Integrating STEM activities into the classroom at the beginning of the year helps students get to know each other, promote collaboration, and develop essential 21st-century skills. Here are a few engaging ways you can incorporate STEM into your classroom.
A new school year brings fresh ideas and excitement for learning opportunities! We should use it as an opportunity to try some new ideas and also focus on getting to know our students. STEM-focused learning is a great way to do this. Beyond its impact and importance for preparing students for careers in these fields and the future, STEM activities can significantly contribute to building relationships, promoting Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), and enhancing overall student engagement in our classrooms.
By integrating STEM into the classroom from the beginning of the school year, educators can create a dynamic learning environment that fosters curiosity, creativity, and teamwork. It also gives students a chance to experience real-world learning and become creators and innovators.
STEM Challenges and Icebreakers
Educators can incorporate STEM into any classroom without needing a lot of materials regardless of grade level or content area being taught. In all classes, we can involve students in exciting STEM challenges that are great for icebreakers and team-building. For creating a supportive learning community, these hands-on activities are great at the start of the year or throughout the year.
Because STEM activities are inherently collaborative and require students to work together as they solve problems and complete challenges, they are learning about each other and developing essential skills. As students work, they develop communication skills, learn to respect each other's ideas, and together can build a sense of community within the classroom. STEM challenges provide an excellent way for students and teachers to get to know one another which leads to the creation of a positive and inclusive learning space.
Some examples are the Red Cup Tower Challenge, or the Paper Bridge where students must build a bridge using only sheets of paper and tape that can support a certain weight and other hands-on challenges that can be used to get students collaborating are great. These are also great for educators to experience as it shows that they are able to bring STEM to any classroom!
Genius Hour and PBL
We can learn about our students and their interests by providing time for students to engage in genius hour or project-based learning (PBL). With a focus on STEM, students can explore topics of interest and share their learning with classmates. With the increasing need for STEM-related skills, genius hour and PBL are fantastic ways to promote student-driven learning and more choice, and also valuable ways to cultivate essential 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.
With the changes we are seeing in technology available for learning, combining genius hour or PBL and bringing in on technologies such as AI or AR and VR and how these can be used to solve challenges, gives students the chance to explore and interact with emerging technologies, which will better equip them for the demands of the future workforce.
By exploring the benefits of STEM, educators can inspire and empower young learners, spark their curiosity, and encourage them to approach complex problems with creativity and innovation. Students will develop the essential skills that will help them to be successful in the future, especially as we see changes in technology and its impact on the world of work.
Resources to Explore:
Code.org is a resource for educators looking to teach students about coding and STEM and find resources. It also has newer resources that are aimed at helping teachers bring AI learning opportunities to all classrooms for students in grades K-12. Exploring thevideosavailable is a good opportunity for students to better understand where opportunities with AI are.
CoSpaces Eduis an augmented and virtual reality platform that offers lesson plans, a gallery of examples, and templates that make it easy to get started. Students can build coding skills and explore the STEM-focused projects in the gallery. It can be used for any grade level or content area to have students design and build coding skills.
Defined Learningoffers a variety of great materials for educators to bring to students. There is a full curriculum on Computer Science from Defined Learning, which is for students in grades K through 14. Educators can find some great resources to start with students.
Kinderlab Roboticsoffers a screen-free, hands-on STEAM robot kit for early childhood STEM education. KIBO engages young students to learn STEAM concepts through play and creative self-expression. Early learners build, code, create, and explore using KIBO physical manipulatives and playful self-directed opportunities that help them learn about computer science, engineering, and computational thinking.
Nearpodis an interactive platform that educators can use to involve students more by adding in activities mixed in with content including slides, videos, and more. Nearpod has lessons available to use focused onSTEM-related topics including careers that students can explore that require STEM skills. There are many ready-to-run lessons to choose from to explore STEM concepts and careers.
Ozobot offers a variety of ways for students to learn about STEM. Ozobot is a one-inch robot that students use to learn about coding. It can be used screen-free with color codes or on-screen with Ozobot Blockly. It also has the Metabot which incorporates augmented reality! There are lesson plans available for educators to be able to dive right in.
Scratchis a fantastic resource to explore as it offers free resources for students ages 8 through 16 and is available in more than 70 languages, which promotes greater accessibility. Students can explore topics of interest and explore a variety of projects to get some ideas to then design their own projects
Benefits of STEM
Students need the opportunity to develop the skills that are in demand now and will continue to be in the future. With STEM activities, it can spark curiosity for different career options available to students and there are many other benefits. Through STEM, we can also address social-emotional learning (SEL) and help students who may hesitate to interact with classmates or lack confidence in speaking in class, to develop social and interpersonal skills by interacting with classmates. Especially at the start of a new school year and throughout the year, working on relationships and having fun learning together is key!
About the Author:
Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s Next in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and Community Leader and served as president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021 and One of the 150 Women Thought Leaders to Follow for 2022.