STEM learning doesn't have to be overwhelming--teachers can take steps to ensure it's something students love to learn

5 ways to make STEM more engaging and less complicated

STEM learning doesn't have to be overwhelming--teachers can take steps to ensure it's something students love to learn

It’s no secret that over the years and due to more standardized testing, science has become a backburner subject in many American elementary schools. Teachers often tell me they don’t have time to teach science, or don’t want to teach it at all.

Some aren’t comfortable with teaching science due to the lack of coursework they were given while earning their degrees, but the truth is, most colleges only require four hours of methods and strategies for teaching science out of approximately 120 credit hours needed to earn a degree in elementary education.

So how do we empower teachers with the knowledge, time, and tools they need to not only teach STEM topics, but also do so with vigor and passion? I’ve outlined five ways I believe can help teachers not only embrace STEM subjects, but also inspire students while following the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Position on Teaching Science.

Here are the five ways:

1. Infuse scientific literacy into your classroom: Science isn’t just about the scientific method

An article posted by the National PTA on the importance of developing scientific literacy throughout K-12 states, “Scientific literacy matters, regardless of what career path your child chooses to pursue”. I couldn’t agree more. Today, we put a huge emphasis on STEM careers and fail to understand that not every student wants to become a scientist or engineer; however, today’s students will participate in a society that requires critical thinking and an understanding of the world around them. It is an absolute must that every student graduate with the skills to work in a complex world. How can we help them gain those skills?

Related Content:

eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide

The eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide is here! It features strategies to help you integrate STEM, STEAM, and makerspace education into classrooms, and it offers a look at how these tools engage students and give them valuable skills. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

Classroom libraries are a great way to begin! You stock the shelves in your classroom with books to spark an interest and understanding about how things happen in our everyday lives. For example, “How Gasoline is Made and Sold” takes the reader through the process of how the resources for gasoline are found, refined, and sold and how globalization impacts these processes. This is a great way to explore the connections between STEM and social responsibility, making learning relevant and relatable. Follett Classroom Libraries is a great place to find curriculum-aligned resources.

2. Transition reading into doing!

When teachers use scientific literacy as the foundation for how things work, students can practice through three-dimensional learning. For example, engaging lessons about surface tension, surfactants and the engineering design process can all come to life while studying soap.

First, have students chose various soap products they know and use. Next, help students reverse engineer those products to observe how they work and record needs for improvement or ideas for new products. Then, have them collect data from their peers on likes or dislikes about the soap they use. Finally, put to work the data collected and have your students develop their own soap prototypes!

For younger students, the book, “How Come: Every Science Question Explained,” helps educators incorporate simple demonstrations or art into STEM topics. Here’s one idea you’ll find in this helpful book:
• Read a book about bubbles;
• Use questions like “what do bubbles look like?” or “how can we make bubbles?” and have students share prior knowledge;
• Then read the explanation for why bubbles are round (found in the book);
• Blow some bubbles or create bubble art!

This simple demonstration allows younger students to also learn about soap, chemistry and physical science.

3. Use gaming to support social-emotional development

Games help kids progress with reading, math and writing, but another very important element to gamified learning is social emotional development. We have come a long way from checkers (circa 3000 BCE) and chess (circa 600 AD)! Games, whether high-tech, low-tech or no tech, teach (whether directly or indirectly) SEL competencies such as social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making, which are critical skills for building community and a future-ready workforce. Kinful is an edtech tool that uses virtual reality to help students gain perspective about their peers, develop empathy and appreciate diversity.

If low-tech or no tech is more your speed use things like cardboard, paper and other recyclable materials to create board games. Students can create story boards to outline objectives while understanding how to design a game their peers will want to play. Embedded in the games can be objectives that:
• Combat bullying
• Offer tips on how to be a good friend
• Identify ways to solve differences

If you do have access to a 3D printer, it’s fun to design and create your own game tokens.

4. Create your own farmers market: The entrepreneurial side of making

As the makerspace concept continues to grow in popularity, it is important to keep in mind that making can be the foundation to a cross-curricular approach for STEM. This is also a great way to launch some terrific passion-based learning.

“Passion” is not a word that we hear referenced in STEM education very often. With less teacher autonomy and more standards for students to meet, we’ve begun to lose the joy of teaching (and learning). Bring passion back through activities like gardening, sewing or simple crafting. It is through passion-based learning that we expand on creativity yet meet learning standards that are the foundation for the subjects we are exploring. Go beyond tinkering to allow students an opportunity to think deep and broad.

For example, students can build a community garden to learn about plant development, soils, and watering systems or to sell their harvest. A farmers market is a place where people have learned to monetize their making and what they are making is most often their passion. So, help students understand the wide-reaching opportunities: don’t stop at what you harvest–students can develop entrepreneurial skills by learning:
• Their story/mission
• Supply costs
• Resources (including strengths in partnerships with other students)
• Production time
• Target market (who will buy their products)
• Advertising
• Profitability

Students can pitch to “future investors” (think of Shark Tank) or buyers by sharing information about their products (including the history, STEM concepts and advertising) by using Collections by Destiny. They can even create a presentation playlist! For more ideas on making projects and the tools to help get started, I often turn to:

5. The power of partnerships

Part of the Future Ready Framework is emphasis on community partnerships, which allow students and teachers to understand how businesses and organizations have an impact on our daily lives. Career choice is driven from informal learning opportunities outside of the classroom such as makerspace experiences, fieldtrips, and science festivals. Businesses and organizations want to be involved in their communities but sometimes struggle with the ‘how’. Here are some ways you can connect with businesses and expose your students to real-time learning at the same time:
Technology like Skype in the Classroom makes connecting schools and organizations easier than ever.

Skype in the Classroom allows you to:
• Attend virtual fieldtrips
• Learn from guest speakers
• Collaborate with schools from around the world
• Access activities and resources created for Skype

Using this technology is simple and extremely affordable. I use Skype and other technology for an outreach program called Storytime with Miss Science, during which we collaborate with schools through technology and reach schools all over the country to share great stories and the science behind them.

It’s time to shift our mindset and understand that STEM learning opportunities don’t have to be complicated, scary, or boring. Instead, let’s shine a light on how choice and passion will spark a greater depth of knowledge for our students and more autonomy for our teachers. This year, make a personal goal to illustrate how engaging STEM learning can be and bring it off the backburner. Understand what motivates your students and don’t be afraid to let them fail. That’s part of the process.

Supporting scientific literacy, becoming doers and uncovering the entrepreneurial spirit in your students can help them to develop their emotional intelligence and become future ready all while making SMART cool!

For more ideas on how to make STEM fun and engaging visit my website or let’s get social on:
Twitter: @MissScienceAZ
Instagram: iammissscience

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