By now, just about every educator understands and is convinced of the importance of bringing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) into their classrooms and the enormous benefits of doing so. STEM prepares children for future jobs. It builds 21st century skills like problem solving and collaboration. It gives young people a strategic view of the world beyond the four walls of the classroom. It’s all good.
But, when it comes time to actually creating STEM-related activities and lessons, reality sets in. With the pressure to achieve academic standards these days, teachers have too much on their plates as it is. Consequently, STEM may only get squeezed in here or there, or not all.
Is it possible to offer students quality STEM education without burning the midnight oil every night? We believe it is. And, this article will explore how.
Getting Started…Think Baby Steps!
STEM is not a big idea watered down to a single lesson. It’s not a subject you “take.” Nor is it a curriculum. STEM is a way of delivering instruction by intentionally weaving four disciplines—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—together.
Some teachers feel uncomfortable teaching STEM topics. However, many others have tackled the tough subjects head on and are truly enjoying creating STEM experiences for their children. They’re busy, like the rest of us. But they recognize there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. These teachers are breaking it down and integrating STEM into their day by taking small baby steps:
- They tweak, not start fresh. A small change here and there to a lesson, project, or activity may be all it takes for students to start thinking STEM.
- They sprinkle in motivating STEM language. They use terms like design, model, experiment, and construct to get students in the right mindset to innovate and thinking like little scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.
- They challenge students to find multiple solutions. There’s rarely no one right answer. Once children realize this, they become engaged, empowered, and eager to investigate and explore.
- They share ideas with other teachers. Collaboration isn’t just a student skill. Teachers working together through channels like TeachersPayTeachers.com and Pinterest are helping each other transition from STEM novice to expert.
- They think long haul, not short term. They treat STEM as a long-term theme running through the curriculum from year to year and grade to grade—not a one-hit lesson.
Wow Them with Hands-On Learning
Students often are turned off by STEM subjects because they think they are difficult or boring. The job of the teacher is to show them how STEM is exciting, relevant, and lots of fun. Water, the planets, DNA—just about any STEM topic can be presented in meaningful ways that engage students in discovery and invite creative problem-solving.
In any given school, STEM may be taught in one classroom only, one subject only—like science or math, or through STEM lessons integrated across the curriculum by all teachers. It doesn’t matter. To succeed, teacher success starts with the right mindset:
- Be prepared for a noisy, dynamic classroom where kids are collaborating, sharing, and learning in real time.
- Start thinking of failure as just another step in the discovery process. It’s essential.
- Be willing to step back from the teacher role, avoid spoon-feeding children, and give them room to inquire, experiment, and innovate on their own.
- Facilitate ways children can work together using hands-on methods to solve real-life problems.
- Allow students to actively engage in projects and activities, to get their hands dirty and see how messy—and thrilling—solving problems can be.
- Make STEM relevant. Students need to view STEM as something meaningful—not just something to memorize for the next test.
To sum it up, any school and district can become STEM-ready. All that’s needed are a vision, a starting point, a long-term goal, and teachers who are ready to add “innovator” to their job description.
For a closer look at STEM and NGSS and how they both impact your classroom, check out SDE’s webinar An Introduction to STEM and NGSS (Gr. K–8) by author and STEM/NGSS expert Alissa Berg.