STEM projects with STEM educational toys

STEM Education: Science Fair Projects Are Most Effective When Questions Are Open-Ended

Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math (STEAM) Education Encourages Exploration

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) curricula was a new concept ten years ago when I took my middle school kids to the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition which was hosted at the Indianapolis Convention Center.


Meandering through the rows and rows of fascinating science fair exhibits, meeting these smart kids, and learning new things from their presentations was a real pleasure.

Every competitor’s project started with a simple open-ended question which then took them down a variety of paths in search for solutions.

I was so encouraged as I admired the mental acuity and innovative ideas of these future astronauts, chemists, and techies!

curriculum lesson plan



(Be sure to go if you live in L.A. – 2017; Pittsburgh – 2018; or Phoenix – 2019)Each spring, millions of teens worldwide gather to showcase their independent research through science fair projects at local, regional, and national competitions that eventually take a select few to Intel ISEF.


In 2016, approximately 1700 high school students from 75 countries submitted their work for review by doctoral level scientists as they competed for $ 4 million in prizes.

Homeschoolers can participate, too.


All you need to do is find your local Intel ISEF science fair and contact the coordinator to learn the eligibility and competition details.


The U.S. science fair season runs from January through March, with finalists advancing in late spring.


Having competed for years in speech and debate, I know the value that serious competition brings as teens sharpen each other’s skills; I highly recommend you start now by incorporating hands-on STEM projects in your homeschool curriculum or course of study.


Join a local club that competes in the Intel ISEF science fair.

science fair

Even if your kid never advances past the local level, the process will improve his critical thinking skills!

What Is a STEM (or STEAM) Education?

STEM (or STEAM) is an acronym used in education and industry for hands-on, inquiry-based learning in the fields of sciencetechnologyengineering, art, and math.


In a nutshell, STEAM learning is not purely theoretical…it’s about learning by doing.


Like real-life chemists experiment with compounds to cure diseases or software engineers write code to launch satellites, the end goal of all STEAM education is a real-world solution…an answer to a relevant question.


The kid learns by doing so that he can solve a specific problem especially when the curriculum is tied with good educational toys.


So every good STEAM lesson starts with an open-ended question with multiple potential answers and solutions.

“It’s about nurturing students’ curiosity and helping them develop creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills.

“Vince Bertram, Project Lead The Way Divergent thinking (asking “what if…” outside-the-box questions) is the norm.


What kinds of questions might a STEM homeschool science lesson ask?


Here are three examples:

what would happen if the earth lost its’ gravity for a day?what if creatures could ‘teleport’ like Trekkies?

what would humans need to build cities in the oceans?

Even better than one kid working independently would be a collaboration between two or more of your kids (or friends) on a science project; they’re sure to come with up more creative solutions this way!


They can brainstorm the possibilities then rework any prototypes that they’ve built.

How to Get Started with Your STEAM Science Project


Identifying the Type of Science

Classification is an important technique in the sciences, so start by identifying which type of science your homeschool kid wants to explore through a STEM project:

 biological science (zoology, botany, genetics, paleontology, molecular biology, physiology) or physical science (physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, metallurgy).


Once you have some direction, find a great science fair “idea book” like Janice Van Cleave’s A+ Science Fair Projects (35)Geek Dad’s Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists (25), or an online resource with 1700+ science experiments for k-12 (with photos).

Choose a science project to tackle, then start asking open-ended questions!


As your kid explores the possible solutions to real-life problems, show him how to document his observations, predictions, conclusions, and inventions.


Provide plenty of time for second, third, and fourth iterations of his problem-solving quest.

Here’s to thinking outside the box, Happy teaching

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Diane Lockman
Diane Lockman
Articles: 37

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