STEAM Up Learning Outdoors! 15+ Ideas to Try Now or this Summer!

“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world.” – Barack Obama, Former U.S. President

Many of the missions in my new book, Hacking Digital Learning with Missions, are aimed at inspiring students to think critically, focus on questions versus answers, conduct hands-on research, and make a difference in the world with their innovations. The field of Science, Technology, Engineering, ART and Math (STEM/STEAM) is at the heart of innovation, discovery and curiosity. Sadly, many learners, especially minorities and females, aren’t pursuing careers in STEM fields, because they don’t see themselves as problem-solvers or innovators. One reason is too many curriculums encourage learners to produce answers. The main assessments for schools are multiple choice tests, which punish learners if they don’t choose the right answer provided from a list of narrow options. Providing answers kills the drive to intimately investigate a problem and fall in love with the journey and process of discovering solutions. In the real world, those who transform the world spend a lifetime investigating solutions for problems they are passionate about. Often, they leave records about their research and ideas so that others continue the journey to finding solutions. Below, find STEAM based activities that inspire learners of all ages to explore their outdoor surroundings in creative ways. Find tons of my STEAM inspired lessons and resources collected here.

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STEAM/STEM Resources and Activities

  • These are 6 characteristics of a great STEAM lesson I’ve adapted from EdWeek:
    • Connect & integrate Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math
    • Real world learning
    • Hands-on inquiry
    • Cooperative learning
    • Multiple right answers
    • Engineering Design Process (EDP)
  • Send them on field research!
    • For young learners, they can go on nature walks, observe, and take photos of the nature, ecosystems, animals, and bugs in their environment. Observation logs are just one of the 32 resources in Hacking Learning with Edtech Missions.
    • I’ve had students collect water samples with SAWS engineers, bird watch with park rangers, analyze clouds with meteorologists, and fossil hunt with local paleontologists.
    • Students can document their observations using the iNaturalist iOS/Android app.
    • They can include their observations, photos, and research in interactive field guides or digital scrapbooks using iBooks, EduBuncee, or Book Creator. There is one mission dedicated to this in my book.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt! Try these apps and web tools- KlikaKlu appGoose Chase app,, and the Qr Treasure Hunt Generator.
  • Geocaching is where you search for little treasures people hide using GPS coordinates. Many are at local parks or landmarks.
  • One of the most important parts of STEAM is guiding students through various processes of inquiry, observation, design, collaboration, and problem-solving. For the following activities below get students to employ the scientific method and the Engineering Design Process. This article by ASCD has a nice visual and information about combining these processes.
  • Playground STEAM:
    • Students work in pairs to study the math and physics of the slides, swings, or other playground equipment. They create questions, make predictions, test these out, collect data, and come to conclusions.
    • Students can measure their shadows at different times of the day. Get them to bring in other objects and draw what they predict the shadows will be depending on the time and location.
    • Get them to test different distances and angles with their bodies playing different sports to improve their game.
    • Group students to experiment with designing and testing out their designs for creating kites, paper airplanes, rockets, or ships.
  • Another mission in my book is about citizen science. Researchers and scientists have created tons of free projects students can join and contribute important research they conduct outdoors and indoors.
  • To inspire learning in the summer add them to a digital calendar that students click on to see the activity and receive a digital badge for completing the activity. In a later post I’ll include an example of a Summer STEAM Challenge Digital Calendar for students.

Challenge: Try one of these STEAM inspired activities to motivate students to investigate the science and math in their surroundings.

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and on her blog,, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at

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