Are you a STEM teacher? Looking to vamp up your game in the STEM classroom? Or maybe just thinking about some things you can do differently with pedagogy? Perfect. We have the rundown on teaching STEM and teaching it well. No matter where you’re at in your teaching career, this is the guide for you!
Does Better STEM Teaching Just Mean Better Teaching?
Yes and no. It’s kind of like how some teachers will say that instructing English Language Learners (ELLs) is simply about employing “just good teaching” (JGT) strategies. However, we know this to be false. Things like activating students’ prior knowledge, using cooperative learning, process writing, graphic organizers, and/or hands-on activities are all effective in their own rights. But treating ELL instruction as merely an extension of traditionally sound teaching doesn’t work.
Same goes for STEM instruction. Think about the acronym alone: science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Four expansive subjects ripe for cross-curricular instruction. Accounting for more recent iterations of STEM like STEAM (A for Arts) and STREAM (R for Reading) makes things even more complex.
Being a great STEM teacher does start with the pedagogical basics. Knowing your way around a classroom, how to effectively manage large groups of students, and using assessments in productive ways are all building blocks to implementing a rock star STEM curriculum. But to truly succeed in a STEM subject area, there are some very specific things you can do. Let’s take a look.
10 Tips to Help You Own Your STEM Classroom
1. Connect your classroom with the real-world.
There is currently a surplus of STEM opportunities in our workforce, with more expected over the next decade. People in STEM fields are solving the world’s problems, which makes integrating these same problems into your curriculum a priority. Give students opportunities to explore authentic health, environmental, economic, and social problems. Need a few ideas? Check out Resilient Educator’s post.
2. Engage with other teachers in cross-curricular planning.
As a STEM teacher, you don’t have to do everything alone. Coordinate with other teachers and evaluate how you might incorporate a cross-curricular lesson or project into your classroom. Cross-curricular projects take a lot of upfront work on teachers’ parts, but their implementation can be extremely powerful for students. If you can get other teachers onboard, consider meeting a few times over the summer to flesh out a plan.
3. Become a question master.
We know you use Bloom’s Taxonomy on the daily. Effective STEM lessons can challenge students’ higher-level thinking skills better than anything else. Given STEM’s inherent creativity and innovation, you might find yourself devising projects and other activities that fall in the upper echelons of Bloom’s. Instead of Identifying, maybe students are thrust into Evaluating or Creating.
How to help with this? Questioning. You need to be the ultimate question master. This means asking the right questions so that the material is accessible for your students. Evaluating your lesson structure before teaching will help you devise the questions you need to scaffold up and down for students. Ask questions that challenge students’ critical thinking skills. Eventually, you want your students to be asking the right questions, but it all starts with you.
4. Consider alternative teaching models, like the flipped classroom.
The flipped classroom model is popular for STEM subjects because it promotes problem-solving and student agency. In a flipped classroom, students are introduced to a subject at home so that they can practice it in school. The theory behind this is that students can benefit more from help with practicing skills rather than direct instruction.
For example, students in flipped classrooms might watch short video lectures on various topics at home, then come to school with questions and complete an activity individually or in small groups, allowing for the teacher to focus more on individualized instruction. Of course, like any teaching form, the flipped classroom has pros and cons. But it’s a model worth exploring if you’re looking to differentiate learning in your own STEM classroom.
5. Foster project-based learning.
STEM education lends itself to project-based learning, which is why STEM teachers should implement group projects as much as they can. Not only can these projects allow students to explore real-world problems, they afford them opportunities for social interaction and learning how to work with each other in productive ways.
At Thimble, we offer a wide range of STEM kits that can be completed individually or in small groups. We’ve also partnered with classrooms before to offer unique STEM-driven learning opportunities and help teachers build successful classroom STEM integration.
6. Make students revise.
If that sounds forceful, it’s just because revision is an oft-scoffed at practice by students (just ask any English language arts teacher). As humans, we want fast results. In the classroom is no different — plenty of students are satisfied with the “one-and-done” assignment.
STEM mandates revision, maybe not like the traditional ELA classroom, but in how students think. Creativity and innovation come from iterating. Putting students in positions where they must rethink their solutions and reconsider how a problem can be solved is one of the pillars of quality STEM education.
7. Familiarize yourself with the Engineering Design Process (EDP).
The EDP represents Engineering Practices 101, and is a fantastic way for students to problem solve, and it’s applicable to any branch of STEM. When students follow the engineering design process, they define a problem, conduct research, and develop multiple solutions. After choosing one to follow, they create something tangible that will help solve the problem, test it, reevaluate, and redesign as needed. It’s a holistic approach to critical thinking.
8. Understand what makes for a strong STEM lesson.
Any teacher knows that part of the job is borrowing from other resources. You are not in this alone. However, in the land of resources galore on the internet, it helps to know the basic criteria for an effective STEM lesson.
Good STEM curriculum design embodies the engineering design process. Individual lessons present real problems that don’t have easy solutions. Students work together to devise solutions. They have opportunities for trial and retrial. And failure is encouraged, as it’s part of the learning process. Fail, figure out why you failed, and adjust so that you find success the next time.
9. Give your students faster agency.
Helping students discover agency is part of being a great teacher. In the STEM classroom, foster faster agency with intentional project-based learning. Well-developed projects encourage student collaboration and position them to take ownership of their own learning.
10. Reevaluate your classroom on a weekly basis.
Just like you want students to get in the habit of reevaluating their choices and outcomes, you should do the same with your lesson plans. It’s no secret that a teacher’s professional life is hectic, but you’ll be doing yourself and your students a favor if you can find time at the end of the week to reflect. What went well? What could’ve gone better? What changes do you need to make for the next week?
Again, this is very much a practice of good teachers, no matter the subject. But given STEM’s complexities and relatively new emergence in schools, weekly reflection and changes (if need be) can make for an all-around stronger classroom.
Why is STEM important?
STEM education is more than an idea today. It’s a movement. With the influx of career opportunities and our world’s need for STEM professionals, school districts are quickly recognizing STEM learning as a priority. And while many schools still suffer from lack of resources (among other things), it’s expected that STEM’s presence in primary and secondary school classrooms will continue to grow.
Beyond STEM’s career scope is that it provides students with valuable skills no matter their passion or the profession they choose to hold. With its focus on critical thinking and innovative design, STEM champions technology and pertinent 21st century skills that today’s youth must have to function well in society.
How Do I Become a STEM Teacher?
Interested in joining the movement and helping our next generation of students discover STEM? Great! STEM teachers usually specialize in a subject area if teaching middle school or high school students. If you’re interested in teaching elementary school, you might find yourself specializing in multiple STEM areas.
Regardless, STEM teachers need at least a Bachelor’s degree in their chosen discipline. And in order to teach, you’ll need teacher certification and student teaching experience. Many universities offer Bachelor programs for teaching (especially in a primary school setting). M.Ed. programs also afford teachers-in-training with more practice using various pedagogical skills.
Teaching certification requirements vary by state, so it’s important that you do your research and know what you must do in order to teach. A great place to start is teach.com, which has information on obtaining certification in each state. Good luck, and thanks for all of the fantastic work you’ll do for students in the future! If you’re interested in learning more about our STEM homeschool and microschool programs, see our curriculum here.