Classroom STEM in the 21st Century School: Unlimited Possibilities

classroom STEM

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S.T.E.M. or S.T.E.A.M. is a term you have most likely heard pop up over the past several years. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, (the Arts), and Mathematics. STEM lends itself directly to student-centered learning as everything is done hands-on and via experimentation.

You see STEAM labs popping up in schools across the country and the idea of Genius Hour becoming increasingly popular. Classroom STEM is gaining momentum and is going to be around for the long haul. Some schools and programs are becoming dedicated to this idea, whereas others are just trying to find places to put activities into the day-to-day.

Classroom STEM and STEAM can easily be done in any class, and when focusing on a student-centered approach, the incorporation of such activities is even easier. In an engaged STEM classroom, students are alert and often quite noisy.  Students are working together collaboratively and are in control of their own learning. It is extremely inquiry and project-based and no two activity results look the same. If it seems like all the students are doing something different, then it is being done correctly.

And STEM education does not need to strictly just take place in science or math classrooms. It is actually easy to incorporate these aspects into all other classes as well.

Examples of Classroom STEM

For example, when I was in school, I took a health class and we would learn about how the heart worked. We talked about pumping blood throughout the body, and we also had to calculate how many times a day it pumps while we’re just sitting around (it’s called our resting heartbeat). The teacher even suggested that it might be interesting to investigate our own personal pulse rate. All of this is STEM-related because we had to use math (rate=60/bpm) and science (our hearts are working!) to complete the assignment.

Another example is using classroom STEM in an art class. For example, when I was in high school, my last class of the day was art. We would work on projects that were related to science once in a while (like researching famous painters and their paintings like Van Gogh’s Starry Night). For one project though, we had to pick something that we wanted to paint that would be an expansion of our learning in a previous class.

For my project, I wanted to paint a cephalopod (a type of ocean life that has ten or more arms) because I studied them for an oceanography assignment earlier that day. So, because it was art class, we could have fun with it too, and I chose to draw the cephalopod with a pop art feel. I used bright colors, patterns, and mixed in some comic sans fonts to make it more interesting.

It was something that allowed me to look at what I had learned in science class but also apply my own creativity!

classroom stem

Classroom STEM can be applied everywhere, even outside of school, and it is important for students to engage in all subjects with the STEM mindset. This will not only help them discover new things about STEM but it will also help them think more creatively when they are presented with challenges!

On the flip side, some students might not like science class because they aren’t sure what to expect or they might think that it is hard or boring. But if these same kids are taught about using STEM in their own lives (i.e. cooking), then maybe they would be more eager to try something new and see how it works.

It is a well-known fact that children usually have less appreciation for subjects in which they are not proficient. This being said, the best way to interest students in classroom STEM is by helping them realize how STEM can be used for practical, everyday purposes.

The primary example of this strategy is teaching about food preparation and its relation to math and science. For example, a simple assignment such as measuring ingredients for a recipe requires children to use fractions and metric measurements while also strengthening their math and science skills. Because of the familiarity of this activity, students are likely to be more engaged in its completion.

Students who express an interest in cooking or baking can also be directed towards STEM-related activities outside of the classroom. For example, many colleges offer classes related to culinary arts, which provides opportunities for even further STEM-based learning.

STEM in the Real World

Another way to use classroom STEM in the real world is by teaching students about different professions that use mathematics and science on a daily basis, such as an astronomer or geologist. By looking at how these careers are relevant to everyday life, students will be less intimidated with what they are learning and therefore more likely to develop their interest in STEM fields.

It is important to note, however, that the focus of classroom STEM in the real world should be on displaying its practicality and not on pressuring children into pursuing STEM careers. This is one of many reasons why it is crucial for students to explore subjects through multiple mediums such as art and music, which can help them discover their passion and where their interest lies.

For some students, one of the most interesting aspects of classroom STEM education is the use of technology and innovation in its development. This being said, it is possible to recreate many STEM-related processes on a smaller scale using basic household or school materials. For example, students could look at how earthquakes form by creating a small-scale “earthquake” using two desks and a marble.

Smaller-scale applications of classroom STEM education allow students to be more involved in the lesson, thus making it more effective overall. This is especially true when it comes to topics such as biology and chemistry, which can be difficult for children to understand at times. Because they are not as intimidated, they will be more willing to try and understand the material.

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Classroom STEM is not much different than student-centered learning. The addition of the “A” to create the ideas of STEAM, really allows all subject matters to be encompassed in this process. Unfortunately, there is such a stigma that STEM is the science that many teachers shy away from even considering how to use it in their own classrooms.

It is easy to make a switch to classroom STEAM without anyone even being any of the wiser. Simply make your classroom student-centered and everything will naturally fall into place.

One of the key pieces to this is to really allow the students to know that it is okay to fail. So much of this process is trial and error and sometimes the first conclusion will not be the correct one. That’s okay! As long as there is the opportunity to tweak and come to the right conclusion, the students will learn even more through their mistakes and finding out why that “answer” wasn’t correct.

There really isn’t one topic or course that this concept wouldn’t work with. That’s the beauty of classroom STEM. Whereas there is a misconceived notion that it is so confined to science, it is actually extremely versatile in so many different ways.

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STEM Labs in Schools

Some schools are even going as far as creating STEM labs in their buildings that students can go to as a class, in their free time, and everywhere in between. One school that does this amazingly well is Tabernacle Elementary School in Tabernacle, NJ.

At TES, Mrs. Brittany Murro is the teacher of the “Collaboratory”, where students in all grades Pre-K through fourth grade rotate through as a special during the week and also have the opportunity to attend during “Cub Time”, which is an extra enrichment period. They are constantly creating and exploring various topics. A few fourth-graders were even fortunate enough to attend the STEAM Tank Regionals due to their hard work.

You can check out all the updates of the fun things they are doing in the official Collaboratory Corner Blog.

Though classroom STEM labs like these are extremely creative and beneficial to the schools that they are in, is understandable that not every school can accompany such a lab. That’s why it’s so important for teachers of all grades and subject areas to do what they can to incorporate STEAM into the classroom. It doesn’t take much more than starting the hands-on learning process. From there, let your students take the lead to see where it goes.

It’s incredibly important to encourage our students to have this frame of thinking because this is the world that they are moving into. Gone are the industrial days where are the majority of the jobs are in factories or places of employment where workers are told exactly what they need to do and in the time that they need to do it.

We are moving into more of an entrepreneurial society where students are going to have to be able to think on their feet and be self-starters and motivators. By starting them young while they’re still in school, it allows them to practice this in a safer environment than the workforce.

As we’ve mentioned before we are currently preparing our students for jobs that simply do not exist yet. This is a very difficult concept to wrap your head around, but to put it into perspective, how many people growing up did you know who had parents who were social media managers or drove for Uber? How many childhood vacations did you rent an Airbnb to stay in? The answer is none because none of that existed yet.

We are still in a time of great change in our society, and it is well known that the jobs that our children are going to be competing against one another for aren’t even jobs yet. One of my first jobs in high school was taking orders for the local sandwich shop. Today? That job is replaced by a computer.

Think about that.

By teaching our students the values of classroom STEM and STEAM in various places and ways besides just science classroom, it allows them to start learning the processes of the unknown and how to come to answers when given the information at hand.

So take some time to think outside of the box. What can you do in your lesson planning to turn your room into a STEM classroom? What changes or additions can be made to switch up your method of delivery?

Creating lifelong learners is certainly the goal of all teachers, but preparing our students for the world that awaits them should be our number one concern, and making them comfortable with the concept of a STEM classroom is the first step in making sure that happens.

Some classroom STEM ideas for YOUR classroom. Click on the photo to learn more:

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Classroom STEM and the 4 Keys

Finding ways to incorporate classroom STEM and STEAM into your class isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.

If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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