things like cups where the seeds have fallen out.” “There are fuzzy things on the seeds.” “There’s thousands of seeds.”

…with our fingers

  • Is it wet, dry or both?
  • Is it hard, soft, smooth, bumpy or all of these?
  • Does it stay together or fall apart?


“Feels hard and bumpy.” “Loose. the seeds are loose.” “The brown part on the outside falls apart.” “Ugh. This part is wet.” “I can put my finger through it.” “Feels curvy like a funny shape ball.”

…with our noses

  • Does it smell strong or not very much?
  • Does it smell like something you have smelled before?
  • Does it smell nice or yucky?


“Smells like chocolate milk.” Like dirt.” “Tickles my nose.” “Smells fuzzy.” Smells like a rainy day.” “Smells like wet paper.” “Good. It smells good.” “I like how it smells.” “Yuck. I don’t think so.”

…with our ears

  • Without moving or touching it, does it make any noise?
  • Does it make a noise when you touch it?
  • When might it make noise?


“I don’t hear anything.” “It’s quiet.”  “It’s just sitting there.””It crinkles when I touch it.” “It’s like dead.” “Sounds like paper.” “It would make noise in the wind, I think.”


DSC03419Solicit questions: Next gather child-generated questions and list on board or chart paper.

  • Is it alive? (the seed)
  • How does it get so big from such a little seed?
  • How tall is it?
  • What are these little yellow and brown flower things?
  • How many seeds are there?
  • Do they blow over in the wind?
  • Can we plant them [the seeds] now?


Have children make predictions for each question


Together with the children devise tests and do research to find the answers to the children’s questions.

For example: Set up a center where the children can remove all the seeds from a sunflower head and count them. At another center put out the different measuring tools and the sunflower on its stalk to find out how tall it is. Provide cups and dirt and plant some of the seeds to find out if they are alive. Put out books about sunflowers and find information on the web.


After all children have had an opportunity to explore the centers, share what they have learned, have them share with the whole group.


Find out what new questions they have and make a list.


  • Draw pictures of the sunflowersDSC03422
  • Make up a sunflower song or poem or story
  • Do a sunflower dance
  • Make sunflower seed pictures
  • Pantomime a sunflower seed growing into a sunflower plant


  • The scientific name for a sunflower is Helianthus., which is Greek for Sun Flower.
  • They are one of the fastest growing plants.
  • The tallest sunflower was 25.6 feet tall.
  • The sunflower is native to North America and was used as food by the Native Americans.
  • Each sunflower head is made up of 1000 to 2000 flowers which turn into the seeds.
  • The sunflower is a heliotrope, which means it follows the sun as it crosses the sky each day.
  • Oil is made from black sunflower seeds. Snacks are made from white striped ones. You have to crush break open the outer shell to find the edible seed inside.


A Big Yellow Sunflower by Frances Barry

From Seed to Sunflower by Gerald Legg

Sunflower House by Eve Bunting

This is a Sunflower by Lola Schaefer

sunflower lift

Being a Scientist: Sensory Observation Lab


Setting up a sensory observation lab

We are born scientists. From birth children can see, smell, hear, touch, and taste.  Observations made with our senses are the foundation of scientific inquiry. So that is where we start…

This activity can be done with children of any age. With very young children, it works best and is safest when an adult sits with one child and models the actions alongside them. When working with a large group provide enough objects so that no more than two children have to share an object. Record observations on chart paper or board. If children are old enough to write their own observations, use the worksheet instead.

  1. Choose something to observe: This should be something that will attract children’s attention. Do not hesitate to choose something familiar, but do make sure it has an intriguing sensory element. Some suggestions: A beet fresh pulled from the garden; a fossil rock; a flashlight; a hermit crab; a clear glass of water
  2. Place the object on a surface that highlights or contrasts with it and the surrounding surface so that the eye is drawn to it, such as a piece of paper, a tray or mat.
  3. Gather your children around the object and ask questions like the following that focus on the sensory elements.

Sensory Observation Questions

SIGHT Before touching look at the object

  • What colors do you see?
  • What shapes do you see?
  • What lines do you see?
  • Are there any special markings?
  • Does it move?
  • What is unique about it?
  • How do you think it feels?
  • How do you think it smells?

TOUCH Pick up the object and rub fingers over it

  • is it rough or bumpy or smooth or both??
  • Is it hard or soft or both?
  • is it wet or dry or both?
  • Is it sharp or dull or both?
  • Does it have moveable parts?
  • What other textures do you feel?

SMELL Pick up and hold object about 2-4 inches from the nose

[Safety note: Demonstrate how to hold the object about 2 inches from the nose and gently wave the palm over it to fan the odor toward your nose. Emphasize the danger of inhaling any unknown substance]

  1. Is the odor strong or weak?
  2. Is the odor sweet or bitter or sour or acid?
  3. Does the odor remind you of something else you have smelled?

HEARING Listen to the object

  1. Does it make a noise on its own?
  2. Does it make a noise when you touch it or rub it?
  3. Does it make a noise when you shake it or turn it?

TASTE Put object down. Do not taste or put near mouth

[Safety note: Warn children against putting anything in the mouth during a science lab unless they are working with an identified food item that has not been handled by others]

  • Why do you think you should not taste this object?
  • How do you imagine it might taste?

Coming to a Conclusion

Summarize the observations using the recorded observations. Ask one or more of the following questions.

  • What do you think it is?
  • What other things can you name that are like it?
  • Do you know this object so well that if it were mixed up with the others you could find it again?


Mix the objects together with other similar ones and see if the children can find the one they observed.

Think Like a Scientist

Here is a toe tapping song that highlights the things scientists do.

Sing it to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Think Like a Scientist: The Science Song


by Joan Koster

Observation is the key.

Scientists listen, touch, smell, and see. [use appropriate hand gestures – at end of line have students cover mouth and say NO TASTE]

Lenses, rulers, scales – the tools. [substitute whatever tools you are using at the time]

Asking questions is the rule.

Making predictions is what comes next.

Being a scientist is the best!


Next comes testing – Oh what fun!

Record that data everyone.(mime writing)

Comparing is not difficult (use hands as balance scale)

Concluding is based on results.

Scientists share what they know

That is how our knowledge grows


After sharing we think some more

What new questions are in store (make a question mark with hands)

For scientists to ask and then

Test, record, compare again. (move hands in circle)

That is what inquiring minds do. (tap head)

That is how we discover what’s new. (spread arms out wide)

Inquiry Wheel


Tools for Young Scientists

Tools for Young Scientists

Girl with magnifying glass

Here is a list of the basic tools children need to explore their world.

  • Their senses – eyes, ears, fingers, noses, and sometimes their mouths
  • Magnifying glasses
  • A scale
  • A timer
  • A ruler and/or a measuring tape
  • Access to nature and man-made objects
  • Their imaginations

Everything else is an extra.

So gather these up and get ready to explore the environment with your children.