STEM into Hands on Learning


When you think of the word “stem” what do you think of? Some of you may think of the stem of a plant but some of you may think of STEM. In STEM education, teachers focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. While all of these subjects are often taught individually, STEM education calls for all of these fields to be taught cohesively with real-world applications being the “test.”  One of the big reasons there is a stronger focus on STEM education is simple; STEM careers in the United States are on the rise but the number of people interested in pursuing STEM careers is down. Because there are fewer students pursuing STEM careers, there has been a much needed push towards STEM education in recent years. Teaching STEM can be overwhelming when you are first starting off because there is so much to think about, but there are several ways you can incorporate STEM into your classroom with ease.

To begin, there needs to be a focus on each individual subject with a real-world spin on it. I know, I said it needs to be all taught cohesively but we’ll get there at the end. Remember, it’s important to take baby steps and work your way into the bigger picture. Let’s start at the beginning of STEM, science.

You probably teach science standards every day in your classroom but are they mostly real-world applicable? While some of them may be, many may not. Here are some ways you can use science in a real-world way in the classroom.

  • Mix it Up: Science is all about how different things react together. One way you can create real-world science in your classroom is by having students make the same product with different recipes.
  • Clean it Up: A real-world problem will always be a mess! There are many natural and chemical components you can use to clean them up. Have students try to get a stain out using different natural and chemical components while hypothesizing what will work best.

Next we move on to technology. There are so many good ways to use technology in the classroom that I’m not sure I’m going to really be able to limit myself to just a few, but I will hold back (I suppose).

  • Write All About It!: In any grade or in any class you can have students write about something, anything really! Have students write out their hypothesis about the recipes or cleaners you are making. (Look you’re already combining them!)
  • Design It!: Have students create a logo or a family “Coat of Arms” on the computer using fun graphic design skills. You can use some engineering skills in there too later on if you’d like.
  • Research It!: Student often have so many questions about so many things. While it’s easy for us to spew out answers, sometimes it is better for us to keep our mouths shut and let students go forth and research.

The third part of STEM is engineering. Engineering, in my opinion, can be one of the trickier topics to cover and it may require quite a bit of patience in the long run, however here are a few ideas.

  • Create It!: In the technology section, I talked about making a logo or a family “Coat of Arms.” Once students have designed their logo or anything else for that matter, give them a chance to create that image using 3-D objects.
  • Build It!: You can also have students create structures that need to hold something up like a book. The real-world application here comes in when you think about building a shelf, a building, or anything else you are going to put weight on. Tell students they have been put in charge of creating a shelf that will need to hold “X” amount of books. How do they ensure the shelf is strong enough and will not bow?

The final part of STEM is mathematics. Math is used every single day and in more ways than just one. We use it when we are driving to keep a certain distance away. We use it when we are cooking or when we are simply trying budget our checkbook. Here are a few ways you can use math in the classroom and make it real-world relevant.

  • Beg, Borrow, Bargain!: Ask students to “buy” products from each other and bargain with each other. You can give each student different scenarios and say they need to buy groceries with X amount of dollars or maybe they need to buy a new car. No matter what they are buying they need to stay on budget and that may mean swindling down those top notch salesmen.
  • Check It!: It is so easy in today’s world to swipe your card and walk away. Challenge students by making them pay attention to all the things their parents buy and keep track of that dollar amount. Then discuss how not keeping track can really hurt you in the long run.

There are so many ways we can make STEM a part of our classroom at an individual level, but at some point we need to tie it all together. When that time comes for you, here is an idea. At any level of education, teachers can create a fun “sales pitch’ project that would incorporate many STEM ideas. We’re going to start with the engineering aspect of STEM. With this project, you can have students create their very own product; something completely new or an improvement on a product already on the market. Technologically, students can create an advertisement based on their 3-D engineered model which would also bring in more creativity! In upper grades, you can talk about persuasion in advertising and how colors often influence buyers. Scientifically, you can have students make a hypothesis about how well their product would sell and then create a poll for different classes to take. Finally, mathematically, students would need to figure out a price for their product by breaking down everything they would need to make it (more science and engineering) and then researching (technology) prices for that product.

These are just a few ideas of millions out there. What really matters when you are creating a STEM project is this:

  • Create a real-world problem for your students.
  • Ask questions for students to explore possible solutions
  • Start developing solutions to the problem.
  • Start exploring! Let students get their hands on a project and see what good thinking does for them.

As one of my favorite teachers, Ms. Frizzle, one said “Take chances, get messy, make mistakes!” That’s what STEM, and life, are all about.

Need more STEM ideas? Want to incorporate the latest escape room trend? Check out my STEM escape rooms!




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