As we continue to seek ways to best prepare students for the skills that they need to be successful in the future, it's important that we are not afraid to take risks in our classroom by bringing new methods and different digital tools for our students. In looking at resources from the World Economic Forum and the Job Skills Outlook for 2025, for example, many of the skills that we've been talking about for years are still in demand and predicted to be even more essential in the future. Some of those skills include critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and communication, flexibility, resilience, leadership skills, and digital literacy. Deciding on methods to use or which digital tool to use in our classrooms can be a challenge sometimes, however, there are some easy ways to get started with STEM learning activities that provide many benefits for students.
Regardless of the grade level or content area, all teachers can bring in STEM-focused activities for students in a variety of ways. There may be concerns about a lack of teacher training, however, it just takes a little bit of time to become familiar with the technology or the concepts and then let students dive in and take the lead in learning. It is great when students teach us as well. It does not require us to be experts in all of these areas. We just need to find a few ideas and get started.
Why STEM Matters
Helping students to learn about STEM is important for their future success as many of the in-demand careers are in STEM-related fields. These careers will increase in demand and it is important that all students have opportunities to explore their interests in these areas. There are many benefits of learning about STEM including that it helps students to develop problem-solving skills, which is a valuable skill for any type of career. Students build collaboration skills when working with classmates to solve STEM challenges for example. These opportunities also spark curiosity as students become more engaged in learning, not just the content area but also learning more about the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Providing STEM-related learning opportunities helps students to become more comfortable with taking some risks in learning and also shifts students from being consumers to creators and even innovators.
STEM also helps students to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As students work through a learning activity, they build self-awareness in regard to their skills and their interests, self-management as they work through challenges, and develop persistence and resilience as they may face obstacles in learning. They also become better with time management as they plan their project-based learning (PBL) or need to meet a specific deadline for their work, depending on the methods used. Students build relationships as they collaborate with classmates and develop social awareness as they learn about one another or by exploring the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and learning about places and challenges being faced around the world. Decision-making skills are developed as they focus on their learning journey and make decisions and take greater ownership of their learning. Providing STEM activities helps students to become quite flexible in their learning as they have to continue to iterate and reflect on where they are in the learning journey.
Getting Started and Ideas to Explore
Finding the time to get started with STEM may present another challenge for teachers, especially with benchmarks that need to be met and specific curricula that must be followed. However, there are some different ways to bring STEM in even if it's for a short term or as a class activity.
- Start with a discussion about the various subjects of STEM and then encourage students to explore something related to their interests and share it with classmates. There are many online resources available and even educational programs and courses that can help students to learn about STEM subjects. It could be that they enroll in an online course or follow a tutorial and then create something to share in class. Hands-on learning is a great way to get students involved in STEM and that can require very little if any funding.
- Think about the content that you are teaching and identify a real-world problem for students to solve or apply a STEM concept to it for a solution. Students can work individually or in small groups to come up with different solutions and then provide feedback to each other.
- Design hands-on learning activities for students. Depending on the course you teach, it could be having students conduct an experiment in a science class, they could design a prototype for something, reconstruct a famous landmark from history or another course of study, and try to improve upon it using STEM concepts. Use the STEM challenges to connect students in the classroom and boost student engagement in learning.
- Bring in some digital tools and STEM materials. There are many digital tools available that not only provide students with opportunities to learn about STEM but also involve emerging technologies like artificial intelligence for example. We have been working with Marty the Robot, a humanoid that can be coded screen-free with color cards or using the app with text-based and block-based coding. This is another great opportunity to bring in STEM, PBL, and SEL and understand how AI is programmed. Also with the great choices focused on STEM and SDGs and more with iBlocks, students engage in learning that is authentic, meaningful, and personalized for them. Teachers have all of the materials they need to get started. Another option is Ozobot, a one-inch robot for teaching students about coding that is a favorite in my STEAM class. It can be used as a screen-free coding resource too!
- Think about cross-curricular collaboration. Finding time to bring in STEM activities can be done when collaborating with colleagues through cross-curricular collaborations. Find a common focus and have students apply their knowledge from these courses to design a project or work together with classmates to develop STEM and essential SEL skills.
Finding the Funding
Some of the challenges with bringing STEM into classrooms may include a lack of funding, depending on the type of resource that a school may want. Applying for grants or connecting with a local school or organization that offers a lending program or a library of resources that they share can be a great way to get started. Another suggestion is to obtain a few items and have students work in learning stations. Giving students a chance to explore multiple resources and then exchange ideas and reflect on their learning experience is also beneficial. When it comes to technology, not all schools may have access to the right devices, so finding a variety of resources to use that provide students with the opportunity to learn and engage with these tools is important. Also connecting subjects with other areas of the curriculum so that they see the real-world connection makes it more meaningful for students.
Another idea is to find guest speakers who can talk to students about STEM fields and the importance of these areas. In my school, we have access to a cohort that helps us find local organizations, technology companies, and local universities that offer resources or STEM-related learning opportunities for students.
The Benefits are Long-Lasting
Providing access to resources that equip students with the right information and opportunities to work at their own pace and explore based on their specific interests and needs is essential. Providing students with opportunities to engage in more student-driven learning through STEM-related activities will offer many benefits beyond just the content knowledge. It will prepare them for whatever the future holds and equip them with a variety of skills that will be adaptable to many areas of work and life.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dené Poth is an ed-tech 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 and 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 @Rdene915 and Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU https://anchor.fm/rdene915.