Demystifying STEM with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

Demystifying STEM with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

Let’s face it: sometimes, getting kids into STEM is hard. You can preach the gospel of science, technology, engineering, and math all day long, but if a kid feels like their creativity and imagination are being stifled by rules and numbers, “STEM” can quickly turn into “STOP.” SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids was created with this in mind.
SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids is an ecosystem of apps meant to nurture new designers from age 4 and up. With Capture It, Shape It, Mech It, Style It, and Print It apps, kids are introduced to real-world workflow practices like ideation, creation, enhancement, and production in a fun and accessible way. The apps empower kids to learn while allowing their creativity to flow, giving them multiple methods to design and turn their craziest ideas into reality.

Meet the Apps

Capture It is a personal inspiration app, where kids can add photos, draw their own images and turn them into stickers, and create an idea board for all the designs that will come next.

Anyone who is familiar with 3D modeling will recognize Shape It, a kid-friendly, easy to use CAD app that allows kids to shape, prod, and pull material into their very own creations.
Two kids might create similar models, but with the Style It app they can really make their own designs pop. Kids can transfer models from Shape It to Style It and use colors, stickers, backgrounds, and more to decorate and make their model truly unique. Create a cute and happy spider or your own Mars rover.

With the Print It app, kids can watch their designs come to life. Print It gives kids the ability to 2D print or 3D print their designs, and also allows them to learn about isometric views in a cool way with the Cube Print function. Keep reading to see an example of the Cube Print function.

Is your child more interested in motors and linkages? With the Mech It app, moving machinery is in within arm’s reach, with cool and colorful spiral designs that kids can tweak in any which way they like.

Mech It was definitely my favorite app to try out! Join a few bars together, add a motor, and then hit play to watch it go! You can even slow it down and speed it up with the slider bar. Here is a simple crank-rocker mechanism I created:

Pro Tips to Get Started Successfully with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

1) Start with the Videos

When you try out the apps, make sure you start with the videos! They are short but all very helpful so that you can get started right away and learn what all the different options are for drawing, styling, and modifying designs. Especially for kids new to CAD, this is SO helpful! Just click the ? in the upper right corner of the screen at SOLIDWORKS Appsfor Kids to find all the videos to get started on the right track.

2) Utilize the Public Projects

Navigate to the public projects, find one you like, then click on the copy icon to "Riff."

3) Start tinkering!

Dive right in and start tinkering with whichever app appeals to you most!

4) Remember to Print it

One way for kids to show what they created is to print it. You can create 2D prints on paper, with or without a background, on a 6-sided cube, and in color by number style (what?!!! This is so awesome!). You can even 3D print your kids' creations. I constantly get asked for project ideas for 3D printing. These apps have got you covered; design, go to print it, and grab your STL file. Explore the Print It app and never run out of ideas for your 3D printer.

Internet Safety and Privacy

Projects in SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids are always private until you decide to share to the Apps for Kids Public Gallery. Users can “riff” on public projects—your kid might see a cutesy bunny design, like it, then riff on that project and transform that bunny into an out of this world alien. Creativity, imagination, and community are all part of the Apps for Kids ecosystem.

STEM Block, Tech Lab, or Makerspace

Educators across the country have embraced SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids as a means to teach their students about design and engineering. Now, the Apps for Kids Classroom interface allows teachers to create and organize self-contained workshops.

Use at Home Together

Parents, do not deprive yourself of the opportunity to create something magical and fun with your child. Work together to create a robot army, an enchanted land, or a space adventure!

While there are dozens of apps out there that may enhance STEM learning, these apps are truly a complete suite of apps. There is something for everyone, whether your students lean more toward revising and enhancing designs or creating something brand new from scratch.
If you give kids the means to express and create, to engineer and tinker to their heart’s content, they can learn that STEM exists beyond numbers and rules. With SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids, they are already there. Learn more about all the fun things you can do with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids right here.

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Professional Development Options for STEM Educators

Professional Development for STEM and STEAM Teachers 

There are increasingly more PD opportunities for STEM and STEAM educators, ranging from online courses and webinars to conferences or hands-on workshops. This is a list to get you started, which I will be updating as more opportunities are added. Please feel free to comment with any of your own recommendations so I can add them to the list as well!

Online PD Opportunities and Webinars Webinars and PD, such as Developing a Fundable and Sustainable STEM Program
- hosts individual PD, free webinars, or PD for schools and districts. STEM options such as "Spark Imagination and Innovative Thinking with STEAM in your Classroom"

Learner's Edge:  Choose from online or print. STEM options such as "Consumer to Creator: Coding and Kids"

NICERC: Cyber, STEM, and Computer Science curriculum for K-12. Cyber education certificate available

ITEAA STEM Webinars (STEMinars) - members get access to previous webinars, such as "Top 10 Ways to Incorporate STEM in Your Elementary School" or one about safer Makerspaces

ISTE: Check out ISTE U for topics such as digital citizenship or follow their blog for more ideas.

STEM Conferences and Onsite Training Opportunities

Early Childhood STEM Conference:
Hosted by the Children's Center at Caltech

STEMpostium Ventura County:
From the website, this is a "FREE week-long (4.5 day) summer institute for K-12 teachers followed by two optional Saturday workshops during the subsequent school year."

NSTA Conferences:
From their site, "Each year, NSTA hosts a national conference on science education (in the spring), three area conferences (in the fall), and a STEM Forum & Expo."

NASA Space Port Conference:
Presentations are given by astronauts and NASA science and engineering experts in all fields. Awesome!

STEAM Days of Summer:


Texas STEM Coalition:

Your go-to edtech conference!

CA STEAM symposium:

Content Teaching Academy @ James Madison University:

American Society for Engineering Education, ASEE conferences:

Arts Integration and STEAM Summit

Other Ideas

Shadow a professional! Find an experienced STEM teacher and shadow them for a day. Can't find one, or don't have the ability to take a day to do this? Join the STEM Teacher support group on Facebook:

STEM Teacher Group on Facebook

Ask burning questions, find photos of STEM labs and makerspaces, get recommendations for resources on different STEM topics. Another way to connect with other educators is through Twitter chats.

Twitter Chats: ISTE list of twitter chats or visit this awesome list!

Resource-Specific Training for Robotics and STEM Tools

If you have or are trying to acquire specific tools, robots, etc. for your classroom, visit the websites of the manufacturers of these devices. Many of them have extensive training opportunities and learning resources. Here are some of my favorites:

MakeyMakey training
MakeWonder professional development (makes of Dash, Dot, and Cue)
littleBits webinars
Sphero professional learning
Let's Start Coding online training

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Winter STEM Challenge with Frosty the Snowman

STEM Activities for Frosty the Snowman 

STEM That is Easy to Implement

This story is one of my favorites of the "Pick Your Path STEMventure" series. This story is about beloved Frosty, and helping to make his day the BEST.DAY.EVER. Students decide how they want the story to progress; in completing the story students will complete 3-4 challenges. The story not only guides students through the engineering design process, it includes design constraints and areas for them to fill in their thoughts, plans, and testing data. However, you don't need the resource in order to do just the building parts. Read on to find some fun and creative STEM activities you can do to make Frosty the snowman have a great day!

If you do use the resource I created, students will read through a story about Frosty, and then choose where they would like him to go. Depending on their choice, they will encounter different STEM challenges along the way.

Sled STEM Challenge 

Sleds are an excellent tool to teach students about force and motion, potential and kinetic energy, and friction. Can your students design and create a sled that Frosty can fit in and use? You could use a mini figure or paper Frosty as shown:

Race sleds down a cardboard box on a slope, or use a large sheet of plastic cardboard (find at your local hardware store). It makes a great snow hill! Try different materials to see which ones travel best downhill. Shown are legos, and a section of plastic egg carton covered with vinyl tablecloth.

An Unlikely Winter STEM Challenge - Hammock

Why would Frosty need a hammock? Well, you'd have to read the story to find out. This is a simple challenge that kids always love. Who doesn't love relaxing in a hammock?

Do you want to build a snow-less snowman?

There are several other challenges you can do with a snowman, including building one (use baking soda to make inexpensive fake snow). Students can challenge themselves to build a regular snowman and one that is upside down, as well! For older students, have them hypothesize the correct ratio of baking soda to water to make "snow" that sticks together and holds a shape. They can then test it out and create a recipe, then build their snowmen.

Find this STEM Resource on Teachers pay Teachers

If you would like to use the story and printables I've created, you can find them on Teachers pay Teachers at this link, Snowman STEMventure:

or save these ideas for later by pinning this on Pinterest:

Why Learn Greek and Latin Roots

Learning Greek and Latin Roots

Many words in the English language have Greek or Latin roots. When you start delving into STEM fields, that number only increases. If your students are interested in pursuing careers in a STEM field, knowledge of root words can only increase their understanding and fluency of terminology in the field. Those aren't the only benefits of studying root words, however.

Why Learn Greek and Latin Roots?

Even if you don't love language, there are so many reasons to get familiar with Greek and Latin root words. As students move into increasingly technical textbooks and fields of study, the terminology itself can feel overwhelming. When you are able recognize at least a portion of a new word, it helps to ease the mind a bit.

This is especially important for students choosing a STEM career path. Every STEM field has words with Greek and Latin roots.
Even the names of the fields themselves draw from these languages:

  • biology: the study of life (Greek "bio")
  • mathematics: learning, mental discipline (Greek "máthēma")
  • science: from the Latin scire, "to know"
  • engineering: from the Latin ingenium, "cleverness" and ingeniare, "to contrive, devise" (from Wikipedia)
  • architecture: Greek, meaning "chief builder"
  • astronomy: the study of stars, space  (Greek ástron, "star")

Greek and Latin Roots for Standardized Testing Preparation 

In order for students to get into college or graduate school, they will need to take standardized tests. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of standardized testing, it's still a requirement for applications of most major universities. Knowing Greek and Latin roots strengthens vocabulary and can be used to help decipher unfamiliar words in reading passages. Even if the precise meaning of the word is still a mystery, students can still make an educated guess on the meaning.

Introduce Greek and Latin Roots with a Collaborative Pennant Activity 

Have each student choose a root (or assign them) and have students doodle images that represent the root, or write words with the root on the pennant. Display the pennant so that students can refer to them. You can create your own or use the templates I have created.

Improve Retention by Playing Root Word Games

Greek and Latin Roots Pair Stare
I have created several root word games and a collaborative pennant activity so that root words can be put on display in your classroom. Try root words BINGO, root words pair stare, or both! Games are my favorite way to encourage my kids to learn - usually they are having so much fun they don't even realize they are actually learning something! Learn and use over 60 root words by getting the complete bundle here. You will get the pennant templates, printables to explore the root words, and two games each of pair stare and BINGO.

More Sources for Learning Root Words

Some websites I have found useful when learning about root words:

Online Etymology Dictionary

Online Games to learn roots:
It's Greek to Me game on Scholastic
Root word memory 
Various root word skills 

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5 Awesome End of Year STEM Challenges

STEM Activities for the End of the School Year

You have made it far enough to start thinking about an end-of-year STEM challenge! Hopefully standardized testing is in your past and you are ready to tackle some classic (and new) challenges!

Get Outside with STEM Challenges

My best tip for the end of the school year is to take a challenge outside! Especially if you teach through a long winter, take every opportunity to get outside and learn.

Keep your students motivated to learn right up until the very last day. If you would like printable resources to go with some of these challenge, please scroll to the bottom of this post.

STEM Challenge #1 - Design and Create a Paper Airplane

This challenge is about as easy as you can get from a materials standpoint, but designing and creating a paper airplane is something you could do every day for a full year with a new design each day!

Start with a plain sheet of paper. Explore different folds, cuts, and strategic weights to change up the design. Can you create an airplane that flies far? What about one that will fly in a loop? What if you need the airplane to curve to the right or left on its flight? This one is so easy to differentiate!

Start with basic paper folding and creasing if you are doing this with young kids. I find that sometimes these skills are lacking and a quick lesson in how to line up edges and crease the paper really helps!

STEM Challenge #2 - Design and Create a Kite

Save this one for a field day or when you see there will be some wind to work in your favor. Students will need to balance form and function with their creative touches to make sure the kite will take flight!

STEM Challenge #3 - Design and Create a Cargo Ship

This is always a favorite challenge among students. You can either give students all the same materials and have them try to support the most mass using those materials, or you can give different teams different objects (of various size, weight) that they must carry in their boats. They can then compare the designs and try out other objects. Can their cargo ship carry a variety of cargo or just the one you initially specified?

STEM Challenge #4 - Design and Create a Bubble Wand

Blowing bubbles never gets old. Can you create a bubble wand that blows large bubbles? What about a wand that will create multiple bubbles at once? How about a bubble wand that creates a bubble that is not a sphere? Is it possible? Students can also work on recipes for homemade bubble solution to determine the ideal quantities of water, dish soap, and either glycerin or corn syrup.

STEM Challenge #5 - Don't Crack Up! The Great Egg Drop STEM Challenge

This is a classic end of year challenge that works for elementary aged students all the way up through college! The simplest way to differentiate an egg drop challenge is to increase the drop height (you can use a foot or even one meter for each year of school, provided you have a tall enough building). Will students provide a cushion for the egg? A shock absorption feature? Maybe a way to slow the fall? There are endless possibilities here and testing is an absolute blast.

Find Resources to Guide you Through the Process

Paper Airplane STEM

Boats: Choose from in-depth Engineering Design Challenge (read this post for more about it) or a quick STEM challenge for boats.

Bubble Wand STEM Challenge

Egg Drop STEM Challenge

Or try these three STEM challenges bundled together:

Pin these End of Year STEM ideas for later:

5 Great STEM Challenges for the end of the school year!