STEM Family Nights are awesome! They generate excitement for STEM in your school and community by allowing students, teachers, and families to explore STEM together in a fun way! I planned my first STEM Night this past November, and after a big success, we planned three more! We worked with each middle school campus to create a family night that best fit the school culture, and we were excited to have over 400 participants engaged in activities each night. We got the whole school involved from administrators, teachers, coaches, student organizations, and parents to put on a meaningful night of STEM exploration. Want to plan your own night? Read on to learn how!
What is a STEM Family Night?
A STEM Family Night is an evening of hands-on science, math, and engineering activities for students and families to complete together. The event includes a range of activities covering different STEM topics and connections to exciting STEM careers. You can select a theme such as space or environment. You may also want to connect with relevant standards, especially during testing season. If you are new to STEM, you can read more about the basics of STEM education here. To get started on your STEM Family Night planning, here are some basic steps to follow.
Step 1: Get Support
A STEM Family Night can be a big undertaking and requires support from school administration and teachers. Reaching out to math and science departments is important for recruiting teacher volunteers and advertising to students, but other departments should also be included. Here are some more ideas for additional support:
- Local engineering companies for sponsors, volunteers, or providing raffle prizes
- Local universities with science and engineering departments that can provide STEM students to support activities
- Parent volunteers to help prepare activities, fundraising, and support event logistics
- High school STEM clubs such as robotics that can bring demonstrations or volunteer at a station
Step 2: Choose Activities
Choose activities in advance to allow for teachers to sign-up for stations, use in marketing, and plan logistics. I recommend about 6 stations that can be spread throughout the cafeteria or gym depending on expected participation.
Recommended for stations:
- Quick, hands-on activity that can be completed in under 10 minutes
- Accessible to all ages
- Opportunity to design and build
- Requires only a short list of readily available materials
- Wide-range of topics covered to cater to a range of student interests
NOT Recommended for stations:
- Talks or presentations - you may want to have a kick-off talk, but keep it short
- Displays from companies that don't include a hands-on component
- Overly time-consuming or extensive activities with multiple steps
- Same type of activity for all stations
For our STEM night, we had a mix of engineering design challenges, science experiments, math activities, programming / robotics games, and team-building challenges. Below is a sample of our activities, but you can get the full guide here.
Step 3: Logistics
STEM Family Nights will vary depending on school culture and family engagement. In general, a STEM Night should not exceed more than 2 hours and is recommended to be an open event for all students and families. You should consider the following:
- Is transportation an issue for students? It was for us, so we started immediately after school.
- Will food be provided? We had a carnival style theme with a food truck serving kettle corn and slushies. It was a huge hit!
- Do families need to RSVP? We made it an open, come and go event for families.
- How will you promote the event? We made announcements, posted fliers, called parents, and sent emails. However, the biggest draw was promotion by teachers, especially promises of extra credit.
For space, we considered various options at each school. We decided to spread the stations across the cafeteria plus a few classrooms or library. Below is the Straw Rockets station in the cafeteria. The signs were targets for the students to aim at with their rockets.
I highly recommend the use of a STEM Passport for your night. Participants receive the passport at the start of the night and get stamps for each completed activity. Stamps allowed students to get kettle corn or slushies, and this was a great way to keep students focused and engaged. Our STEM Family Night Planning Guide includes an editable version of this passport. Teachers collected these passports to provide extra credit.
- Provide extra seating for elderly or young children
- Make a diagram of activities and present to administration and custodial staff
- Create a welcome area with sign-in sheets and STEM Passports
- Create signs and a tri-fold for each station with additional information
- Refreshments: Students can be rewarded with a food ticket upon completing a set number of activities. 2 stamps = food ticket
- Raffle prizes: Raffle tickets can be another incentive for participation
We hope you find these tips useful for planning your own STEM Family Night! For more information, you can purchase Vivify's all-inclusive planning guide that includes all of our activities, a planning checklist, a complete budget and materials list, editable marketing materials, STEM resource handouts, and more!
Best of luck on your STEM Family Night!