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3 Popular STEM Activities for Middle School

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Using Coding Games to Teach STEM Skills

Like most elementary and middle school teachers, you are probably looking for new, engaging ways to work STEM activities for middle schoolers into your curriculum. We get it. There are more and more topics to cover, but there is no more time in the school day to teach it! Instead of having a dedicated STEM learning class, incorporating STEM activities for middle school into other subjects is becoming more common. 

The problem with some coding games is that they have students working alone, sitting behind a computer. At Unruly Studios, we want students to work together and collaborate on active coding games that get students moving around. To solve this problem, we created Unruly Splats - a STEM learning tool that combines block-coding with physical activity by allowing kids to create their own active coding games and play them with classmates. Splats are programmable buttons that light up, make noise, and sense when they are stomped on. Once students code the games on Splats, they are ready to play!

The Rules for the Game are the Rules for the Code

Whether it’s Minecraft, tag, or soccer; games are a familiar part of our lives and kids are naturally great at creating their own rules for them. To get started with incorporating coding games into your class, the first step is to come up with the rules. And the rules for the game, are the rules for the code! Some questions to start with are:

  • How does the game start?
  • What are the rules for getting a point? 
  • How does timing impact this game? 
  • How do you know when the game ends? 
  • What has to happen for you to win the game? 
  • How can we make this game physically active?

You can discuss these questions as a class, or break into small groups. Once everyone understands the rules of the game, it's time for the fun part - coding and playing them! 

STEAM activities for middle school white paper

3 Popular STEM Activities for Middle School

If you are just getting started, Unruly Splats offers pre-built games in the app to get students familiar with the different coding blocks and what they do. All of the games involve physical activity and stomping on Splats! After working with over 3,000 students and teachers in elementary and middle school, these three games are the most popular for getting started with coding games for kids with Unruly Splats:

1) Whack-a-Mole

The rules are simple: when a mole pops up, whack it to get a point! In this version, the “mole” is coded to light up one Splat a different color than the rest. Students can define what color the mole is and how long the mole will pop up for before it moves on to the next Splat. Here’s what the code looks like in the Unruly coding app (free and open for anyone to access!): 

whack-a-mole coding and STEM activity game for middle school
This is the coding area in the Unruly Splats app where students can code their game

Although the code isn’t long, it introduces key concepts of STEM learning like variables, repeats, and conditional statements. From here, students can modify the code by changing the rules for when you miss the mole, how many moles appear in total, and how quickly the moles appear. 

2) Relay Races 

Relay races not only get students moving but they teach the importance of teamwork and some healthy competition! For any relay races, participants are grouped into teams and take turns completing part of a race. The Unruly Splats version of this game  requires team members to run from one Splat to another across the room and stomp on it until that Splat turns green. It will rotate through random colors but the student must leave the Splat green before they run back to the first Splat to stomp on it and get a point. Then, the next teammate goes! Here’s what the code looks like:

coding screen in splats to code stem activities for middle school
Relay Race code on Splats app

This is a great game for full class play! To code it, students can work in small groups or you can have each small group focus on one aspect of the code. It introduces concepts like nested conditional statements, conditional statements and logic. 

Here’s some students getting sweaty playing relay races with Splats:

Race-in-Place (aka Foot Fire!):

Race-in-place games are well suited for areas with limited space, while still allowing kids to work up a sweat! With the Splats race-in-place game in the app, the goal is to step on two splats as many times as you can in the allotted time period. Here’s what the code looks like when you have two students (four Splats) competing against one another for points:

race in place game with unruly splats + stem activity for middle school
Race-in-Place code on Splats app

The code is fairly simple but introduces concepts like timing and conditional statements. Students can get creative and think of other ways to press the splats, like students in Eric Turrill’s PE class did below: 

Going Beyond Coding Existing Games

Introducing coding games that students are already familiar with is a great way to start. To go even further, you could ask the students to get into small groups and modify the rules for the same game to add some complexity. They could add a stopwatch to any game to make it a speed competition or they can add sounds, or code a celebration sound and light show when the game ends. Eventually, students can work their way up to creating their own active games. The ultimate goal is to introduce STEM learning in a fun, active way that gets students moving and collaborating with each other. 

STEM activities for middle school sample lesson plan

Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

Learn more about Unruly Splats: https://www.unrulysplats.com/
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