Engage Students in Solving Real-World Problems with STEM

Engage Students in Solving Real-World Problems with STEM

If your students aren’t excited about STEM, the problem might be a lack of exposure to real-world challenges.

Real-world problem solving should be at the core of any STEM education program. It increases student buy-in as students realize that their work has an impact that extends beyond the classroom walls. Students develop empathy as they take a walk in someone else’s shoes understanding their problems before coming up with potential solutions.

By engaging students with real life stories, we will inspire future scientists and engineers to find solutions to these real-world problems.

The following are our top 5 STEM read alouds and activities to engage students in real-world problem solving.

1.) The Water Princess

The Water Princess (Water Filter STEM)


The Water Princess by Susan Verde is centered around the real-world problem of a lack of clean and accessible drinking water. It tells the story young girls walking daily to fill pots with water to be used for basic necessities such as drinking, bathing, and cooking.

The lack of clean drinking water causes many problems including illnesses from contaminated water. Also, many children are unable to attend school due to the time it takes to collect the water.

Invite students to help solve this real-world problem by testing out different materials to use as a water filter such as paper towels, tissues, and coffee filters. Have students design a water filter using the materials that they found most effective. Learn more about this challenge!

2.) Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa

Wangari's Trees of Peace

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa by Jeanette Winter tells the story of Wangari Maathai. In response to the deforestation of her homeland, Wangari started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya in 1977. The Green Belt Movement was an organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights.

Wangari enlisted the help of local women to plant trees. Her work had a huge impact. Since the creation of the Green Belt Movement, more than thirty million trees have been planted in Kenya and other African countries. The trees help prevent soil erosion, filter water and air, and provide firewood and timber.

Teach students about this powerful movement and invite them into the story as a problem solver with a STEAM challenge to design their own tree of peace out of pipe cleaners. Learn more about this challenge!

3.) One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul tells the story of Isatou Ceesay and how she solved the problem of plastic waste in Gambia by repurposing it. Isatou helped create an organization called Women Initiative the Gambia.

Each week, members of the organization make wallets, bags, and other items using reclaimed plastic waste. 

Invite students to help solve this real-world problem by repurposing plastic bags into bracelets and other items. Learn more about this challenge!

4.) Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea (Solar Oven STEM Challenge)

Iqbal and his Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby tells the story of a family in Bangladesh without a stove. It is monsoon season so the family must cook all of their meals indoors over an open fire.

Breathing in the smoke from the fire makes them sick, but unfortunately they have no other way to cook their food. This is a reality for many families around the world.

Invite students to solve this problem with STEM by designing and building their own solar cooker to make s’mores. Learn more about this challenge!

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea (Solar Oven STEM Challenge)

Imagine your classroom buzzing with curious students excitedly working away on solving problems that matter with STEM!

These read-aloud lesson ideas are already planned and ready to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

All 4 of these real-world STEM activities are bundled at a discount and available in our TPT store.

For more STEM ideas, inspiration, and collaboration with other STEM teachers be sure to join our FREE Facebook group Elementary STEM Teachers Club!

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