5 STEM Project Ideas for Spring

STEM is for girls and spring is for STEM—get hands-on experience with these anyone-can-do projects

The warmer weather, brightly budding trees and chirping birds have finally arrived to announce the start of spring. After being cooped up by the cold weather and stuck at home thanks to the pandemic, spring is the perfect time to go outside and engage your girls in STEM. There is no shortage of fun STEM project ideas. We rounded up five from around the web—try one today!

  1. A Cooler Project 

The heat is on, so what better time to learn exactly how that cooler you or your mom lug to the beach really works. In this short STEM activity, the goal is to discover which material makes the best insulation and, in turn, just how long you can keep an ice cube from becoming a small puddle. For this project, you’ll need plastic tupperware, ziploc bags, ice cubes and a variety of insulators like newspaper, cotton balls, bubble wrap and so on. By the end of this STEM activity, your young scientist will have a better grasp of convection and conduction.

  1. Tiny Techno Dancers

For most of us, the warmer weather means getting together with our friends and family for cookouts, movie nights or backyard game nights. Although that may not be possible yet due to safety concerns and essential pandemic protocols, this extremely cool STEM activity is perfect for those missing their girl gang. 

Interested in technology or electromagnetism? Try building a homopolar motor! This is a sophisticated project and will likely require some trial and error, as well as parental supervision. Try making a basic homopolar motor at first, then play around with making your “tiny dancer” out of copper wire. Once you have the science down, dress your dancers in colorful crepe paper and watch them dance as you play DJ! 

  1. DIY Bird Nests

Have you ever thought of birds as engineers? A quick search of “birds nests” will reveal that these crafty homebuilders construct nests in trees, bushes, rocky edges and on the ground. Take a look around your yard or favorite park. Can you spot any bird nests? If so, can you tell what materials those birds chose to use?

For this spring-inspired STEM project, you will build your own bird nest using only natural materials that you can find outside. Think twigs, small rocks and grass. This could get messy (a.k.a. fun), so work outside if possible. Gather your nest materials, including an egg or egg-like rock or rubber ball, to test the sturdiness of your design. Before adding your “egg,” try testing your nest by gently blowing on it. There is no perfect design goal here, so everyone’s result may look different. When you’re done, simply put your materials back where you found them outside. Cleanup here is a cinch! 

  1. Make a Backyard Sundial

Another great STEM activity for those who can’t get enough of the sunny spring weather is to make your own sundial! Once you have a nice spot picked out (aim for an area about 10-12 inches in diameter), you will need to gather 12 seashells or rocks, paint and a good stick. That’s it! It may take some time to map as you will need to watch the sun’s shadow once you plant your stick in the ground to serve as the sundial’s gnomon. Fans of ancient history, earth science or those with an artistic flair may particularly enjoy this project, too!

  1. Measure a Tree’s Height 

Perfect for pairs, this outdoorsy STEM activity is a great excuse to explore nearby parks, hiking trails or scenic overlooks. The only materials you’ll need to measure tree height are a pencil, measuring tape or a measuring stick and a partner. One girl will use the pencil to estimate the tree height, while the other girl will stand near the chosen tree to pace out the measurement later. Once they get the hang of it, the girls can swap places and assume the others’ role. Math and a hike, talk about a perfect afternoon!

What STEM project ideas do you have planned for spring? Head to our new Resources page for a lot more inspiration. 

The Play Like a Girl Mission IRL

We think you’ll agree—this Minnesota teen is an embodiment of our mission

When Julia Chaffin decided she wanted to build a smart mirror for a summer project, she did what every 21st century teen would do—she turned to the internet. She was expecting to find clear, step-by-step instructions on how to use a computer monitor, some two-way mirror film and a Raspberry Pi kit to create a mirror that could display the date, time and current weather. But what she found was anything but beginner friendly.

So, what did she do? She took matters into her own hands, creating the nonprofit Smart View, which sells all-in-one mirror kits and provides easy-to-follow directions on how to program the software and assemble the mirror.

She knew she didn’t want to make money off the kits. That’s not in the spirit of Raspberry Pi’s open-source ecosystem. So, she again turned to the internet to find a worthy cause. This time, the internet didn’t let her down—it led her straight to Play Like a Girl!

“The whole tie-in with STEM for girls and sports and the belief that leadership comes from sports just really resonated with me,” she says.

You see, Julia also is an athlete. She plays both soccer and golf, which she describes as completely different in terms of what she’s gained from the sports. With soccer, it’s all about the confidence that she gets playing on a team. 

“Soccer has taught me to be more outgoing and to believe in myself more,” she says. “That definitely rolls over to school and other parts of my life.”

When Julia’s family moved to Switzerland for her mom’s work when she was younger, it was soccer that helped her make fast friends.

With golf, it’s more about the puzzle. “You think more about every single move,” she says. “You hit the ball and you have two minutes or more to decide what you’re going to do next. There’s definitely a lot more thinking. At first it was hard, because it’s so easy to get in your own head. But I’ve learned that if I have a bad shot, that’s OK. It just means I have to figure out where to go from there.” 

Julia is a junior in high school now and is on the cusp of getting to decide what’s next for her academically. Right now, she’s thinking about biomedical engineering. “Whether I go into medicine after that or design medical devices, those sound like super cool career paths,” she says.

And she already has built-in mentors—her mom, Kim, is a chemical engineer and a senior distinguished scientist for Medtronic, one of the biggest medical device companies in the world. Her brother is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan (mom’s alma mater). “They were always saying to me,” she recounts. They said ‘Take an engineering class at some point to see if you like it.’”

Julia did take an engineering class (two, actually). But she doesn’t just like it—she loves engineering!


STEM for Girls: Reimagining the Future

When girls engage in STEM, everyone wins.

There’s a gap between girls and boys when it comes to their interest in and their pursuit of STEM subjects. No surprise here, but there’s also a gap in the number of women and men in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields like coding and cybersecurity among others. Why do you think that is?

An ill-informed argument might suggest achievement: “Boys are just better at STEM subjects than girls.” No, that’s not it. A large body of research shows that girls perform as well as boys in math. And in fact, middle school girls pass algebra at higher rates than boys. 

Another misguided position might point to the toys we give our kids when they’re young. But it’s way too simplistic to say the STEM gap exists because girls play dress-up with dolls and boys play with things that go vroom. That’s giving a bit too much weight to playthings. (And come on, we all know that Barbie has worked in basically every STEM field over the years!)

So why is there a STEM gap for girls? It doesn’t have to do with the test scores or favorite toys—it’s stereotypes, cultural norms and societal pressures that make girls think they can’t dream big. Girls aren’t less capable than boys. But the world around them can make them think that’s true. The media reinforces it. Books on library shelves don't exactly refute it. Even grown-ups who love the girls in their lives can unwittingly recreate this horrible untruth.

Ask any kid to draw a mathematician and you’ll probably get a picture of a man (and he’ll probably be wearing glasses). This is a very basic way of pointing out that, historically and culturally speaking, we collectively see these types of jobs as being held by men.  

“The self-limiting beliefs these stereotypes create can snowball to affect a girl’s trajectory and future career choices,” according to Barbie’s Dream Gap Project. “They may even discourage women to pursue prestigious careers, especially in fields that value brilliance.” 

And therein lies the benefit of STEM for girls and the answer to “Why STEM for girls?” Because when girls engage in STEM, everyone wins.

What happens when girls love STEM, too

The benefits of STEM for girls are far-reaching. For starters, engaging girls in STEM can help stimulate their imaginations and foster creativity. Yes, many different forms of play can do that but STEM encourages girls to flex these important muscles through the lens of discovery.

Exposure to STEM also can help boost girls’ confidence and resilience. The more girls explore STEM subjects and are exposed to female role models in STEM fields, the more confident they become that STEM is a perfect fit for them. Resilience, meanwhile, is tied to the experimentation side of STEM. The process of designing and building, testing and failing (the engineering design process, by the way), helps instill the important lesson that failing is OK and actually helps lead to success.

This is a Play Like a Girl principle our mentors teach girls like Carwyn, Maria, and Arianna and her sister in our Meet + Mentor program. They know that failing means you're trying. So keep trying. And also keep learning. Because the more you learn from your failures, the closer you come to your successes. 

When girls engage in STEM, they’re also more creative thinkers, better problem solvers and are more confident in their own abilities. And those qualities will transfer to their adult lives—whether they pursue careers in STEM fields or not. These skills will naturally filter into every college classroom, locker room and C-suite.

STEM for girls and the Play Like a Girl mission 

At Play Like a Girl, we envision a world where the playing field is level and every girl reaches her full potential. We deliver programs to leverage the skills girls gain from sports to propel them into male-dominated careers in STEM. Our programs include girls-only camps and sports clinics, hands-on STEM education, makerspace workshops, mentoring opportunities with inspiring female role models, corporate field trips, and powerful girl-centered messaging.

When we give our girls the opportunity to meet a female engineer or a female bat conservationist like If/Then Ambassador and Play Like a Girl mentor Dr. Kristen Lear, we’re not discounting the hard work done by men in those same roles. Instead, we’re saying, “If you can see it, you can be it.”

When we get a group of girls together to geek out over a STEM topic, we aren’t saying, “No boys allowed.” Instead, we’re saying this is a space just for girls because we want to create and cultivate a sense of belonging that for too long has been missing for them in these male-dominated subject areas.

There may be a time in the future when we don’t need to carve out special programs dubbed “STEM for girls.” (When that time comes, we might be out of a job!) But for now, we believe it’s critical to give girls a dedicated community wherein they can explore their unlimited potential--and have the support of other brilliant girls and women like themselves.

And that critical work is at the heart of our efforts here at Play Like a Girl. Take a peek to see our mission in action.