S.T.E.M. or S.T.E.A.M. is a term you have most likely heard pop up over the past several years. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, (the Arts), and Mathematics. STEM lends itself directly to student-centered learning as everything is done hands-on and via experimentation. You see STEAM labs popping up in schools across the country and the idea of Genius Hour becoming increasingly popular. Classroom STEM is gaining momentum and is going to be around for the long haul. Some schools and programs are becoming dedicated to this idea, whereas others are just trying to find places to put activities into the day-to-day.
STEM and STEAM can easily be done in any class, and when focusing on a student-centered approach, the incorporation of such activities is even easier. In an engaged STEM classroom, students are alert and often quite noisy. Students are working together collaboratively and are in control of their own learning. It is extremely inquiry and project-based and no two activity results look the same. If it seems like all the students are doing something different, then it is being done correctly.
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Classroom STEM is not much different than student-centered learning. With the addition of the “A” to create the ideas of STEAM, it really allows all subject matters to be encompassed in this process. Unfortunately, there is such a stigma that STEM is science that many teachers shy away from even considering how to use it in their own classrooms. It is easy to make a switch to a STEAM classroom without anyone even being any of the wiser. Simply make your classroom student-centered and everything will naturally fall into place.
One of the key pieces to this is to really allow the students to know that it is okay to fail. So much of this process is trial and error and sometimes the first conclusion will not be the correct one. That’s okay! As long as there is the opportunity to tweak and come to the right conclusion, the students will learn even more through their mistakes and finding out why that “answer” wasn’t correct. There really isn’t one topic or course that this concept wouldn’t work with. That’s the beauty of STEM. Whereas there is a misconceived notion that it is so confined to science, it is actually extremely versatile in so many different ways.
Some schools are even going as far as creating STEM labs in their buildings that students can go to as a class, in their free time, and everywhere in between. One school that does this amazingly well is Tabernacle Elementary School in Tabernacle, NJ. At TES, Mrs. Brittany Murro is the teacher of the “Collaboratory”, where students in all grades Pre-K through fourth grade rotate through as a special during the week and also have the opportunity to attend during “Cub Time”, which is an extra enrichment period. They are constantly creating and exploring various topics. A few fourth graders were even fortunate enough to attend the STEAM Tank Regionals due to their hard work. You can check out all the updates of the fun things they are doing in the official Collaboratory Corner Blog.
Though STEM labs like these are extremely creative and beneficial to the schools that they are in, is understandable that not every school can accompany such a lab. That’s why it’s so important for teachers of all grades and subject areas to do what they can to incorporate STEAM into the classroom. It doesn’t take much more than starting the hands-on learning process. From there, let your students take the lead to see where it goes.
It’s incredibly important to encourage our students to have this frame of thinking because this is the world that they are moving into. Gone are the industrial days where are the majority of the jobs are in factories or places of employment where workers are told exactly what they need to do and in the time that they need to do it. We are moving into more of an entrepreneurial society where students are going to have to be able to think on their feet and be self-starters and motivators. By starting them young while they’re still in school, it allows them to practice this a safer environment than the workforce.
As we’ve mentioned before we are currently preparing our students for jobs that simply do not exist yet. This is a very difficult concept to wrap your head around, but to put it into perspective, how many people growing up did you know who had parents who were social media managers or drove for Uber? How many childhood vacations did you rent an Airbnb to stay in? The answer is none because none of that existed yet. We are still in a time of great change in our society, and it is well known that the jobs that our children are going to be competing against one another for aren’t even jobs yet. One of my first jobs in high school was taking orders for the local sandwich shop. Today? That job is replaced by a computer. Think about that. By teaching our students the values of STEM and STEAM in various places and ways besides just science classroom, it allows them to start learning the processes of the unknown and how to come to answers when given the information at hand.
So take some time to think outside of the box. What can you do in your lesson planning to turn your room into a STEM classroom? What changes or additions can be made to switch up your method of delivery? Creating life long learners is certainly the goal of all teachers, but preparing our students for the world that awaits them should be our number one concern, and making them comfortable with the concept of a STEM classroom is the first step in making sure that happens.