How to teach STEM outdoors

Ahead of British Science Week, Emma Brown shares the benefits of teaching STEM outdoors, along with activities to try with your pupils.

Outdoor learning offers numerous benefits which can make STEM more engaging and relevant for your pupils. Teaching STEM outdoors not only promotes critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity in a real-world context, but it also provides hands-on learning experiences, helping to foster a deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering, and maths.

Compared to subjects like literacy or numeracy, taking technology or engineering out into the school grounds can feel unnatural at first. That’s why in this post, Emma Brown, Training and Development Officer, is exploring experiences and approaches to support you in teaching STEM outdoors. Ahead of British Science Week from 8-17 March, discover the benefits of taking science, technology, engineering, and maths outdoors — along with activities and outdoor lesson ideas to try with your pupils!

Two primary school girls using science equipment in the school grounds during an outdoor lesson.


Why teach STEM outdoors?

In an ever-changing and dynamic environment, ensuring that pupils understand the connections between STEM and the world around them is essential. Teaching STEM outdoors encourages considered thought about our use of natural resources and allows pupils to learn and interact with the living world, creating a holistic approach to education.

The importance of STEM outdoors lies in its ability to enrich learning by integrating science, technology, engineering, and maths with the natural environment, making subject matter more dynamic, relevant, and applicable to real-world situations. Furthermore, teaching STEM outdoors makes it easy to link learning to the Sustainable Development Goals and Learning for Sustainability, helping pupils to understand the vital role STEM plays in finding solutions to real world challenges. Further benefits of teaching STEM outdoors include promoting:

1. Critical Thinking

Solving problems outdoors encourages critical thinking and helps pupils develop scientific skills in a dynamic environment. Through high quality interactions, questions, and use of scientific vocabulary, we can develop and challenge both practitioner pedagogy and pupils’ learning and development in STEM.

2. Creativity and Innovation

Exposure to the natural world sparks creativity, fostering innovative thinking, problem solving skills, and a broader perspective, as well as building knowledge and understanding of STEM concepts.

3. Teamwork and Collaboration

Collaborative outdoor projects promote teamwork and communication skills, developing interpersonal skills which are essential in STEM fields.

4. Environmental awareness

Learning outdoors instils a sense of environmental responsibility, connecting STEM concepts to real issues like conservation and sustainability. Being in nature can make learning more engaging and enjoyable, capturing pupils’ interest and curiosity about the world around them. Skills learned in context become more relevant and applicable.

5. Multisensory Learning

Outdoor environments stimulate and engage multiple senses, facilitating a richer and more memorable learning experience. Different natural spaces can simultaneously ignite creativity and imagination whilst fostering a sense of calm and wellbeing. Feeling the natural elements such as sun, wind, rain, snow, and ice firsthand is important, as it connects us as human beings to the planet we live on.

6. Adaptability

Outdoor learning encourages adaptability as children encounter unpredictable elements, preparing them for challenges in the dynamic STEM field. A simple walk around the grounds can provide opportunities for learners to experience and observe a range of ever-changing scientific principles and their applications.

A science teacher demonstrating the movement of shadows outdoors, using chalk to outline his shadow as it moves across the school grounds.


5 outdoor STEM lesson ideas

British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering, and maths. The theme for 2024, ‘time’, provides some fantastic opportunities to teach STEM outdoors. The changing of seasons, life cycles, and the passing of time create an ever-changing environment in which pupils can explore a variety of STEM concepts. The British Science Week activity packs are free to download, and provide a number of fun and engaging ways to introduce this year’s theme to your pupils. However, we have also put together five of our favourite lesson ideas for teaching STEM outdoors. These activities not only reinforce STEM concepts, but also encourage curiosity, problem-solving, and a connection to the natural world.

1. Decomposition Rates Game

This outdoor science activity involves sorting waste materials by how long they take to decompose, and provides a springboard for a variety of related learning outcomes across maths and language too.

Download Decomposition Rates Game.

2. Ball Run Bonanza

This fun, practical STEM activity has problem-solving, trial and error, and evaluation at its core. It’s ideal for linking to learning about speed, forces, and motion.

Download Ball Run Bonanza.

3. Time Lapse Photos

This outdoor technology activity involves creating a video from a series of photos to show the passing of time. Shadows moving, ice melting, flowers opening and closing, or seeds sprouting all make perfect outdoor subjects!

Download Time Lapse Photos.

4. Puddle Potential

This play-based STEM activity uses splashing in puddles for learning! Meet maths outcomes by measuring puddle depth or splash spread, create a science investigation by observing and recording how long it takes for the puddle to evaporate, or encourage technology skills by trying to move a puddle from one place to another.

Download Puddle Potential.

5. Planting Investigations

This outdoor activity asks pupils to design their own experiments to see what plants need to grow well. The process of planting is a real-world basis for mathematical applications and scientific investigations for even the youngest of scientists, but also lends itself to more advanced enquiries about the impact of soil pH or different fertilisers.

Download Planting Investigations.

A primary school pupils noting down observations on a clipboard during an outdoor STEM lesson.


Discover even more outdoor STEM activities

In collaboration with Tim Dreyer, North Ayrshire Council STEM Coordinator, we have also prepared an overview of further STEM activities to take outdoors during British Science Week, along with extensions and links to live lessons — download our British Science Week lesson overview.

For even more outdoor lesson ideas and activities relating to biodiversity and climate change, browse our Natural Nations resources or visit our Climate Ready School Grounds page. You can also view all outdoor lesson ideas by age and subject area, or visit our school stage hubs for early yearsprimary, and secondary to discover everything you need to take learning and play outdoors.

British Science Week is the ideal opportunity to try teaching STEM outdoors, so we hope this post has left you feeling inspired to give it a go from 8-17 March — make sure to tag us in your photos on X, Facebook, and Instagram using the hashtag #EverySchoolOutdoors! Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest outdoor learning news and opportunities direct to your inbox.

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Steve Moizer, LtL Training and Development Officer, helping a pupil build a willow structure after carrying out a school grounds audit to improve the outdoor space.