STEM at Work

In this lesson, students explore the varied work of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, and discuss character traits common to all of them. Students meet a diverse group of scientists—inventors, problem-solvers and those who explain the world around us.  
Grade Level

  • Students will identify careers that are possible with a background in STEM. 
  • Students will identify characteristics of a diverse group of people who are successful in STEM.
  • Enduring Understandings:
    • STEM careers consist of many diverse types of work.
    • Despite their diverse backgrounds, scientists have similar traits, such as curiosity, perseverance and the ability to solve problems.
Essential Questions
  • What work do scientists do?
  • What qualities or skills do scientists have in common?


curiosity [kyoo r-ee-os-i-tee] (noun) the desire to learn about something

diagnose [dahy-uh g-nohz] (verb) to figure out the cause of something, often an illness

patent [pat-nt] (noun) a document (paper) from the government stating that an invention belongs to a particular person, and that other people are not allowed to use it without their permission

persistence [per-sis-tuh ns] (noun) quality of sticking to a task or problem 

predict [pri-dikt] (verb) to make a guess about what will happen next

statistics [stuh-tis-tiks] (noun) a collection of numbers (examples: how many people live in a certain place, number of home runs a baseball player has)



Learning about the World: The Bubble Experiment

1. Prepare the two-minute PBS NATURE clip of the dolphin experiment for viewing.

Explain that this video shows the work of scientists called oceanographers. (Students can probably guess what the scientists study by looking at the beginning of the word.) In this experiment, the scientists built a bubble machine and placed it on the bottom of the ocean. The students will see what the scientists see as dolphins discover the bubble machine for the first time. Ask students to predict what will happen. Then watch the video together. 

2. After viewing, explain that scientists usually begin their work with a question. Discuss:

  • What question(s) do you think the scientists had about dolphin behavior?
    What answer(s) did this experiment give them?

3. Explain that some people think that scientists set up an experiment and find out what they need to know very quickly. Often that is not true. Scientists might need months or even years to ask their questions and look for answers.

  • What do you think the oceanographers needed to do to get ready for the experiment with the dolphins and the bubble machine?

4. Watch the video again, and have students discuss their answers.


Solving Problems: A New Kind of Soccer Ball 

1. Prepare the two-minute SOCCKET clip for viewing.

Tell students that the people in this video use science for a different reason: to solve a problem. Watch the video to answer these questions:

  • What problem were they trying to solve?
  • What was the solution?

2. Share the story of the development of the SOCCKET. The woman you see in the clip, Jessica O. Matthews, began this project in a college class. She eventually started a company with a classmate, Julia Silverman, to bring their product to life. Matthews’ parents were born in Nigeria, and Silverman worked on projects in Africa while she was in college. They both knew of poor communities in West Africa that had no access to safe and reliable electricity.

Their idea was to create a soccer ball that could store the energy created by kicking it. Their first model was a plastic hamster ball with a special flashlight inside. With the help of engineers, they worked to find a design that worked better. It took many tries to arrive at the final version. The SOCCKET’s creators are wondering if they can find other “apps” for the energy created by kicking the ball—like powering a water purifier or a cellphone charger. If you’re a scientist solving a problem, one question often leads to a whole lot more.

Note that engineers use math and science to create everything from bridges to robots! 

Add oceanographer and engineer to the class list of STEM careers.


Science Star Cards 


  1. Prepare one or more sets of “Science Star Cards” by printing them on heavy paper (in color, if possible). Separate the cards by cutting the printed pages into quarters. Assemble the cards so that the scientists’ photos on the front match their brief biographies on the back. Attach each card front to its back.
  2. Choose one “Science Star Card” to use as an example. Create a version of this “Science Star Card” and the “Scientists at Work” chart large enough for all students to see.
  3. Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Distribute the remaining seven “Science Star Cards” and one copy of the “Scientists at Work” handout to each group.


  1. Describe the purpose of the “Science Star Cards”: to learn about a small group of scientists and the exciting work they do. Each team of students will read about a different scientist and report their findings to the whole group. Explain that students will use the “Scientists at Work” handout to take notes. Note that they may not be able to complete all of the boxes for each scientist. (You will provide information on the scientists’ education when the class shares their notes together.)
  2. Read through the sample “Science Star Card” together and take student suggestions for completing the “Scientists at Work” chart. Write student answers on the chart where all can see. Note especially the “Answering big questions? Solving problems?” box and remind them of the dolphin and soccer ball examples—and the difference between them. Discuss possible character traits, including curiosity and persistence.


Scientists at Work

  1. Allow students 10 minutes to take notes on their scientists using the “Scientists at Work” handout. Circulate to help students who may be struggling, particularly with unfamiliar vocabulary.
  2. Reconvene the group and complete the chart for each scientist, based on the answers from each team. (Note: Students may take notes on additional scientists on their group’s chart, if desired, but this is not required.) Define unfamiliar vocabulary as you proceed.
  3. Ask students how much education they think someone in a STEM career might need. (“A lot” for most of the scientists discussed, but entry-level careers are possible with less education.) Define the following:
  • Associate degree: 2 years
  • Bachelor’s degree: 4 years
  • Master’s degree: 6 years
  • Doctorate or professional degree: 8 or more years

4. Fill in the education for each scientist as you complete their row.

  • Patricia Bath (professional degree)
  • Mona Hanna-Attisha (master’s degree and professional degree)
  • Stephen Hawking (doctorate)
  • Jose Hernandez-Rebollar (doctorate)
  • Grace Murray Hopper (doctorate)
  • Maya Lin (master’s degree)
  • Nate Silver (bachelor’s degree)
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (doctorate)

5. Summarize students’ findings, paying special attention to “Character Traits.” Answer the final question on the “Scientists at Work” chart together.

6. Add the STEM careers discussed to the class list.

Do Something: From Architect to Zoologist

As an ongoing project to research additional careers, students can create a class book using the “From Architect to Zoologist” template. (You will need to duplicate at least 26 copies of page two, one for each letter of the alphabet, plus extras to allow for mistakes or larger classes.)

Create a sign-up sheet so that all letters of the alphabet are represented. An alphabetized list of STEM careers can be found at Career Kids. You may wish to ask students to help you brainstorm careers for letters that are not represented (for example, Q for quilt maker, who depends on math to measure accurately).

Extra for Experts

There’s a fascinating story behind each of the Science Stars. If your students want more information, here’s where to look:

Stephen Hawking
Biography’s four-minute video explains the impact of Hawking’s scientific contributions and his experience living with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
A video clip in which Tyson describes his first meeting with Carl Sagan. (Note: Start the video 10 seconds in, if possible, to avoid Tyson’s explanation that he and Carl Sagan “weren’t drinking buddies.”) 

Grace Murray Hopper
This brief written summary of Hopper’s achievements includes an embedded, full version of the short film Queen of Code, which highlights her life and work. The film also features interviews with people from a wide array of backgrounds who discuss the importance of Hopper’s contributions to computer science. 

Nate Silver
Nate Silver’s website is a cornucopia of information for people who love statistics. (“Five Thirty Eight” represents the number of votes in the electoral college.) The website is owned by ESPN, with Silver as the Editor-in-Chief. (Note: Silver says what he thinks, and you’ll find an occasional swear word here.)

Patricia Bath
A two-minute animation explains cataracts and their removal. (Note: The animation includes unfamiliar medical terms.) 

Jose Hernandez-Rebollar
This CBS News article explains the inspiration behind—and the benefits of—Hernandez-Rebollar’s invention, the AcceleGlove. The electronic glove can convert American Sign Language into written text or spoken words.

Maya Lin
In this PBS video, Maya Lin talks about her work as an architect and artist, and we see the Grand Rapids ice skating rink progress from her design to construction.

Mona Hanna-Attisha
This news article from The Detroit Free Press details Hanna-Attisha’s journey from discovering the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to having local and state officials take action.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards/College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2


Lesson written by Kathy Kinsner.

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