STEM, Teachers

What the Heck is STEM and How Do I Do It?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Concepts from these subjects are woven throughout the school day.

STEM helps students develop key skills including:

  • problem solving
  • creativity
  • critical analysis
  • teamwork
  • independent thinking
  • initiative
  • communication
  • digital literacy.

Currently, 75% of jobs in the fastest growing industries require workers with STEM skills.

Part 1: Getting Started (Baby Steps)

When teachers first ask me about STEM they usually feel really nervous. They think STEM means you need to plan some big, elaborate building project for students. They ask questions like: how do I find that time? how can I keep students in control? what if I don’t have any special STEM resources?

STEM doesn’t HAVE to include engineering, remember there are three other letters in the acronym (Science, Technology and Math). Start small by just trying to combine two of these. Have students create a powerpoint about the human body or create 3D shapes on an app. Here are some basics to begin with:

Poss a Question

STEM challenges engage students by asking a question or present a problem to solve. You also continue to ask questions to move students into further research or inquiry.

Be hands-on.

The best STEM lessons involve practical activities where students can use their hands, whether they’re designing a project or creating and building something themselves. With hands-on activities students are far less likely to become bored or distracted, plus it is rewarding for them to have a final product to evaluate.

Mimic real-life scenarios.

One of the most important things about STEM is that it helps students learn skills that will be immediately useful in the outside world. So much of traditional schooling teaches impractical skills, and your goal is to prepare your students for real-life. Try to give students STEM challenges that relate to real problems.

Part 2: Adding in the Design Process

The Engineering Design Process focuses your STEM time and helps make it more purposeful. A lot of times when teachers first get started with STEM (and engineering specifically) they give students a bunch of materials and ask them to make something out of them. This is fun but without intentionality there’s a missed opportunity here. Completely open STEM when you give students a bunch of materials and just tell them to have at it, can be even more chaotic if you don’t use the design process. Oftentimes they will begin building without really knowing WHAT they are trying to make. It can result in wasted materials and wasted time.

When you walk students through the design process, they think through their ideas before they get started. They make something and test it out AND THEN think of ways to make it better. This is what people in STEM careers do in real-life. An architect doesn’t just start building without first drawing out the plan.

Step 1: Ask

Sometimes this first step is referred to as the Define stage instead of Ask. Here, students identify the problem they are trying to solve. Often times this step is provided by the teacher when he/she introduce the STEM challenge/task.

Step 2: Imagine

Here, students think of multiple ways they might be able to solve the problem. They can brainstorm and research a bunch of solutions before determining one that they are going to focus on.

Step 3: Plan

In step 3 students draw out their design. I find that this is the step my students like the least because once they have an idea they just want to get started building! Yet, this part is really important to help them clarify their ideas. I always have students show me their plan before they can begin. I might ask they questions about their design if I see a possible problem.

Step 4: Create

Give students the materials they need and let them create. You might include testing at various points in this step. For example, if students were asked to create a roof for a house that is waterproof, they can test out their roof after they have built a small section to make sure it is working. We’d hate for students to spend hours building something only to have it not solve the initial problem.

Step 5: Improve

Once they have tested their project, even if it solves the problem, have them think of ways they can make it even better. Here’s where they are really connecting what they have learned in the create stage. If students were tasked to build a race car they could test out different wheels, or making the car heavier or lighter and seeing what happens to how well the race car moves.

There you have it. A really basic overview of STEM. See it isn’t so difficult. Below you can download my free STEM task cards. 50 challenges your students can do with a variety of materials found in the classroom.

Stem Task Cards

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