Great article from Anne Jolly!
Here are six characteristics of a great STEM lesson. I hope you’ll use these guidelines to collaborate with other teachers and create lessons that apply technology to what students are learning in science and math (and other subjects as well).
1. STEM lessons focus on real-world issues and problems. In STEM lessons, students address real social, economic, and environmental problems and seek solutions. My biggest “aha” STEM moment came when I moved to a new position and faced a class of science students who had given up on school. I had the class identify a real-world problem right there on campus, and suddenly we found ourselves head over heels in a STEM project—before the familiar acronym had even burst onto the scene. See Real World STEM Problems for some suggestions for projects students might focus on.
2. STEM lessons are guided by the engineering design process. The EDP provides a flexible process that takes students from identifying a problem—or a design challenge—to creating and developing a solution. If you search for “engineering design process images” online, you’ll find many charts to guide you, but most have the same basic steps. In this process, students define problems, conduct background research, develop multiple ideas for solutions, develop and create a prototype, and then test, evaluate, and redesign them. This sounds a little like the scientific method—but during the EDP, teams of students try their own research-based ideas, take different approaches, make mistakes, accept and learn from them, and try again. Their focus is on developing solutions.
3. STEM lessons immerse students in hands-on inquiry and open-ended exploration. In STEM lessons, the path to learning is open ended, within constraints. (Constraints generally involve things like available materials.) The students’ work is hands-on and collaborative, and decisions about solutions are student-generated. Students communicate to share ideas and redesign their prototypes as needed. They control their own ideas and design their own investigations.
4. STEM lessons involve students in productive teamwork. Helping students work together as a productive team is never an easy job. It becomes exponentially easier if all STEM teachers at a school work together to implement teamwork, using the same language, procedures, and expectations for students. If you want a jumpstart on building specific student-teamwork skills, contact me and I’ll send you a draft of a student teamwork document.
5. STEM lessons apply rigorous math and science content your students are learning. In your STEM lessons, you should purposely connect and integrate content from math and science courses. Plan to collaborate with other math and/or science teachers to gain insight into how course objectives can be interwoven in a given lesson. Students can then begin to see that science and math are not isolated subjects, but work together to solve problems. This adds relevance to their math and science learning. In STEM, students also use technology in appropriate ways and design their own products (also technologies).
6. STEM lessons allow for multiple right answers and reframe failure as a necessary part of learning. Sometimes I designed my science labs so that all teams would replicate the same results or verify or refute a hypothesis. Students were studying specific science content and the whole idea was to provide insight into cause and effect by manipulating variables.
STEM classes, by contrast, always provide opportunity for multiple right answers and approaches. The STEM environment offers rich possibilities for creative solutions. When designing and testing prototypes, teams may flounder and fail to solve the problem. That’s okay. They are expected to learn from what went wrong, and try again. Failure is considered a positive step on the way to discovering and designing solutions.