STEM Activities

The following activities incorporate many STEM skills like coding, biotechnology, and engineering. They can be modified to work in many grade levels and subject areas. Each lesson was a part of my STEM Masters program coursework. I’ve summarized the learning outcomes, materials, and processes but if you’d like additional information about them, feel free to contact us. I’ve also listed each instructor and would like to thank them for their efforts in creating this content. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to reach out to them directly with questions, comments, or suggestions. Thanks!


Table of Contents:

Activity 1: Chromatography by Kirk Brown

Activity 2: Scratch Programming by Steve Callahan

Activity 3: Makey-Makey and Cardboard Arcade by Steve Callahan

Activity 4: Bio-engineering by Kirk Brown

Activity 5: Python and Java Script by Steve Callahan

Activity 6: Arduino Micro-controllers by Steve Callahan

Activity 7: Lego Robotics by Bock

Activity 8: Vex Robotics by Moehnke

Activity 9: Computer Game Design by Myers

Activity 10: App Design by Steve Callahan

Activity 11: Maker Tools by Bret States and Dean Reese




Activity 1: Chromatography

Instructor: Kirk Brown

Learning Outcome: Understand hydrophilic interactive paper and column chromatography. Participants also learned lab procedures, proper note taking, and student focused learning.

Materials: Transfer pipettes, plastic syringes, graduated cylinders, napkins, absorbent table coverings, cotton balls, Grape Kool-Aid, vinegar, and water.



First, students were introduced to lab procedures using micro-pipettes. Students dropped water, vinegar, and grape Kool-aid onto a napkin, observed the results, and took notes.



Second, the instructor walked through the process students would learn through reading an article on creating a simple column chromatography device (shown below). Students would be given the article and asked “how can I hold red in one hand and blue in another?”


The Kool-aid was forced through the cotton. The blue and red separated like we saw with the napkin. This caused the blue to exit out the bottom of the syringe first and later the red. Shown below, the result is that two different materials, previously mixed, were separated.


Result: The main learning from this activity was the power in shifting lesson focus: from teacher focused to student focused. While column chromatography can (and often is) taught directly, students are more than capable of reading articles, developing processes through trial and error, and answering challenging questions. All of these ideas could be easily translated to a variety of classes using different phenomena and skills.





Activity 2: Scratch Programming

Instructor: Steve Callahan

Learning Outcome: Block coding with Ozobots and Scratch.

Materials: Ozobots, paper, permanent markers, and laptops.

Processes: Participants were introduced to color coding using Ozobot robots and then block coding with those same robots which transitioned to a lesson on Scratch using MIT’s website.

The lessons used Scratch to introduce a series of Computer Programming concepts that were immediately assessed using tasks built into the website using Scratch.



Conditional Statements and Logical Operators:


Participants made a number machine that used a bouncing ball to change variables:

Result: Participants learned the basics of coding – using objects, variables, logical operators, and loops – to accomplish tasks and solve problems. The immediate turn around from direct instruction, to assignment of tasks, to submitting assignments challenged participants to maintain a fast pace and stay on task. Scratch is easy to embed into any class and with almost any topic.



Activity 3: Makey-Makey and Cardboard Arcade

Instructor: Steve Callahan

Learning Outcome: Learn how circuits work in order to control a video game with Makey-Makey.

Materials: Makey-makey kit, wires, resistors, breadboard, LEDs, and play-dough.

Processes: Participants began by connecting the Makey-Makey to the computer using USB, feeding power to the board. Then, wires were run from 5v and ground through the breadboard, a resister, and an LED to generate light.


Tricolor diode was next introduced. Depending on the prongs used and voltage applied per prong, different colors can be produced. This introduces “color math.”

Next, participants watched the Makey-Makey MIT video.

Then, play-dough was passed out. Partipants used play-dough to create circuits to act as buttons for user input.


Last, students created a cardboard arcade using buttons, the Makey-Makey board, and Scratch.

Result: This lesson really showed how easy it is to build using circuitry and micro-computers. Students can be introduced to simple engineering challenges and tasks using these ideas – even at very young ages.




Activity 4: Bio-engineering

Instructor: Kirk Brown

Learning Outcome: Learn lab safety procedures and the bio-engineering concepts of GMO detection, transformation, and DNA fingerprinting.

Materials: Lab safety equipment (gloves, lab coat, and goggles) and the shown lab equipment:



Processes: Participants began by learning proper safety precautions and data entry procedures. They they begin using transfer pipettes to transfer various quantities of liquid (250 ul, 500 ul, 750 ul, and 1ml) into wells, as shown below.

Next, they use a micro-pipette to transfer 10 ul of liquid to a fliptop micro centrifuge tube. Then, participants use the micro-pipette to transfer 2 ul, 4 ul, 6 ul, 8 ul, 10 ul, and 12 ul droplets from the fliptop micro centrifuge tube to wax paper.

Participants learned about genetically modified organisms and then conducted a test to determine which of two soybeans was genetically modified and which wasn’t. They did this by crushing soybeans, letting them soak in PBS (phosphate buffered solution), and then using test strips. The strips detect the presence of a specific protein.


Participants added bacteria colonies of weakened e.coli to two centrifuge tubes (+) and (-) and introduced a DNA plasmid to one of the tubes (+).

The plasmid contained the code for antibiotic resistance and phosphorescence (glow in the dark). The two tubes remained on ice for 10 minutes.


Next, the tubes were heat-shocked for 1 minute, chilled again for 2 minutes, and then were fed 250 ul of broth each. Then the four agar plates were spread with bacteria: +PGLO LB/amp, +PGLO LB/amp/ara, -PGLO LB/amp, and -PGLO LB. Then the plates were taped up and put in the incubator for a day.


Next, participants worked on DNA Fingerprinting. Six suspect samples were all cut with the same enzyme, spun in the centrifuge, and then put in the bath.


Gel electrophoresis was run using the steps indicated below:

Result: These activities were high skill and high knowledge but the critical components were having participants follow directions that were both oral and written. Additionally, participants followed safety and recording protocols. Having students learn protocols can be done in any classroom and will strengthen the learning – especially long term.




Activity 5: Python and Java Script

Instructor: Steve Callahan

Learning Outcome: Participants learned to code in Python.

Materials: Computers and class website.

Processes: Students first learned how to code in python using CodeAcademy.

Next, participants learned how to use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create Virtual Learning Platforms.


Result: This fast paced lesson introduced a variety of coding languages which can be introduced in middle or high school to have students produce content for virtually any class. Creating websites and quizzes is an effective strategy with students and also increases their technological fluency at the same time.




Activity 6: Arduino Micro-controllers

Instructor: Steve Callahan

Learning Outcome: Participants learned to code in C to control an Arduino.

Materials: Laptops, Arduinos, and LEDs.

Processes: Participants learned to program an Arduino to use functions to light and blink LEDs then used a multi colored diode and blinked a variety of colors. Then the participants built a website, shown below, using html, java script, iframes, and embedded video.


Result: As with the previous two lessons involving circuitry, micro-computers, and web design, this section offered a ton of takeaway for teachers at all levels. Incorporating these concepts into almost any class, with the right phenomena or content, would be very valuable for students.




Activity 7: Lego Robotics

Instructor: Bock

Learning Outcome: Learn to build Lego Mindstorm robots and program them to perform tasks.

Materials: Computer, Mindstorm Kits, and Mazes.

Processes: Participants learned how to program in the Lego language and then built a Lego car which they programmed to travel through several mazes.




Result: Robotics is the newest thing and Lego appears to be a very effective way to introduce it to students. Graduating from circuitry and basic coding to Lego Mindstorms was an obvious and very appropriate scaffold. Students at the middle or even elementary level would be at home working with Lego Robots. Their coding would benefit but more importantly, their appreciation for coding would benefit even more.




Activity 8: Vex Robotics

Instructor: Moehnke

Learning Outcome: Build a robot and program it using Robot C.

Materials: Vex Robot Kit, Computer, Robot Arena, and Robot C software.

Processes: Participants built Vex robots and programmed them to complete basic tasks.


Result: The obvious next step – students would really face some hard challenges with these robots in both the building and coding. They would really learn to appreciate the intricacies of coding and the challenges of working in a team environment. The Vex Robotics Challenges would provide an amazing gateway into the world of competitive engineering.




Activity 9: Computer Game Design

Instructor: Myers

Learning Outcome: Learn about gamification, game-based learning, and game design.

What is a game? “A voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” – Dr. Bernard Suits

Must have a goal. Games without goals are treadmills.
Games must have clearly defined rules.
The game has to be voluntary.
Feedback must inform the player if their strategies are effective.

What makes games fun?

Multiple ways to win.
Players don’t fall behind too easily and can catch up at the end.
Random chance.
Unexpected events.
Direct interaction between players that affect the outcome of the game.

Why do we play games? Dr. Steven Reiss: The Theory of 16 Basic Human Motivators

Power, Curiosity, Independence, Acceptance, Order, Saving, Honor, Idealism
Social Contact, Family, Status, Vengeance, Romance, Eating, Physical Activity, Tranquility

Gamification: Application of game-design elements and principals in non-game contexts

Rewards for actions.
Incentive when there previously wasn’t one.
Emotional response linked to progress.
Positive and negative feedback.
Replace an intrinsic reward with an extrinsic reward.

Game-Based Learning: A game is the medium through which learning occurs

Games can provide the “currency” to reward students that we lack in education.
Almost everybody plays games across all social barriers.

Game Development: Info gathering, Design, Development, Testing, and Launch/Maintenance

Games can cover many academic topics simultaneously.
Research requires to create a game exceeds that used to create a presentation or paper.
Gameplay can be adapted to meet individual student ability and needs.
Game development is programming, art, math, ELA, science, and social studies.

Game Development Stages:

First Pitch – Initialized GDD (Game Design Document) includes Premise and Rough Content Outline
Mechanics – Gameplay, Goals, Objectives, Medium, Update the GDD, Re-Pitch
Concept Art – Sketches of Game Assets, Game World Map, Materials, Update the GDD, Final-Pitch
Production – Prototype, Test, Refine, Test, Repeat

Teaching Game Design:

Lesson 1: Historical Game Study
Lesson 2: Basic Programming with ActionScript
Lesson 3: 3D Game World Concepts and Challenges with Cube2
Lesson 4: Commercial Game Engine Implementation with Unreal Engine 4

Materials: Computers and Unreal Engine.


Result: Participants learned how to build in Unreal Engine which would be an amazing platform to introduce to students. Students could learn the ins and outs of producing content on cutting edge commercial platforms. With the right setup, a program could produce full feature games, content pieces, or other software that could be put on the marketplace.





Activity 10: App Design

Instructor: Steve Callahan

Learning Outcome: Participants learned to build apps and deploy them onto an emulated cell phone.

Processes: As seen below, the applications were written in block coding language very similar to Scratch and then uploaded to an emulated Samsung device. Participants coded a random student picker that could be used in a classroom for checking for understanding.

Result: As with the game design session, this class took coding and design to the next level. Students would find this extremely satisfying as they could build apps and launch them on their phones. Having students create simple quiz apps could apply to almost any content area.




Activity 11: Maker Tools

Instructor: Bret States and Dean Reese

Learning Outcome: Participants learned about creating a maker space course, participated in a tower building challenge, and designed a 3D printed container.

Materials: Newspaper, zip ties, and tape were used for the tower construction. Computers, Tinker Cad, and 3D printers were used for the container construction.




Result: The teamwork building challenge is a classic and applicable in many content areas. As a starting out the year activity or group building task, it is second to none. Repeating the activity is often met with unexpected results which is a bonus. The 3D printing activity was also extremely interesting. It really helped illustrate how accessible 3D printing has become. With a single printer and some students to keep it running, a class could produce a variety of devices and tools. This could be very appropriate across many subject areas – especially in mathematics.




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