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Take Your STEM Projects to the Next Level

Learn how fellow educators are incorporating STEM resources into their classrooms to help their students develop real-world skills.

Blending Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) with all areas of the curriculum sounds simple enough: more hands-on activities, more technology-rich learning experiences, more science and more math. However, the implementation of most K-12 STEM initiatives can look radically different from school to school, or classroom to classroom.

Some districts purchase “pre-made” curriculum and modules that include technology-infused units. Other districts and state departments of education develop homegrown learning experiences based around hands-on learning, including LEGO robotics and “Makerspaces.” Some districts may even enter into partnerships with local community organizations and businesses to help students develop real-world problem-solving skills in both highly scientific and vocational trades.

Thanks to this diverse approach to STEM education, the vastness of resources can be overwhelming. Below are a few examples, provided by fellow educators, of what STEM could look like in your classroom. Regardless of what shape STEM instruction takes in your learning environment, you’ll find that most of the examples convey a strong emphasis on critical-thinking, creativity, problem-solving and a connection to problems that students may encounter in the real world.

STEM at the Elementary Level

Nick Travis, an early elementary technology teacher, uses robots to help his students better understand math concepts. Using LEGOs and simple robots, he helps his students understand the basic logic of programming. That in turn is used to help students understand how to program a robot to trace the perimeter of an object, working in mathematical standards along the way. Nick uses the Hopscotch app on his classroom iPads to help second-graders explore the world of both programming and coding, laying a firm foundation for interests in STEM subjects.

Tricia Fuglestad, an elementary art teacher, emphasizes creative problem-solving in her art room. She knows that art and creativity are crucial to many project teams in the real world and that they are what industrial and product designers working in STEM fields strive for. “I see creative thinking, innovation and problem-solving happening every day in my collaborative, technology-rich art room. I want to help add STE “A” M to the STEM movement, with an “A”rts infused approach,” Fuglestad says.

Fuglestad’s “Careers in Art” video includes many examples of technology-heavy careers in art.

STEM at the Secondary Level

Ben Tomlinson, a high school math and science teacher, spent 18 months developing a solar-powered mobile phone charger with the Sonlig group. That group recognized a problem experienced by learners in South Africa: Mobile phones are plentiful and students use them on a daily basis, but in remote villages, charging phones can be expensive and time consuming.

After designing the solar chargers with his Sonlig team, Tomlinson turned the entire project into curriculum for his classroom. Students learn about photo-voltaic panels, circuits and light, with the ultimate goal of helping design and potentially build better solar chargers in the future. Tomlinson sees STEM as “an all-encompassing approach to science using mathematics and technology to define experiences and enhance approaches to learning about the world.” Watch a video about the Sonlig group’s project.

Gary Abud, Michigan’s 2013 Teacher of the Year and a high school chemistry and physics teacher, echoes the benefits that the Sonlig group recognized while working in a team. “Science education beyond the books and taught in an integrated ‘learn by doing’ approach” is how Abud structures his learning environment. His hands-on approach to learning through a process known as modeling is a great way to get students started with the larger questions and complex problems they’ll face in a STEM classroom.

Jesse Mayes, a vocational education instructor in Michigan, helps high school and post-secondary students put all of their STEM knowledge together. Mayes sums up STEM as “practical math and science in action. It is topics and subjects that train students for careers in technology, engineering, design, science and a myriad of other careers that benefit from this knowledge.”

Pointing toward the FIRST Robotics organization, Mayes says that “students have to employ all their knowledge of math and science to make a functioning machine. They also constantly learn new topics like loads and stress, pneumatics, electronics, programming and computer science, all within a competitive and creative setting that emphasizes excellence and gracious professionalism.”

Looking for STEM resources for your classroom?

Here is a short list to get you started:

By Ben Rimes, K-12 Technology Coordinator and NEA member, Mattawan Consolidated School District


This article was published in NEAchieve!, our monthly e-newsletter. Sign up to receive helpful tips and information delivered to your email inbox.

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