Contributing Author: Brittany Barnes
Every educator knows that there are frequent shifts in education. There are trends, fads, and new buzzwords every few years that shape our PDs, PLCS, and affect how we teach those LMNOPs. But, in my opinion, one of these fads is definitely here to stay, and that's the shift towards better STEM education. Educators like myself believe that STEM is important to help prepare kids for an ever-advancing world. But we all know it can be a challenge to implement in the classroom, especially with the younger ones. If you’re ready for it, here are 5 easy steps to get you started:
Step 1: Get Informed!
If you’re serious about STEM, you have to educate yourself on the possibilities. STEM isn’t just for the affluent schools with the best technology, for teachers with science degrees, or for classrooms with parent volunteers that can pull small groups to expose kids to science and technology. STEM can easily be integrated into any school, any classroom. Depending on your school’s resources you might find yourself following one of the 4 STEM Models that Arizona’s STEM Network provides frameworks for in this super snazzy guide: http://stemguide.sfaz.org/
- Exploratory: Using STEM as an extracurricular activity. This can be after school clubs that meet weekly. This is what my school does!
- Introductory: Some STEM lessons during the year during regular school day. There are a few opportunities where STEM lessons are planned according to standards. I am working on incorporating this after Spring Break!
- Partial Immersion: Using STEM often and as part of the regular curriculum. A shift occurs where STEM is integrated often. Hopefully by August we can make this happen!
- Full Immersion: STEM drives and determines the curriculum. The whole school has the same goal and focus. Within the next 5 year this is our goal!
After determining which framework you want to implement, you need to network! My school has the exploratory model for now, but my goal is to help us climb our way to integrate for STEM experiences for all our students.
Step 2: Get People!
Leaders don’t create followers; they create other leaders. Your administration, coaches, parents, and the fellow teachers at your school are integral for making STEM happen! Making a STEM team with a mix of people can be a challenge, but it’s worth it. Balance is key to a successful group: balance between administrators, grade level teachers, etc. You want to have people who are dedicated to putting in the extra effort it takes to implement this change, but you also want the whole school to be represented. Don’t leave those kinders out and don’t let the older grades dominate. For a whole school STEM program, you’re going to need representation for the whole school! Asking another teacher to use their planning and personal time to implement big changes is a big deal, so make sure you are clear on your vision from Step One before you engage the crew!
Step 3: Get Organized!
As teachers, we want to use our instructional time effectively and our planning time efficiently. Think of STEM as a new way to teach what we already have to do. We are already required to teach science and math, and hopefully we have access to some technology. The way we teach things and the way we chose to integrate these STEM domains could have our lives easier!
I advise you to make a flexible skeleton each quarter. Determine what standards you’re already going to be teaching, and then narrow in on one quarter for in-depth planning. Having a framework to build off can help you determine how you can implement STEM while still doing your regular teaching responsibilities.
Use Pinterest! Look at what other teachers are already doing! When searching for STEM ideas online they can be overwhelming. Try a broad search first, just to see what’s out there, and begin to narrow by your grade level or standard. People are already doing the hard part of planning, now you just have to implement.
Step 4: Get Supplies!
Once you have determined a plan of action, you’ll need materials! Remember, STEM isn’t something that YOU have to pay for. Look at what your school already has and use what you can. Inquire about any STEM budget your school might have or Title I fundings. Create a Donor’s Choose, hold a fundraiser, or ask parents for donations. Don’t let money keep you from this. There are ways to get supplies without sacrificing your entire paycheck. My favorite supplies are Lego Mindstorms, Little Bits, iPad Minis, and of course, Front Row!
Step 5: Get Going, Already!
When you have done all the background work, it’s now time to engage your students! This, by the way, is the fun part. Create a classroom/school community that understands and is receptive to STEM. Help students develop language for STEM and set clear expectations and rules. Document how things go. Change them as needed. ASK FOR HELP. Collaborate with your STEM team to brainstorm ways to work STEM in effectively. If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t panic! Talk about the ups and downs and adapt. STEM is about inquiry and discovery. The more clear, organized and precise you are before you introduce this to students, the better your implementation will be.
The reality is that as our world changes, our education system must, too. Being a user of technology is important and students must find ways to navigate it and incorporate it into their adult lives. Being a creator of technology is a possibility too. We can’t limit students to being users; we want to encourage them to be creators. We want to engage students in STEM, not to use the latest app, but to invent them. Not to #TweetTheirWayToCollege, but to engage themselves in the world through an online forum. We want them to believe in themselves. We want to encourage them to ask questions and seek out answers. STEM is an opportunity that many students all around the world have, so why not invite your students to join in, too?
My name is Brittany, and I am in my 3rd year teaching 3rd grade in a public school district in Tempe, AZ. During my first year teaching, I asked to start a STEM Robotics Club and luckily had an administration who believed in me. Since then, we’ve expanded the program from 24 to over 45 students meeting after school for 5 hours a week, and we even offer a free STEM Summer School for our students. This year we are expanding our club to 1st-5th grades Our ultimate goal is to become a STEM school during the school day, not just after school!