Bringing STEM to All Classrooms

With a prediction of a need for 3.5 million jobs related to STEM by 2025, we need to focus on finding ways to bring STEM learning opportunities to all students in every classroom. Doing so can be a challenge, depending on whether we have access to the right resources or if teachers feel that they don’t have enough knowledge or resources available to get started. As I have learned in my own experiences, we just need enough information and a few resources to start with. Once we dive in, we can make a shift to being a facilitator of learning in our classrooms. We need to embrace the opportunities to co-learn with our students so that we can best prepare them and ourselves with the skills needed in the future.

With many unknowns when it comes to jobs that will exist in the future, we need to create a variety of learning experiences such as those made possible through STEM-based activities. The skills that are necessary today may not be needed in a few years. Jobs in demand and skill sets needed are constantly changing. To stay informed, I recommend referring to the Job Skills Outlook created by the World Economic Forum. Some of the top ten in-demand skills are collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problem solving and ideation, and resilience. Each of these are areas that we can focus on in our classrooms. Being flexible enough to adapt to a changing landscape of learning and work is key.

When we choose methods or tools, we should focus on how we can make sure our instruction is relevant to the growing demands in the world of work. These in-demand skills can be fostered through STEM activities and learning experiences.

Why STEM skills impact future success

Many skills can be built through STEM such as creativity, critical thinking, innovation, problem-solving, and teamwork which will help students to be successful in the future. Through STEM, students also build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills, especially in the areas of self-awareness and self-management. By focusing on the five SEL competencies, research has shown that it increases student achievement and has a positive impact on student wellbeing. STEM promotes the development of SEL and empowers students with new ways to create, innovate, iterate, and reflect, which are directly related to the skills needed today. Students set goals, make decisions, collaborate, and build relationships that prepare them for the future and foster SEL.

Ideas for any classroom

First, there are many different STEM challenges that we can use in our classrooms that do not require many materials or the investment of a lot of time to get started. With some STEM challenges, asking students to find materials to design with or reaching out to the school and school community to ask for specific items to have on hand for a STEM/STEAM makerspace are helpful for creating more opportunities.

STEM challenges help students to build many skills which are essential in the workplace. A few examples are the Cup Tower Challenge, the Straw Challenge or the Parachute Challenge. There are even some free STEM challenges to do Around the Home to involve families in the learning!

An easy challenge without much prep is giving students a design challenge. Have students choose materials and design a structure representing their name, or a concept from class that meets a certain requirement such as height for example. Each of these can be used in all grade levels.

For all classrooms, connecting students with a guest speaker, whether in person or virtual, who works in one of the STEM fields can be highly beneficial. For students to explore careers and connect with real-world examples, it will spark curiosity and students may learn that they have a deep interest in pursuing a STEM-related career.

Project-based learning (PBL) is a method that can be used to focus on STEM. Connecting with another teacher and engaging students in a cross-curricular collaboration creates an authentic and purposeful way for them to build content knowledge in a relevant and meaningful way.

Resources to explore for STEM

  • Birdbrain Technologies. When I started to teach STEAM, my 8th-grade students learned to code by using the Hummingbird Robots from Birdbrain. We focused on French and Spanish culture and students created projects to represent something they learned. Birdbrain also has the Finch Robot, which can also be used in any content area. With the Finch, students can explore AI and robotics using Google Teachable Machine with the Finch. Teachers can sign up for a trial period with these resources.
  • Offers many resources to help students of all ages learn about coding and STEM-related fields like computer science. According to statistics from the site, 67% of new STEM jobs are in computing, and as of today, only 54% of schools offer computer science courses to students.
  • CSFirst from Google: There are many resources to help educators get started with teaching computer science and that are aligned to the CSTA and ISTE Standards. Activities include focus areas of art and storytelling in addition to other free materials. Teachers can participate in distance training and download the lessons and other ready-to-use materials.
  • Defined Learning: They offer a variety of resources for educators to learn about STEM and topics such as PBL and SEL. Explore their blogs to find ideas for your classroom and check out their PBL solution that offers everything that teachers need to get started in the classroom.
  • Elementari: A platform that can be used for storytelling and coding together. Students can create a book and learn about coding by creating interactive stories. There are examples to explore that can be remixed. Teachers can incorporate STEM into any classroom by having students and have students
  • GoldieBlox: Offers materials for girls to become more involved in STEAM and also has activities and materials for use at home. They recently started the “Code Along” initiative with other STEM organizations including Black Girls CODE, with the goal of bridging the opportunity gap for underrepresented communities in STEM fields such as computer science.
  • Ozobot. A one-inch robot that can be used in any classroom and that has lessons and ideas available for subjects including English Language Arts, math, and more. There are also two different ways to code using Ozobots, screen-free by using markers and color codes and with the program on the computer. Some students have written a book summary and programmed the Ozobot to move around and stop at each point in the story timeline. There are many creative ways to use Ozobot in the classroom.
  • Marty the Robot. My students were thrilled when I brought Marty in for class. Marty is a humanoid that offers multiple ways to learn about coding. With infrared sensors on his feet, he responds to color cards, providing screen-free coding. The app has block- and text-based coding and students can quickly create a program to have Marty walk, dance and talk. Teachers can request a trial of Marty in their classroom.
  • Scratch and Scratch Jr. are free resources for students of ages 8 through 16. There are more than 70 languages available which help to promote accessibility and because Scratch is free, it also promotes equity in learning.

With STEM, we provide opportunities for students to drive their own learning. The knowledge gained and skills developed through STEM experiences will enable students to adapt to a changing world of education and work.

Looking for PD for your school? I provide in-person and virtual training on the following topics. If you want to learn more about and explore AI and ChatGPT, contact me to schedule! 

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