How to Build a STEAM Curriculum

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Designing a STEM, STEAM, or STREAM (the latter two incorporating “Arts” and “Reading,” respectively) curriculum doesn’t have to be difficult, even though it might seem like a daunting task.

With future STEM career opportunities only expected to grow, now’s the perfect time to explore how you can help your students develop STEM skills.

So, ready to craft your curriculum? We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you get started.

The Importance of STEM in the Classroom

man teaching a group of students about wind turbines

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you already understand the significance of STEM in the classroom; however, it’s never not a conversation worth having. For far too long, our classrooms have been weighed down by the hefty demands of standardized tests.

What’s this doing to our students? Limiting their creativity and critical thinking skills by boxing them into a faux world where the answers are only A, B, C, D, or E.

Standardized tests wave goodbye to the real world; they throw problem solving out of the window unless it conforms to the formulaic nature of the test. Students fail to see the importance of SAT/ACT practice…and should we blame them? How do you get students excited about learning when instruction consists of plowing through multiple choice question after multiple choice question? It’s the antithesis of engaging, counterintuitive, even, to how we’re wired.

When students say they’re not creative, it’s a defense mechanism. Everyone is creative, but we all need intentional opportunities for innovation and creative collaboration. STEM education opens up these opportunities across the K-12 spectrum. It’s a way for content areas to explore applicable creative, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. And it offers endless opportunities for fun.

Are we biased? Only if believing in fun is a one-sided argument.

And there’s proof that the SAT/ACT dependency faced by our country is on its way out the door. Several reputable colleges and universities already don’t require a standardized test score for admission. That number increased during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Granted, many schools adjusted their application requirements because of the danger associated with visiting a testing environment, but what we’re seeing are these same schools starting to realize that, even in a post-pandemic world, we don’t need to rely on standardized tests as a bona fide measurement of student potential.

What Does STEM Learning Look Like?

group of students soldering projects

One of the best parts of ST(R)E(A)M education is its ability to be implemented across classrooms of varying disciplines.

What does this mean for teachers? Collaboration. A great way to develop a powerful and long-lasting STEM curriculum is through cross-curricular planning. Maybe social studies teachers tackle historical texts with a scientific focus. Perhaps language arts teachers analyze an informational article heavy with statistical information. A cross-curricular project can be created among like-minded classroom teachers, nurturing students’ creative thinking and giving them the opportunity to tackle real-world problems.

Another way to integrate STEM is to focus on the T: technology. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a feasible option for schools. Some have technological capabilities that far surpass those of others, which is why collaborative planning remains so valuable. If instructors can find productive ways to work together on teaching these skills, it makes implementation 10 times easier.

Administrators also play an important role. Not everyone is comfortable with teaching STEM. For instance, if you’re a language arts teacher, you might find yourself on the fence (and for good reason). How do I incorporate seemingly science-heavy and math-based learning into my classroom? Shouldn’t I be focused on literacy?

Think about what your students are reading. What they’re discussing. Administrators can help with this by offering appropriate professional development opportunities.

And whether you’re facilitating the do-all environment of a kindergarten classroom, managing raging emotions of middle school students, or walking the halls of America’s high schools, there are a few shared characteristics of successful STEM classrooms.

Flexibility

As a teacher, you’ve already mastered the fine art of flexibility. STEM’s inherent versatility and cross-curricular nature prime it for being easily accessible, but that doesn’t mean educators don’t have to be flexible in how and when they teach STEM. A successful STEM classroom is a holistic learning environment. Maybe a presentation one day, hands-on project the next.

If teaching STEM, consider the organization of your classroom. How are desks arranged? Can they be moved to facilitate group work? What is students’ visibility like for longer presentations?

Additionally, don’t be afraid to be flexible in your own practices. One of the most rewarding aspects of STEM education is that it offers many different resources for teaching along with a diverse portfolio of activities. Take advantage of these. Your students will appreciate you for it.

Organization

Effective STEM classrooms are well-organized. You know better than most the type of noise project-based learning creates (some productive, some…not so productive). They require a lot of expertise on your part in terms of pre-planning and classroom management. Organization of supplies, group seating arrangements, and works-in-progress will help make project days a lot easier.

Collaboration

Because STEM benefits from projects and group work, strong STEM classrooms facilitate collaboration among students and between students and their teachers. One idea can serve as the root for an incredible project. Similarly, one idea can be a starting point for new iterations of that same concept. This all spawns from students working together.

Flipped

In a flipped classroom, you become your student’s guide instead of the singular voice of all things teaching. Think of it as blended instruction, with focus on student engagement and active learning. When it comes to best practices for a STEM classroom, a flipped model is encouraged. It’s tailor-made for project-based learning and small group discussions.

Building Your Curriculum

older teacher studying with students

Here are several considerations when facing the nitty-gritty of your STEM curriculum development.

Standards first

What standards will you use in developing your curriculum and subsequent lesson plans? Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are being widely used across K-12 education; however, there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach here. Familiarize yourself with ISTE standards for technology use, as well as any state-specific standards. The topics you choose to address will help guide your planning.

Consider the tech and resources at your disposal

What do you have to work with? That’s what you need to find out. Unfortunately, technological inequity across schools is as real as can be, but don’t be discouraged if you find yourself lacking the same technology access as some colleagues in another district. STEM is built on the pillars of innovation and creativity. If an integrated approach is difficult to achieve, think about how you might use common classroom supplies (paper, pens/pencils, markers, crafting materials) and still help your learners develop pertinent 21st century skills.

Pursue your students’ interests

A modern STEM classroom takes into account the interests of its students. What do they want to do? Is there intrigue in robotics? Electronics design? Coding? There’s a lot of flexibility in this vast and all-encompassing discipline. Take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to be tethered to one path; and if a horizon of walkways is intimidating, fall back to the standards. Connect what your students want to do with the standards that you’ve gathered.

Give the curriculum time to breathe

Rome was not built in a day, dear educator. Remember that. STEM classrooms are organized but flexible, supported by collaboration, and often invoke a flipped model of teaching. If you’re trying something new, do just that: Try it! For a reasonable amount of time. It’s human instinct to stray away from something that’s perceived to not be working, especially if it’s new to us. But a STEM classroom is always a malleable classroom.

Start small

Similarly, there’s no need to run a marathon before a 5K, especially if you’re introducing curriculum to a non-traditional STEM course. Give yourself time to see what works and see what doesn’t before jumping into a massive semester-long project. You’ll thank yourself come June.

What are the Benefits of Using STEM Kits in Your Classroom?

girl using 3D printer in lab

You don’t have to exist on an island. Teaching is sharing, and there’s no need to carry the burden of creating a ST(R)E(A)M curriculum all by yourself. There are several companies (like us) happy to help by supplying original, hands-on STEM kits to guide your students in instruction.

The benefits that come with STEM kits are straightforward. First, they can help make your job easier. No shame in this – this should be a goal for every teacher. Your job is extremely hard. That’s why Thimble and other education technology companies exist; we want to make your lives easier and help facilitate widespread student learning.

STEM kits also offer hands-on opportunities for students to learn. Moving around, talking with peers, and breaking routine is important no matter the grade level. Sure, keep that religious schedule of bell ringers, maintain your strict classroom procedures, but offer students what they need more than anything else: differentiated learning opportunities. STEM kits assist with this.

Then, of course, there’s the group aspect that comes with project-based learning. If we think of our schools as microcosms of society, then a goal should be to prepare students to engage with the real world as active citizens. How do we do this in the classroom? Via opportunity after opportunity for reflection, productive discourse with peers, and critical thinking.

Let’s work together!

Thimble prides itself on being able to empower students with the skills and projects they need to pursue future STEM careers. We’re here to help any way we can and offer our support in the form of STEM kits, classes, toys, and other instructional materials. Interested in working together? Subscribe today! 

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