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A STEM lab is a learning environment where students, irrespective of grade, can come together and actively participate in hands-on or practical STEM learning

4 ideas to consider when designing a STEM lab

A STEM lab is an environment where students, irrespective of grade, can come together and actively participate in hands-on STEM learning

Key points:

  • STEM labs are engaging environments that encourage exploration
  • With the right tools and supports, students develop and grow 21st-century skills

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is focused on developing students’ skills and connecting these subject areas, preparing them for future careers and the real world. It’s a key area of teaching worldwide and thousands of schools are now investing in learning spaces specifically designed to support STEM–called STEM labs.

What is a STEM Lab?

A STEM lab is a learning environment where students, irrespective of grade, can come together and actively participate in hands-on or practical STEM learning. These educational spaces encourage active learning and problem solving. In these STEM laboratories, students can develop their science, engineering, and mathematics skills by using technology to create, collaborate, and complete projects–learning and applying knowledge to find new solutions.

Imagine a technology-enhanced learning environment where everything is student-centred and supports theme and project-based learning–that’s a STEM lab!

Designing a STEM Lab – What Equipment Should You Include?

It’s important when selecting the equipment to include in a STEM lab that the focus is on what can help students develop their mathematical and problem-solving skills. Consider how different technologies can be used in collaboration. This can be anything from simple wooden blocks to 3D printers and virtual reality headsets.

Every STEM lab will also include devices such as interactive whiteboards, PCs, laptops or tablets. These devices can provide access to a whole suite of online STEM resources to support 3D model creation, develop coding skills, control robotics and more.

  1. Basic Design Materials: Let’s start with the basics of STEM. This can include anything from wooden blocks, cardboard, glue, paper, scissors, Play-Doh and LEGO sets – basically any objects that students can use to construct and build structures. Although simple, learning with these materials can encourage students to grow their critical thinking and engineering skills.  
  2. 3D Model Creation Software and 3D Printers: To take these engineering skills further and develop design skills, students can use computer-aided design tools such as Paint 3DBlender or Tinkercad to get creative and design 3D shapes and objects. These models can then be turned into physical prototypes with the help of a 3D printer (and virtual reality headsets, but we’ll get to that later!).  
  3. Coding and Robotics: For older students, or those who want to progress beyond the basics of design materials, a great technology to build problem-solving skills is STEM lab robotics. Using solutions like Shape Robotics, students can easily construct their own robots using clickable technology, and then develop their coding skills by getting these robots to move using code. Another great example of a software that allow students to create virtual spaces and even virtual worlds is CoSpaces. Here students can get creative, practice their critical thinking and work collaboratively with others to create their spaces which their peers can review as a whole class. 
  4. Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality (VR & AR): Virtual and augmented reality integrate with all the technologies in a STEM lab, enhancing the technology-based learning experience. Using solutions like ClassVR, educators can truly take their STEM teaching to the next level. Teachers can provide additional context, capture students’ imaginations, and ultimately develop the teaching & learning experience.  Whether students are traveling the world with virtual field trips, examining AR models to check for mistakes before 3D printing, venturing through virtual worlds they’ve created in CoSpaces, or simply exploring incredible STEM resources – the possibilities really are endless! 

Benefits of Learning in STEM Labs 

STEM labs are designed to help students learn how to work as part of a team, solve problems, and apply their knowledge in advanced and creative ways. STEM labs can benefit students in some incredible ways, including: 

  • Encouraging creativity and innovation
  • Promoting teamwork and collaboration 
  • Facilitating the use of technology to support projects 
  • Providing new opportunities and skill sets  
  • Improving critical thinking skills  

On top of all of these benefits, STEM labs are exciting and fun! By actively participating in lessons and learning with inspiring edtech, students are more engaged and motivated in learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Examples of STEM Labs & Projects 

Initiatives and funding are helping schools around the world introduce STEM labs. These projects are designed to help encourage students to build STEM skills, knowledge and even to consider future careers in the sector.  For example, the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools Program is helping fill the digital divide for Title I schools. By providing access to more than 100 innovative STEM labs in schools across the country, Verizon is helping over 1 million students to learn, discover and build STEM skills in their Innovative Learning Labs. 

Another great example is the INACO project introduced in Romania, which has already included the launch of 20 labs with 1,100 to be built by the end of 2025. Similarly, In Poland the Laboratoria Przyszłości program is supporting primary schools across the country by providing funding that can be used to implement STEM technology.  

Creating a STEM lab is a great way to enhance learning for students. By providing a dedicated space equipped with the right mix of tools and technologies, teachers will be able to engage students in innovative (and fun) projects and take science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction to the next level.

Why STEM is more important for students than ever

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Avantis Education’s ClassVR blog and is reposted here with permission.

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