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STEM Guide for Teachers

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You've probably noticed that STEM and STEAM are really buzzy terms in the field of education these days. If you are new to the teaching field, or even a veteran ready to liven up your lessons, then this is a great time to leap into STEM. However, as an already very busy teacher, it can be daunting to change up your curriculum.

The good news is, if you are teaching in a minds-on, hands-on way, you are most likely already incorporating STEM into your teaching. Here is everything you need to know about why you should be teaching STEM lessons, what it means exactly, and how to get started.

What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym representing curriculum that integrates the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEAM is becoming popular as well, which adds Art to the mix. This is becoming more prevalent and accessible as the benefits of adding Art and creativity to lessons are better researched and documented. You might even begin to see the acronym STREAM which also advocates for the integration of writing.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of STEM education are plentiful. STEM problem solving better models real-world problem solving. The subjects we learn in school are often partitioned off into distinct sections, but rarely is this the case in real life. Integrating subjects helps build skills students will use throughout their lives.

It empowers and inspires students to want to pursue jobs in STEM fields, a growing need in our country. STEM also encourages innovation and creativity as engineering challenges and science experiments require new ideas and support the process of trial and error. Not to mention that STEM is fun! These disciplines often get piled into the "too hard", or "only for nerds" category. Once students get to actually experience an engineering challenge, explore robotics or design their own experiment they find that those stereotypes are not true.

What does STEM look like in the classroom?

For a lesson to be STEM it should incorporate at least 2 of the STEM disciplines, and might use more. Here are some examples of STEM activities across all K-12 age groups.

Early Childhood (Preschool-Kindergarten)

Students are presented with an engineering task, i.e. "How can we move this ball across the field without carrying it or kicking it?" Students are given supplies like gutters, tubes, ramps, blocks, string etc. They work together and through trial and error find a method of transporting the ball to its destination.

Through the process, they learn (although may not be able to name) the ideas of gravity, forces and motion, design and engineering.

Elementary School (1st-4th Grade)

Students are presented with the question: What does a plant need to grow? They design an experiment where seeds are grown under different conditions, light/no light, water/no water, etc. The plants are measured and heights are graphed. Further experimentation comes from designing a "plant maze" out of a cardboard box to see if it will grow through the maze to follow the light.

To add a fun technology element they track the amount of light the plant receives and the water in the soil by using a light meter and a moisture meter. Then they graph these results and analyze the data.

Through the process they learn about plant biology, abiotic factors like light and water, phototropism, design and engineering, data collection, measurement, graphing and scientific tool use.

Middle School (5th-8th Grade)

Students are presented with the task of designing and building a solar oven. They must first draw a blueprint that maps out design, materials and where heat energy transfer (conduction, convection, radiation) takes place. Then they build, test and modify their designs. They monitor and record the temperature using a thermometer, or digital infrared thermometer. Temperature data is collected and graphed based on time of day.

Through the process they learn about solar energy, heat energy transfer, design and engineering, research and development, data collection, graphing and proper use of scientific tools.

High School (9th-12th Grade)

Students are presented with the classic egg drop design challenge. They are required to build a device that will safely transport an egg dropped from a high location. Not only do they work through the process of design and engineering, but they also must complete some physics computations. Scales are provided for measuring mass. Video is shot of the drops and manipulated to further understand ideas like acceleration and velocity. Motion sensors may also be used to collect data. Data is graphed to understand the physics behind the project.

Through the process students learn the design and engineering process, collect data and calculate the physics of motion including, velocity, mass and acceleration, graph data and learn proper use of science tools and technology.

STEM resources and inspiration

Where can you go for help with STEM curriculum? I'm a huge advocate for joining the National Science Teacher's Association (NSTA) for some of the best resources. Members have access to a community of knowledgeable practitioners, many professional development opportunities, and discounts on books.

Each year NSTA holds a STEM Forum and Expo. I have not had the pleasure to attend, but expect that the forum measures up to their excellent conferences, which I have attended. You don't have to be a member or attend a conference to benefit from great resources though, their books can also be purchased right on Amazon.

To liven up your middle school lessons, check out Doing Good Science in Middle School: A Practical STEM Guide For an excellent guide to research projects explore the STEM Student Research Handbook. For a resource that is geared for 3rd-8th grade students, check out STEM Lesson Essentials. Finally, if you teach Pre-K through 5th grade, look into Bringing STEM to the Elementary Classroom.  

Check out these additional professional development and activity resources:

Planning your school's science night? Make it a Family STEAM Night!

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Sarah Benton Feitlinger is a mom, former PreK-6th science teacher, curriculum writer and developer, blogger and kid's science news author. With over a decade of experience teaching in informal settings such as environmental education centers and museums and in the traditional classroom teaching and developing curriculum for Preschool through 6th grade science she has a passion for sharing science with others, particularly children. Believing very strongly that science is something that should be accessible and enjoyed by all, she now puts her Masters degree and experience in science education to use writing her blog, "Share it! Science", and writing science articles and curriculum for sites such as DOGOnews and Shmoop.com. When she is not crafting new ways to share a science concept, she is exploring the world with her family, out in the garden, or taking a walk in the woods.

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Guest Saturday, 19 August 2017