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October 6, 2016 5 Quick Tips for Successful STEM Lessons By Christy Crawford
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    If you've ever sat through a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workshop in which you couldn't keep up with the class, lacked helpful instruction, or left feeling angry or deflated, read on. I'm guessing the disappointing workshop was probably missing one of the five steps below — steps to ensure learners leave happy and return for more.


    1. Introduce The Beauty of Mistakes

    Fear often causes learners of all ages to procrastinate or misbehave. Prepare the perfectionists in your room to jump in, learn from mistakes, and keep building. STEM workshops are not about perfect-looking final products but, the discoveries made along the way. 

    What you can do to help:

    Read about mistakes, messes, and their necessity in STEM. Read Rosie Revere, Engineer for the benefits of failures or Ada Twist, Scientist for chaos and the scientific method. 

    • Post and "park" mistakes.  Provide students with sticky notes to jot down their mistakes and what they learned from those mistakes. Place the notes in a "Mistake Parking Lot" and at the end of class, return to the lot to share the discoveries with the group. 

    • Dance it out. At the beginning of the school year, each of Wendy Gross Alexander's drama students prepares an End Zone dance; some small celebratory move to be completed lovingly by all when a class member makes a mistake. At a New Victory Theater workshop, Alexander learned to shake her hips or just dab in the midst of mistakes to create comradery. Your students will love this. Mistakes mean we are boldly trying new things!

    • Grade accordingly. Was the final product a flop? No problem. Grade on fearlessness or on the process rather than the product. If your student engineers stepped out of their comfort zones, tinkered with several possible solutions to the problem, attempted to ask a neighbor or research an alternative solution online or offline… then that's an A!


    2. Make Sure Learners Can Independently Replicate a Similar Build or Project 

    "Build a Website in a Day?" "Program a Robot to Rule the World in a Week?" No thanks! Too many extracurricular sessions aimed at exposing learners to STEM end up packing too much into a short session.

    • Slow down. Provide follow-up lessons or meetings to ensure students digested the original lesson. 

    • Integrate the lesson. Weave what you went over into the class reading and writing periods to work at a healthier pace. Cross-curricular project-based learning will mean more planning on your part, but more meaningful, real-world connections for your students.


    3. Allow Learners to Save Face

    Perhaps your students exaggerated their ease with the tools being used and are too embarrassed to admit their skill level. Don't give away answers to a design challenge but, for rote tasks like adding color to a website provide a:

    • "cheat sheet"

    • step-by-step visual of instructions 

    • link to a helpful how-to video that learners can pause or rewind at their own pace

     

    Flash Cards For a Programming Project in Scratch


    4. Use Tools to Avoid Teacher Dependency 

    When a new problem arises in my school's tech lab, you may see fear in a student's face, notice resignation or resignation, and then hear the affected student call out the teacher's name. Rather than coming to the rescue, give engineers tools to solve their own problems and only come quickly to cheer them on. 

    • Remind them to ask "3 (students) Then Me!" 

    • Encourage work with a programming partner or engineering team.

    • When working with younger students, invite older "buddies" (students two grades higher) to support partnerships so that both partners explain their thinking while working.

     

    5. Take a Breather, Then Return With "New" Eyes

    Companies such as Facebook, eBay, and Google provide workers with spaces to grab a snack, play billiards, or build with LEGO blocks to encourage creativity. Watch a student's body language and offer your restless or perplexed engineers a chance to take a three-minute break at a recharging station. (Throw coloring books, play dough, and some LEGO bricks in your classroom library and you've got a "Recharging Station" for students.) When they return, it will be easier for most to debug or find solutions to errors quickly. 

    What tips do you have for STEM lessons? Please share below!

    If you've ever sat through a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workshop in which you couldn't keep up with the class, lacked helpful instruction, or left feeling angry or deflated, read on. I'm guessing the disappointing workshop was probably missing one of the five steps below — steps to ensure learners leave happy and return for more.


    1. Introduce The Beauty of Mistakes

    Fear often causes learners of all ages to procrastinate or misbehave. Prepare the perfectionists in your room to jump in, learn from mistakes, and keep building. STEM workshops are not about perfect-looking final products but, the discoveries made along the way. 

    What you can do to help:

    Read about mistakes, messes, and their necessity in STEM. Read Rosie Revere, Engineer for the benefits of failures or Ada Twist, Scientist for chaos and the scientific method. 

    • Post and "park" mistakes.  Provide students with sticky notes to jot down their mistakes and what they learned from those mistakes. Place the notes in a "Mistake Parking Lot" and at the end of class, return to the lot to share the discoveries with the group. 

    • Dance it out. At the beginning of the school year, each of Wendy Gross Alexander's drama students prepares an End Zone dance; some small celebratory move to be completed lovingly by all when a class member makes a mistake. At a New Victory Theater workshop, Alexander learned to shake her hips or just dab in the midst of mistakes to create comradery. Your students will love this. Mistakes mean we are boldly trying new things!

    • Grade accordingly. Was the final product a flop? No problem. Grade on fearlessness or on the process rather than the product. If your student engineers stepped out of their comfort zones, tinkered with several possible solutions to the problem, attempted to ask a neighbor or research an alternative solution online or offline… then that's an A!


    2. Make Sure Learners Can Independently Replicate a Similar Build or Project 

    "Build a Website in a Day?" "Program a Robot to Rule the World in a Week?" No thanks! Too many extracurricular sessions aimed at exposing learners to STEM end up packing too much into a short session.

    • Slow down. Provide follow-up lessons or meetings to ensure students digested the original lesson. 

    • Integrate the lesson. Weave what you went over into the class reading and writing periods to work at a healthier pace. Cross-curricular project-based learning will mean more planning on your part, but more meaningful, real-world connections for your students.


    3. Allow Learners to Save Face

    Perhaps your students exaggerated their ease with the tools being used and are too embarrassed to admit their skill level. Don't give away answers to a design challenge but, for rote tasks like adding color to a website provide a:

    • "cheat sheet"

    • step-by-step visual of instructions 

    • link to a helpful how-to video that learners can pause or rewind at their own pace

     

    Flash Cards For a Programming Project in Scratch


    4. Use Tools to Avoid Teacher Dependency 

    When a new problem arises in my school's tech lab, you may see fear in a student's face, notice resignation or resignation, and then hear the affected student call out the teacher's name. Rather than coming to the rescue, give engineers tools to solve their own problems and only come quickly to cheer them on. 

    • Remind them to ask "3 (students) Then Me!" 

    • Encourage work with a programming partner or engineering team.

    • When working with younger students, invite older "buddies" (students two grades higher) to support partnerships so that both partners explain their thinking while working.

     

    5. Take a Breather, Then Return With "New" Eyes

    Companies such as Facebook, eBay, and Google provide workers with spaces to grab a snack, play billiards, or build with LEGO blocks to encourage creativity. Watch a student's body language and offer your restless or perplexed engineers a chance to take a three-minute break at a recharging station. (Throw coloring books, play dough, and some LEGO bricks in your classroom library and you've got a "Recharging Station" for students.) When they return, it will be easier for most to debug or find solutions to errors quickly. 

    What tips do you have for STEM lessons? Please share below!

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