There are many different ways that all teachers regardless of grade level or content area can bring STEM into the classroom. There are numerous benefits of incorporating STEM activities into learning, whether we connect it directly with the content that we are teaching or we use STEM activities to promote the building of relationships in our classroom. Through a STEM curriculum, we help students to develop essential skills such as social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that will benefit them in the future.
With a growing need for STEM skills in the workplace, it's important that we provide opportunities for students to potentially develop an interest in STEM, to spark their curiosity in STEM-related fields, and provide them with some of the many benefits that come from engaging in STEM-focused learning.
As we prepare our lessons each day, we should focus also on helping students to develop the skills they will need for the future. According to the World Economic Forum, employers are looking for skills such as communication, creativity, innovation, and problem-solving, emotional intelligence, and teamwork, to name some from the top 10 list. In our classrooms, we have many methods and tools that we can offer for our students to engage in more active learning experiences that will help them to develop these skills. We can choose specific methods like problem or project-based learning, challenge or inquiry-based learning, where students work independently as they focus on an essential or driving question, or identify a problem and try to come up with solutions. Through these experiences, students have the opportunity to drive their own learning while developing some of these “workplace” skills, whether working independently or collaboratively with their peers.
We can also look at using STEM activities for design challenges or as a way to promote the building of relationships through team-building activities. There are lots of different STEM challenges that can be done at the start of or throughout the school year, in any class or level, that will lead to the development of these essential skills and can be connected to the content area too, without requiring a ton of time to get started.
I participated in my first STEM challenge a few years ago, although at first, I was a bit unsure of the benefits. However, after only a short time of working with other educators, trying to solve our challenge, building skills together, I understood the impact it could have on our students. The cup challenge can be so beneficial for students or teachers as a way to build those essential skills. The goal is to work with a group to move a stack of cups to build a tower by only using the rubber bands and string that have been provided. A simple activity like this doesn't require many materials but it comes with many benefits. It promotes collaboration and communication, creativity, problem solving and teamwork while having fun with learning together.
These activities have a great benefit for helping students to develop relationships as they learn with their peers. Another easy challenge to try is to ask students to take materials to write their name using different materials and in a length or height that matches their own. Once they create their name, asking them to explain why they chose certain materials, what problems they had in designing their name, leads them to think differently and promotes creativity and problem-solving skills, while also connecting with and learning about their classmates. These two simple activities alone will do a lot for fostering the development of SEL skills, especially relationship building and social awareness.
In addition to STEM challenges, we can explore areas such as coding or computational thinking, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, with our students. There are many digital tools and materials available to teach students about these topics while also helping them to develop SEL skills.
Here are six resources to bring STEM to your classroom.
Birdbrain Hummingbird robots are a fun way to promote creativity in the classroom through robots! In my STEAM class, students designed their own robots and focused on French and Spanish culture to select a theme for their work. Students can design, build, and program their robot and add any materials to connect it with the content they are learning. Check out the Birdbrain site to see examples and also try programming their robots remotely.
Cornucopia is a free STEM education game designed for use in classrooms and is also a great choice for out-of-school time programs. Some of the options available enable students to manage a plot of land, plant crops, and earn technology upgrades to make their farm a success!
CoSpacesEDU is a great option that can be used for any grade level or content area to teach students about augmented and virtual reality. Use CoSpaces to have students design a book summary or use it for STEM projects and explore the examples available in their gallery. Whether students create a space in 360, design their own parkour game, write an interactive story, or just build a fun space to explore, students will enjoy creating in VR and developing their coding skills.
Grasshopper. To learn about coding, Grasshopper, named after Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer science, is a great choice for beginners. It works well for teachers or adult learners interested in building their coding skills. The topics available through the curriculum include animations, array methods, fundamentals, web page design, and more. Grasshopper is available for free on Android and iOS and is available through the Web.
Hacking STEM is available through Microsoft and offers a library full of lessons and resources for teachers to bring STEM into any classroom. There are short, bite-sized activities, master skills guides and full-length activities to choose from. Each lesson includes a full plan, related standards, a list of materials, and estimated costs.
Ozobot is a one-inch robot that can be used to teach students about coding and offers several subjects including math, English Language Arts, and more. With Ozobot there are two different ways to code: using the screen and also screen-free through the use of markers and color codes. Ozobot offers training for teachers online and provides a library full of resources to get started.
As we prepare students for the future, it is important that all students have the opportunity to learn about STEM and discover their own interests in STEM-related fields. Choose a few of the options and create stations for students to select something that interests them and then rotate or let students decide on one area for an independent project for PBL. Providing a variety of options that will meet our students’ specific interests or needs will promote engagement and spark curiosity for learning.
When we offer a variety of options to students, it will lead to more authentic and meaningful experiences that promote the development of essential skills for the future. Choosing an area to focus on will empower them through self-driven learning as they develop SEL skills and learn about emerging trends in STEM.
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 serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.