You've probably heard a lot about the importance of getting students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes. STEM careers are increasing, and providing students with experience through STEM teaching tools and activities can help foster interest in these in-demand (and well-paying!) careers. STEM activities also adhere to the growth of maker culture, which teaches students that they can always find ways to improve their world through innovation. Here are a few techniques and activities that will keep your class motivated and engaged.
Making STEM Fun
It's up to you to show your students that not all STEM activities require sitting in silence and typing commands on a keyboard. To pique their interests, have your students work on an activity that blends hands-on and computer-based learning, such as Lego Mindstorms. A single classroom kit allows students to design, build, and control a variety of robots, and comes with everything you need to start teaching STEM and computer science in a fun and exciting way—Legos, sensors, motors, and a control brick. As an additional resource, the Lego Education website contains lesson ideas and teaching materials for preschool, elementary, and middle school classes.
Regardless of what age you teach, giving your students the opportunity to participate in a robotics club or team can be beneficial. In Indiana, students can participate in a statewide robotics competition. According to the Daily Reporter, one fifth-grade teacher, who led two teams of elementary students at this year's competition, said "she loves seeing the students have a chance to be creative, showcase their skills, and make new friends." She also said she's seen shyer students gain confidence after joining her school's robotics club. Students at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, New York, even made robot pumpkins. These kids used digital tools to design tech-modified pumpkins, dubbed "hack-o-laterns," and they learned how to program sensors, lights, motors, and buzzers. The school took advantage of open-source and low-cost tools, such as Arduino boards, to ensure that participants had access to powerful (but affordable) tools.
Integrating STEM into Other Subjects
For those students who aren't excited by STEM activities, try integrating activities that are influenced by these fields into their other subjects. Partner with language arts, social studies, and art teachers to design projects that have a technology focus and can be accomplished in both class periods. For instance, why not partner with an English teacher and have students design a house for a character through an online tool like Floorplanner. They can use examples from their readings to explain their design decisions, capitalizing on this fun engineering activity.
You can also have your class use a coding tool like MIT's Scratch, which is easy for students at all levels to use and demonstrate their knowledge by building a simple app. For example, social studies students could write a game that teaches their peers or younger students about the historical event or movement they're studying. Language arts students might create an app that explains the main themes in the book they're reading.
Even physical education classes can take on STEM characteristics. A classroom set of fitness trackers can be used to measure students' health and wellness progress over the course of the year. The Mi Band is a relatively affordable tool ($14.99) that can be purchased for an entire class and used to count steps and measure heart rate. Students can test the effects of various physical activities on their health over time by comparing how regular exercise changes their resting heart rate and their heart rate during exertion. This brings real-world applications of math and scientific inquiry into gym class, moving us even closer to the day when teachers no longer hear, "But I'll never use math in real life!" This type of activity can also get students who don't like gym class to be motivated about exercising and making healthy choices.
Preparing students for the technology-focused world is one of the integral aspects of our jobs as educators. Integrating STEM teaching tools throughout your curriculum can show students the importance of inquiry and research, while also providing experience with creating and using STEM tools. When your students eventually enter the job force, you may find yourself being thanked for inspiring their pursuit of a career in a STEM field.