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Getting started with STEM in your classroom!

There is a growing need for STEM skills in the workplace, as it has been reported that there will be 3.5 million jobs available by 2025 that require STEM skills. In researching some recent statistics about job outlook for the future, I found a report from the  World Economic Forum that shared predictions for the key skills needed by 2022. The skills that were emphasized included collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.

To best prepare students, we need to find opportunities for them to learn about STEM and can do so at any grade level or in any content area. When students experience STEM learning, there are many benefits beyond the skills they build in STEM. It also promotes the development of essential social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that are critical for future workplace success.

That’s why I believe that as we prepare our lessons each day, we should also focus on helping students to develop the skills they will need for the future. Additionally, according to the World Economic Forum, employers are looking for skills such as innovation, emotional intelligence, and teamwork, to name some from the top 10 list.

Read more: How STEM is preparing students for future careers

How to get started with STEM in your classroom

We have so many options for STEM to explore. While some do require specific materials or the use of apps or websites and may come with a cost, there are also ways to work around these limits to bring a variety of opportunities for our students.  Something that works well is using station rotations to offer several STEM activities and tools and be better able to provide all students with time to explore on their own or in small groups. There are also many free options available that can be used for in-person learning or virtually.  

In addition to choosing specific tools, we can use some STEM focused methods like problem or project-based learning, or genius hour, where students have the chance to work independently on an essential or driving question of their choice, or can work in small groups to identify a local or global problem and work together to find solutions.

Whether through specific tools or methods, we offer students the opportunity to take more control of their learning, developing student agency and honoring student choice and voice, while developing essential college and career skills.  

Read more: STEM for kids: Online classes teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills

Doing STEM Challenges

To get started, I recommend trying a few STEM challenges that don’t require many materials or a lot of time to get started. There are so many to choose from. A simple Google search can find lists of great activities to try.

One of favorites includes the Cup Tower challenge, which only needs a few materials and is so beneficial for students to work together, have fun learning and problem solving while building SEL!

  • Cup Tower challenge: the goal of the Cup Tower challenge is to move a stack of cups into a tower by only using string and rubber bands that have been provided.  Groups have to figure out how to work together to make the tower. During the activity, failures happen, but it helps to foster that process of learning and collaboration that is essential. While this simple activity doesn't require many materials or time to set up, it offers many benefits. It promotes collaboration and communication, creativity, problem solving and definitely teamwork, while having fun learning together. 
  • Name writing challenge: Another fun challenge to try in your classroom is to have students write their name using a variety of materials they choose and it has to be the same length as their height. You can always add some extra challenges into what they create, but when they have finished, their designs make for great conversations. They can explain why they chose their materials, if they had any problems creating their design, and what steps they took to complete the challenge.

With these two activities alone,  beyond the 21st century skills they are building, it fosters the development of SEL skills, in particular for building relationships and for social awareness.

Read more: STEAM: STEM plus Arts, for a more enriching learning experience

STEM tools and resources for teachers

In addition to challenges, here are five STEM tools to explore: 

  1. Code Studio

    Explore the full courses for learning different types of code, or take a one-hour tutorial on themes like Minecraft or Star Wars. Teachers can use the “App Lab” and “Game Lab” to help students learn Javascript. There are more than 20 million projects that have been created by students that you can check out.

  2. Cornucopia

    Cornucopia is a newer resource that I found and students enjoy using it. Cornucopia is a free STEM education game that can be great for in the classroom or for out-of-school time programs. Students can manage a plot of land, plant crops, and earn technology upgrades to make their farm a success!

  3. CoSpacesEDU 

    This is an augmented and virtual reality platform that can be used with any grade level or content area. With CoSpaces there are many possibilities for students to create and build essential skills. Have students design a book summary, make a fantasy land, create a solution to a local problem, or use it for STEM projects. Get started by exploring the many examples in their gallery. Whether students create a space in 360, design a parkour game, create an interactive scene or build a fun space to explore, they will enjoy creating in VR and developing their coding skills. 

  4. Makey Makey 

    This is a kit that comes with a board, alligator clips, wires, and a USB cable. Students create something amazing by taking everyday objects like a banana and transform it into a touchpad that communicates via a computer program. When objects are attached to the MaKey-MaKey they become buttons that are used as a basic keyboard or mouse. Students can problem solve, create, communicate and collaborate with this tool.

  5. Microsoft

    Microsoft offers free resources for educators to help bring STEM curriculum into the classroom. A few of the options include Hacking STEM, Make Code, and Minecraft education. You can even find guest speakers for your class, free online training through some of the courses offered and check out Microsoft partners like Micro:bit  and NASA to find more STEM resources. 

Wrapping up

To best prepare students for the future, having opportunities to learn about and explore STEM is important. I recommend choosing a few of these options to get started or perhaps create stations in your classroom and offer a few tools and let students choose something that interests them.

Providing a variety of options helps us to meet students’ specific interests and needs and will also promote engagement and curiosity for learning. Also, by using methods like PBL and choosing an area to focus on, whether as a class or helping students to decide, we will empower them through self-directed learning that will help them develop SEL skills.

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