Five Effective Ways to STEM Your Classroom
Most, if not all, teachers have heard of STEM. But what is it really and how do you begin to change your classroom?
STEM - Science Technology Engineering Math - is a way to incorporate all four disciplines into one activity. What a challenge for educators as we deal with the various stresses of our career! Do not fret. It can be done, and your students will love it and so will you!
First, you need to evaluate the group you are teaching. Where is their learning? What strengths and weaknesses do they have? Answering questions like these will help you decide what type of STEM projects to introduce.
Bins or boxes?
Our favorite activities are STEM bins or boxes. This is where you collect materials such as pipe cleaners, blocks, and popsicle sticks with Velcro dots. Each type of material is in a separate container. And a student or group of students choose a container, plan what to build, and then make it. This is not a permanent structure and will be disassembled and returned to the container.
After building and before disassembling, students write about their creation in a journal. You can also draw their design which now turns your STEM activity into a STEAM one by adding the A for Art. This writing helps in their development of critical thinking, putting thoughts into words, and explaining their methods.
STEM bins do not cost a teacher any out of pocket money. I have scavenged my school cupboards, and castoffs from other teachers for building materials - dominoes, place value blocks, rods and cubes, foam dice, counting tiles, linking cubes. I have used gallon plastic bags to hold the materials. The kids do not care. They want to build!
Projects tied to what you are teaching
Another way to use STEM in your classroom is to link a project to your curriculum. For example, when teaching about bridges, students can build and test bridges made of various materials, ie straws, sticks, tape, and play dough. This takes a bit more planning, but it can be beneficial to the students and keeps them engaged in their learning.
If you have a budget and can purchase items, then you can check out options for STEM that do not require you to prepare bins or collect materials. Stem bins developed by Brooke Brown come highly recommended. Her bins come with a teacher's guide, bins, and all the materials needed. You can check out what she offers here at www.hand2mind.com. Also, STEM car kits turn your students into mechanics and engineers as they develop a car that will move. They can also decorate the car which then becomes your activity into STEAM.
Breaking the mold
Breakout rooms and boxes are a new way to incorporate STEM into your classroom. Here students answer questions to unlock locks to reveal more clues. These can be used to review material learned or reinforce concepts. Tools such as black lights, locks, and invisible markers are used. Students collaborating and critical thinking skills are developed as they solve the clues to either escape the room or open the last locked box. Either way is a win!
Talk the STEM walk
Lastly, STEM is a shift in your thinking and vocabulary. How can you use the words: problem-solving, explain, challenge, design and failure in your lessons?
Failure seems like a strange word to use, but we all need to fail to move forward.
We learn from our failures, such as the scientist Thomas Edison. STEM is a mind shift to see what challenges and problems can be solved and to be able to explain why and how.
STEM energises the creative juices in students. After 19 years of teaching, I am still learning and getting as excited as the kids when STEM and STEAM are incorporated into my classroom!
Bonnie is a 19 year veteran of teaching grades 2, 3, and 4 and is currently teaching Second at a public Title 1 school. She loves researching and implementing new ideas into her classroom which stretches her and the kids. She is also a goat rancher, she raises chickens and does mission work in Mexico.
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