Simplifying STEM Instruction

In this 6-part series, I'll be sharing best practices and advice from educators that I interview in my fifteen-minute online Bam! Radio Podcast; Practical PBL Strategies


The Need for STEM

In my latest podcast, I interviewed Dr. Jacie Maslyk who has served as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and assistant superintendent. We discussed the increased need for STEM skills in preparation for the future and how educators need activities and resources to help students build their skills in these essential areas. Some educators may think that STEM is not something that can be easily brought into their classroom or is not applicable to the grade level or content area being taught. However, Jacie assures us that STEM learning is something that we can all do in our classrooms to prepare students for their future.

Some teachers may feel like they need to teach a certain grade level or content area or that STEM is something extra that has to be added to the curriculum. However, in our conversation, Jacie shared some tips about how educators can foster a STEM mindset. 


Fostering a STEM Mindset

To get started, Jacie recommends taking a step away from what has been a “teacher-centered” classroom and instead turning it toward our students, to give them opportunities to lead more and learn from one another. When we can provide a student-centered lesson, and have students take the lead, we see the boost in creativity and collaboration. Providing different hands-on materials or technologies and having students exchange ideas or work through challenges together, are the types of activities and learning spaces that foster a STEM mindset. When we turn it over to the students, it helps them to build critical skills as they problem-solve, collaborate, and brainstorm, all of which are the foundation of STEM learning. 

It is important that all teachers, regardless of the content area, help students focus on these skills so that students are prepared for whatever lies ahead in careers and college. It is important to embrace this mindset because we don't necessarily know what the future holds, especially when it comes to the types of careers that will be available, so our students need many skills so that they are adaptable and flexible to whatever lies ahead.


How can we prepare students for future STEM careers?

We can start to help students build these skills even though we don't know what jobs will exist five or ten years from now. Similar to how we couldn't have imagined the jobs and technologies that exist today, we help students develop a variety of skills that are adaptable to all types of work. To prepare, create opportunities for students to be creative and build interest in things they are passionate about. Jacie recommends looking to the local community and finding ways to collaborate or form partnerships. Connect students and teachers with experts in different industries, startups, manufacturers, and tech companies. Whether you can visit a business or need to connect virtually, opening up spaces for those conversations to happen, enables students to engage in authentic and meaningful learning, which makes it more relevant and purposeful. Students will connect more with what they are learning and explore their interests in these areas. 

Jacie encourages districts to seek opportunities that enable students to see what the workplace looks like and how STEM skills are being used. “Work with other districts, form a consortium, and ask questions like: What are the skills that are needed? How can I translate those skills into my classroom instruction?”  Do this at all levels. Doing this will help to spark some interest and curiosity for what students may want to do in the future and will also provide insight to teachers as to what they need to create in the classroom to help students develop those skills. Connect students with their local community and seek to open learning experiences at a global scale too.

Giving teachers a chance to talk with industry experts and ask questions about the skills that students need is important. Dialogue makes such a difference when we connect directly and exchange ideas about how we can together best prepare our students for the future. Real-world experiences and opportunities make a difference for students and teachers.


Moving Beyond One Lesson Toward Long-Term STEM Integration

There are barriers that exist when it comes to education and Jacie says that some of those barriers are the “walls that we surround ourselves with.” It's essential that we break down these barriers. But how? We need to be intentional about connecting with our colleagues, and local schools, seek global connections, to bring in learning and ideas beyond what we already know, especially when it comes to the content. When we connect beyond our classroom and knock down those walls, it not only empowers our students with more enriching opportunities, it amplifies learning for educators. We have the capability to do this through the technology available by holding a meeting or doing a book study for example, so we can share ideas.

When teachers can visit other schools and classrooms, to see some of these STEM activities and ideas in action, it makes a greater impact. Beginning to ask questions, look at the classroom spaces, see and interact in the environments, and talk to the teachers and the students, makes it a more real and powerful learning experience.  It's important that we share our stories, including our challenges, so we can all walk away with support and new ideas for our students.


Finding the Right Resources for STEM Learning

Getting started can at first feel overwhelming but there are lots of resources out there that make it easier for educators to get started in any grade level. Give students the chance to drive their learning and decide how to share information.

Jacie’s best advice is to find somebody to work with and don't do it alone. Bringing STEM to our classrooms is not something that should be stressful. The whole goal is collaboration and to continue to learn from one another. 

Some tips:

  1. Check out the resources that are available online. Defined Learning has many resources for PBL and STEM, blogs, and lessons. 
  2. Start early: Engage the youngest learners. Jacie has a new book, Big Engineering for Little Kids, for ages 3-5.
  3. Share the workload with colleagues and build your content together, this will then be more authentic and meaningful for students and will help teachers to not feel so overwhelmed. Especially with how school has been over the past year-and-a-half, it's helpful to find a partner.
  4. Leverage the technology to give students the same opportunities. Essential skills that come from learning through PBL and STEM also promote the development of social-emotional learning. All of this directly correlates to the skills that employers look for.

In the end, we don't need to be experts. It's about taking risks and co-learning and continuing to build on the process of learning itself in order to prepare for the future.


About Jacie

Jacie Maslyk has 25 years in education in varying roles from classroom teacher to school administrator. She does a lot of work with project-based learning and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), working with teachers and students to help them get started with ideas for use in all classroom spaces. Jacie has written several books about STEM and is a blogger for Defined Learning. Check Jacie's out Jacie's website here:


About Rachelle Dené

Rachelle Dené Poth is an edtech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant, Speaker, and owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. Rachelle is the author of seven books and is a blogger for Getting  Smart, Defined Learning, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter at @Rdene915 and Instagram at @Rdene915. Listen to Rachelle's podcast, ThriveinEDU, here:


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