Hosting an Innovators Day to Boost Elementary STEM Learning

A dedicated day for students to explore STEM activities fosters 21st-century learning and excitement across grade levels.

March 11, 2024
SDI Productions / iStock

The morning was bright, with excitement and anticipation in the air. It was Innovators Day—a day dedicated to fostering students’ future-ready skills—communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation. 

I’d planned the day for a month, with the help of fellow digital learning coaches, as a fun and meaningful way to boost elementary STEM learning. Below, I share keys to success for others looking to implement the approach.

Getting Started

I began by dividing our master schedule to map out who would be where, and when, so I could tailor the day for each grade. I labeled activity stations and grouped grades together: K–first, second–third, and fourth–fifth. Similar-aged students shared stations, but we incorporated slight activity variations for differentiation.

I also developed grade-specific schedules so that teachers had clear guidance for preparing and supporting students.

Planning Stations

After finalizing the schedule, I planned station activities. Drawing on colleagues’ expertise and leveraging resources like MagicSchool AI, I gathered inspiration. MagicSchool was a lifesaver—I prompted Raina (the chatbot) to come up with ideas for stations and wording for slides and directions. 

One suggestion was for prekindergarten students to build igloos using marshmallows and toothpicks; we opted for coffee stirrers as a safer option but enjoyed the activity. Raina also helped me work through the design of a challenge using Bee-Bot, a programmable kids’ robot; AI gave me the idea to create a maze for students to work through. I made some tweaks and included obstacles they had to navigate to reach the finish line. 

My focus throughout was to highlight tech integration through STEM and coding activities. I took inventory of our available supplies and equipment while working within a limited budget. I also enlisted support from school/parent volunteers who helped prepare materials.

To ensure effective implementation, I maintained a consistent format across grade-level stations by having expectations, future-ready skills, directions, and timers readily available for brainstorming and work time. 

I also worked with my principal to present info about the day at a staff meeting. This allowed us to get stakeholders involved and excited about the day. I shared a concise one-pager that teachers took with them as a guide, and I sent informative emails with updates regarding required materials and event details. I also met with cross-grade-level teams to ensure that they were ready to run stations and had received appropriate materials.

Student Goal-Setting

To get students excited and ready to track their engagement, I created a goal and sticker page that they carried through each station. 

In the morning, students set personal and team goals, such as “I will work with my team and listen to all ideas.” Goals helped teachers refocus students, who collected stickers at each station upon achieving them, earning points for their team. This friendly competition infused a sense of collaboration into each task. We also awarded stickers for task participation and future-ready skills that students demonstrated throughout the day. 

Students enjoy collecting stickers and displaying their achievements to teachers and peers as they rotate through the stations, whether or not you decide to assign points.

Station Implementation

Most stations were located in classrooms and afforded all grade levels an hour of coding time. Students used kid-friendly robots like Bee-Bot, Sphero indi, and Ozobots, and they also engaged in STEM challenges. Kindergartners and first graders worked in groups to trap the Gingerbread Man, for example, designing traps that showed their innovation and ingenuity. 

Second and third graders made catapults to sling cotton ball snowballs across the learning space. They made catapults using numerous materials—a particularly memorable version was made out of a cup with a rubber band slingshot. 

Fourth and fifth graders worked to build the tallest, strongest structure using marshmallows and toothpicks. Some structures stood the test of a shaking desk “earthquake,” while others needed a redesign, which gave students a chance to embrace challenges. 

A favorite activity for second through fifth graders was exploring Tinkercad, an online 3D modeling platform. Kindergartners and first graders also enjoyed the coding challenge of programming a Bee-Bot, described above.

As I walked the bustling halls, visiting each class and rotation, laughter from students and teachers filled the air. I had no shortage of opportunities to snap pictures of students working, collaborating, communicating, and innovating—which lent themselves well to a wrap-up video I created to showcase the day to parents. 

“This has been the best day at school so far,” I heard. Teachers expressed their delight and highlighted moments when they felt they could’ve stepped away without students knowing, because everyone was so fully engaged. 


I value gathering feedback on initiatives like Innovators Day, so I sent a Google Form to all teachers following the event. It’s essential to understand areas for improvement and celebrate success. The feedback I received was extremely positive; teachers shared that they want to repeat this event. 

One of our campus goals is to provide future-ready experiences for all students; Innovators Day provided that opportunity. Teachers appreciated that their students were able to engage in fun activities that also taught them how to work as a team—skills that they carried back into classrooms to apply to future projects. 

I shared our wrap-up video (mentioned above) in family newsletters the following week, which generated excitement and interest in future events, helping us build a coalition of support and participation. 

Though hosting an Innovators Day certainly takes preparation, the schoolwide payoff—from students to teachers and families—was profound. By designating days for interactive, deep learning, we can advance students’ 21st-century learning skills while driving genuine excitement in collaborative learning—fostering transferable skills that will serve students long beyond school.

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Filed Under

  • STEM
  • Collaborative Learning
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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