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Dr. Tisha Shipley has been in education for over 23 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented 3rd-6th Grades, Dr. Shipley was an elementary principal, a cheer coach, and was on...
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Choosing Themes for STEM and STEAM Part 3

I have written two other articles that you may want to consider taking a peek at before reading this article.  They are Using STEM and STEAM in the Classroom, and Planning, Managing and Incorporating STEM and STEAM Learning Centers Part 2.  

We know that incorporating STEM and STEAM into your classroom practices takes time, organizing, planning and a little creativity. This article will be all about choosing theme and thematic units based on STEAM learning.

Themes and thematic units are something that I used weekly in my early childhood community. They were chosen by what my students’ interests were that year, and what knowledge and background they brought with them.  I also chose my themes by the time of year it was and the letter of the alphabet we were studying. For example, if we were learning the letter “S” and we were going to learn about snow I wanted to make sure it was winter time and that we may get to encounter snow or were able to make snow.  Even if I lived somewhere warm where it never snowed my students would more than likely be very excited to learn about snow and all its goodness.   The following are only short examples of a few themes that children enjoy that will incorporate STEAM learning:


Children learn to love about bugs, spiders, insects and anything living.  They want to know how things grow, how they are born, why they die, and what their purpose is while they are alive. As you plan to incorporate thematic and integrated units into your daily schedule ask yourself, why am I choosing this topic and what are my goals and objectives for the students?  This theme could turn in to an entire unit.

Think about the materials you will need to gather, where they will come from and how much money you will need to spend.  The bug, spider and insect unit allow you time and freedom to explore outside, dissect, find, hunt and gather. You an learn about habitats and how they are built, what they eat and if your brave have a center set up with living specimens.

Growing Plants

Children are fascinated with growing their own food and plants.  This is a theme you could incorporate all year long. As you teach children about seeds and how they are planted, make sure to plant your own so that you can observe, engage, explore and document the growth. Allow children to take their plants home and even eat foods you grow. Encourage families to do the same things at home, and even send home seeds that they can plan as a family. You can go on a plant and or garden walk where children learn about planting food, and how to take care of a garden.  Children can take pictures of their gardens at home and share with the class about how their plants are growing.  Grow different types of flowers and bushes, that this time to really dive deep into how growing food and plants is beneficial to all people.

Rocks, Minerals and Fossils

Teaching children about rocks, the sea, minerals and fossils can really spark a child’s natural curiosity. You will be teaching a lot of new vocabulary and teaching about fun things like volcanoes and its layers. In many of these lessons you will be able to connect technology and engineering and make it very hands on with scientific tools such as magnifying glasses and balance scales.  Take your students on a nature hunt and help them collect objects for the Science Center.  Watch videos, explore live cameras in natural parks and have a guest speaker come in and talk about the important things your students have asked.

Sea/Ocean Life

When you incorporate the sea and ocean into a child’s learning day, they will be fascinated by all sorts of things they may have never seen. Seashells, the animals and mammals that live in the sea and ocean and what the sea and ocean are actually comprised of will draw children in. Children can sort, classify, measure, and make charts about rocks and shells. They can learn about water temperature, salt water, waves and all sea and ocean life. The ocean is something that not all children experience.  You can incorporate marine life, dolphins, boating, fishing and so many other things.


Most children have been to the zoo and or have an animal at home or have been around animals. Books about animals are good to keep in your library. You may want to have a classroom pet, but you need to make sure you have permission.  It is said that animals help children to develop empathy and caring attitudes towards animals and gives them a job and responsibility in your classroom community.  Some children may not have pets at home for various reasons, so it may be the exposure to a classroom pet that sparks a lifelong interest in biology and animals.

If you can’t visit a zoo have a zoo come to you.  At my school I was not allowed to travel with my students, so I had a petting zoo come to us. There are many animals you can talk about and classify such as: farm animals, inside pets, salt water creatures etc.  Never limit what you can begin teaching when you start a theme.  You never know where it will take you.

Each of these themes can be incorporated and integrated throughout your classroom teaching and centers.  With each center and or lesson you teach your students, you are trying to expose them to new concepts and ideas. You want to teach them to explore, question, make mistakes, suggest, wonder, engage and learn about any and all things they can. You have to be a researcher, and an advocate for teaching your students and incorporating and integrating units, themes and STEAM disciplines.

The sky is the limit as you begin setting up centers.  You can teach whatever you want or believe you need to teach. Building on a child’s existing knowledge should be a priority and ensuring that you are teaching skills that they understand and incorporate areas of STEAM make them more beneficial. Exposing children to all types of ideas, concepts and topics is imperative because they may not be getting the knowledge other places.

Being intentional with your themes and units will bring much more excitement to your classroom community.  Students will be highly engaged learning something new they are curious about.   Each of these can be incorporated and integrated into all lessons you are teaching including the centers you will set up.

I hope you will be able to take one idea and begin using it today!