How to Introduce Students to Stem

It’s not as intimidating as it seems

05/30/2018
STEM
By Joachim Horn
 

Science. Technology. Engineering. Math. As our digital world evolves, STEM is becoming increasingly important to innovation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, experts are predicting a steady rise in STEM careers. 

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There doesn’t need to be a complete lesson plan overhaul to introduce STEM skills. In fact, being able to show how the disciplines can be linked to a variety of activities only proves its value.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that employment in STEM occupations grew twice as much as in non-STEM fields from 2009 to 2015 and is expected to grow to more than 9 million jobs between 2012 and 2022. This means that teachers need to act now to ensure students are well-equipped with fundamental 21st century skills by the time they enter the workforce. This is essential to fill the skills gap and inspire the next generation of STEM experts.

Many educators have embraced STEM, but it can be difficult to determine how to fit the concept into the existing curriculum. What should the key learnings be? What doesn’t need to be included? The questions can be overwhelming. Luckily, there are many resources available to guide educators through this transition. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) define three dimensions of science learning: practices, core ideas, and crosscutting. These standards give teachers the flexibility to design learning experiences that are both stimulating and meaningful to students. For many districts, this flexibility means incorporating more edtech into the classroom to boost student skills, and simultaneously encourage engagement and excitement. In fact, fostering interest is one of the most important steps when schools embark on the mission of teaching STEM.

Boosting Interest, Incorporating Skills

As many have experienced, to make a change, you first need to develop interest and trust among those who will be a part of it. For schools, this means getting staff on board and nurturing their comfort levels and confidence. STEM should be introduced in a non-intimidating way with relevant training and ready access to resources. Taking activities that students are familiar with, such as building models with blocks, teaches the design element. From there, help students transition from physical to digital with the help of coding kits that include block-based building to make it easier to grasp on to the basics.  Introducing an hour of code gives students the ability to become comfortable with coding over a period of time, and build on the concepts they’ve learned in class. Many districts host educator ‘learning days’, where teachers get the opportunity to play around with STEM activities before introducing it to students.

There doesn’t need to be a complete lesson plan overhaul to introduce STEM skills. In fact, being able to show how the disciplines can be linked to a variety of activities only proves its value. Introducing creativity is a great way to get students excited about what they are accomplishing.

When considering the appropriate age to introduce STEM to students, many are surprised to hear that an early start is not only recommended, but ideal. In early education, students are learning basic concepts, such as shapes and colors, and are given time to explore these ideas through hands-on activities. Trial and error is encouraged in these early learning years, which is the perfect gateway to becoming comfortable with technical activities, such as coding.

Beginning with something that’s both accessible and fun is a great way to gain momentum and contribute to students’ growth mindset. There are several free lesson plans available to help teachers get started on integrating a coding section into their curriculum. These projects are exciting for the students, and help educators link STEM with an existing lesson plan. Capturing attention and sustaining the learning process by including STEM projects throughout the school year is the most effective way to ensure that a solid knowledge is being built.

Tools of the Trade

Cultivating a STEM environment is easy when you have the right tools. Internet resources such as ‘Hour of Code’ offer a variety of projects, many requiring no internet connection or computer. A large array of projects can be done after a simple visit to the craft store, and a little creativity. The main focus is getting students to be hands-on, and comfortable with the idea of making mistakes and working out how to fix them.

To inspire the next generation of STEM experts, SAM Labs is blazing a trail with products for the classroom that are fun and rewarding, while preparing children with the skills for the workplace of tomorrow. SAM Labs combines visual, flow-based coding apps, wireless electronic blocks and bespoke teaching materials to create STEAM kits that unleash students’ creative potential. The classroom is opened up to endless STEM possibilities and coding lessons are made accessible, experimental, interactive and fun.

Many schools are incorporating makerspaces into their institutions, where students are free to explore their creativity and work on a variety of projects. This is a great way to kick start STEM learning within a controlled space before launching it schoolwide.

To infuse art into STEM and live out the “A” in STEAM, educators are adding coding tools in addition to more traditional art mediums in their classes.

“Technology is everywhere and can’t be ignored. The design process is something that we do all the time – always have and always will, but when you add STEM into it, it opens the doors to so many more possibilities,” said Amanda McDonough, art teacher at Chappaqua Central School District in New York. 

David Lockett, an educator in Lake Wales, Florida uses coding tools in conjunction with project-based learning to teach his students STEM. “Coding is a part of my class on a weekly basis, and contributes to the students’ hands-on STEM learning experience,” said Lockett. “It’s important to discover what students are most interested in and find a way to combine them because coding doesn’t just fit into computing class.”

A Computational Mindset

Simply incorporating new tools into the classroom isn’t enough to change abstract ideas into a solid mindset. A new way of thinking must be implemented to complement these resources.

Computational thinking goes hand in hand with introducing STEM. Simply defined, computational thinking is a way of solving tasks that mimics how a computer solves problems. When applied to STEM projects, it helps students identify effective ways of completing tasks and then use what they learned to solve future problems.

When teaching this type of thinking, students are encouraged to collect data, analyze it, and apply it. There isn’t a limit on what it can be used on, which makes it the perfect aid in teaching STEM skills.

STEM Across Subjects

One of the biggest factors when introducing STEM to students is giving them the opportunity to learn it in a variety of ways, in diverse environments. Including it across the curriculum not only keeps them engaged but boosts overall learning. This will help students apply their skills in a multitude of industries when they enter the workforce. Allowing students the opportunity to learn, no matter their skill set or interest, is key in capturing imagination and turning it into ability.

Living in the digital era, we need to be sure that we are giving students what they need to be successful. For teachers, this is a unique opportunity to learn along the way, and contribute to creating a STEM-powered generation of learners and future workers.

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Issue 20.2 | Fall 2018

          Arkansas State University