STEM, it seems, has finally reached Education Buzzword of the Year status. Novice teachers, experienced teachers, and even administrators are being asked to create STEM classes, often with inadequate know-how or support. I know this from all the pleas for help in my own daily email! Let’s read about some real situations educators are dealing with. (I’ve changed the names and locations.)
- My name is Jane and I was a kindergarten teacher. Now I’ve been assigned as the new STEM teacher on campus. I have a beautiful state-of-the-art classroom, but no idea where to begin. I’m looking for all the help I can get, plus I need some curriculum.
- I am a new middle school STEM teacher. I have a biology degree, a graduate degree, and I taught in college for 16 years. Now I’ve been assigned to teach STEM. This project is new to me and to the school district. I need help and resources!
- My name is Jerrold and I teach in a rural community in Ohio. This year our middle school will be a full-fledged STEM school. This process is completely new to me, and I would like to be as successful as possible. I will teach each group of students once a week for about an hour.
- I am Scott Greene, the principal at Jones Middle School. I am looking for ideas on how to start implementing STEM at my school. Where can I find ideas and resources to begin this unfamiliar journey?
- I’m Tamala and I’m a new teacher. I applied to teach high school history. Now I have been asked to teach after-school STEM in a middle school. I don’t know much about STEM and I don’t even know where to get curriculum and what resources to order. Help!
Can you hear a touch of panic in some of these voices?
6 basic ideas for STEM teachers under the gun
There is obviously no one-size-fits-all answer for all the dilemmas that first-time STEM educators are facing this fall. If I could sit down for a few minutes and share some basic things with all the folks out there who are under the gun, I think these are the six points I would make:
1. Prepare to integrate the four STEM subjects. STEM subjects are not taught in traditional silos. In your STEM teaching you will be integrating and applying science, technology, engineering, and math. This produces real-world, meaningful learning for students. Your students should receive a more authentic treatment of grade-level science and math content than in traditional classes alone. Help students apply what they learn and become more innovative. Build their ability to develop thinking, reasoning, investigative, and creative skills so they can function and thrive in our highly technological world.
2. Prepare to use the engineering design process (EDP). Engineering is the heart of the STEM process, so you’ll need to be familiar with the steps of this process. Math, science, and technology are integrated – woven together to solve problems – through an engineering design process.
The EDP gives students a way to think systematically about solving problems, and it carries over into other areas as well. In this process, kids define problems, conduct research, develop multiple ideas for solutions, develop and create a device or prototype, and then test, evaluate, and redesign. Here’s a graphic of the EDP I use, which certainly isn’t the only one out there. Just google it and you’ll see other options. You don’t have to follow these steps in sequence. Engineers move back and forth between them.
3. Build successful student teams. Your students will work in teams to tackle engineering challenges and solve real world problems. Helping students work together as a productive team is never an easy job. Organize the teams of students for productive teamwork. You can use my free download Student Teaming Tips to give you some help with that.
4. Focus on real-world problems. In STEM lessons, students address real social, economic, health, environmental, and other global problems and seek solutions. See Real World STEM Problems for some suggestions for projects students might focus on.
5. Locate STEM Curriculum. Good STEM curriculum is still a work in progress, but several sites carry good STEM lessons. One of my “go to” sites for lesson ideas is eFGI for Teachers. Look at the lesson plans section for some good lessons. TeachEngineering also has some good STEM lessons. A word of caution for any site you use, however: Not every lesson that claims to be STEM is actually STEM. Here is a checklist I use.
A good STEM lesson —
- Presents a real and compelling open-ended problem
- Allows for several acceptable solutions for the problem
- Integrates and applies grade-level content in science and math
- Expects students to work in teams to solve the problem
- Uses the engineering design process approach for solving problems
- Includes technology that adds value and enhances learning
- Supports a teaching process that is inquiry-based, hands-on, and student-centered
- Requires students to design and create a model or prototype of the solution
- Provides time for kids to test their solutions, evaluate the results, and redesign if needed
- Views failure as a positive step toward discovering and designing solutions.
You might also want to take a look at three posts here at MiddleWeb:
6. Inquiry-based instruction or student centered teaching. In STEM lessons, the path to learning is open ended.The students’ work is hands-on and collaborative, and decisions about solutions are student-generated. Students communicate to share ideas and redesign their prototypes as needed. The most valuable thing you can offer them instructionally is the opportunity to imagine, develop their own ideas, test them to see if the work, and realize that they probably won’t work initially. Kids learn more from what doesn’t work than from what does work. They can analyze their results and redesign.
Study, learn, persist, and try to have fun!
I hope those ideas will be of some help. For more, here’s our archive of STEM articles. Remember that STEM lessons focus on using the engineering design process to apply concepts students have already learned in math and science classes, along with appropriate use of technology.
Congratulations and best of luck to you! Try to have some fun. You may get off to a challenging start, but as you study, learn, and persist you will discover your STEM efforts can have authentic value for your students.