The SAM Blog

Leveling Up – 6 Tips to Boost Your Confidence Teaching STEM & Coding

Leveling Up – 6 Tips to Boost Your Confidence Teaching STEM & Coding

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” – Confucius

The more confident a teacher is, the better their teaching will be. That’s what our team has found after working with thousands of educators at over 5,000 schools worldwide, at all levels of STEM & coding experience.

But how do you become more confident? Why, through education, of course!

With that in mind, we asked our team of former educators—with over 36 years of combined education experience—for their best tips for increasing your confidence teaching STEM & coding. Here’s what they said:

Table of Contents

  1. Be Prepared To Not Have All the Answers. That’s Okay!
  2. Don’t Feel Pressured To Fit Everything Into One Lesson
  3. Envision Student Challenges Ahead of Time
  4. Visualize Every Step to Eliminate Logistical Issues
  5. Give Exploration Time Before Assigning Challenges
  6. It’s About the Process As Much As the Result

Be Prepared To Not Have All the Answers. That’s Okay!

In some situations, it’s reasonable to assume the teacher should have all, or most, of the answers. To a test, for example. Mathematics, usually. It’s good if the shop teacher has all the answers, at least around safety issues. You’ve got to find a pretty unusual instrument to stump most music teachers.

STEM & coding aren’t like that. They’re about collaboration, project-based learning, and learning through failure. There will often be multiple ways to build a project, solve a problem, or code a program. This is especially true with STEAM—as soon as the arts are involved, the possibilities (and variations) become endless.

It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. Be prepared to admit as much and push your students to collaborate to discover the answer. They will practice collaboration, communication, and other SEL skills, while you’ll be freed of the pressure to know every answer. It’s a win-win!

Don’t Feel Pressured To Fit Everything Into One Lesson

Since STEAM & coding can be used to teach so many different things, it’s tempting to do too much. This can lead to both you and your students feeling overwhelmed, as a lesson becomes jam-packed with too many objectives.

When you’re planning a class, start by thinking about what you want your students to achieve. Don’t feel pressured to practice every 21st century skill or each part of STEAM—think about what logically makes sense to include given your objective, and include that. Everything else is optional or a distraction.

This is especially helpful with lesson structure and classroom management. Your lesson objective is your north star—structure your lessons and manage your classes so that every step takes you closer to your key objective, and you’ll never lose your way.

Envision Student Challenges Ahead of Time

When teaching something as varied and flexible as STEM & coding, it’s important to visualize potential challenges ahead of time. Think up questions students might have, parts of the activity that might confuse them, or classroom management issues that could arise.

Now, think about how you will react. What probing questions will you ask? When will you step in? How will you diffuse a situation? How will you push students toward the lesson you want them to learn?

The effect of this visualization training on your teaching confidence can be massive. The exact situations you envision may never happen, but something similar will, and game planning your reactions will increase the likelihood that you’ll react well when an issue arises.

Just make sure to keep it productive—there’s a difference between visualizing challenges to coming up with solutions, and visualizing them to worry. Keep it positive and productive, and your confidence will soar.

Visualize Every Step to Eliminate Logistical Issues

While you’re at it, don’t just visualize the potential challenges. Plan out the logistics as well.

Run the entire activity through your head. Visualize how the mini-lesson or content building time will go, visualize the transitions students will encounter, visualize how students or groups will get materials, visualize how students will alert you if they are done exploring and building, visualize what clean up and next steps will look like. Visualize the whole process from start to finish, and look for anything you can improve now to make your class run more smoothly later.

This kind of visualization is so powerful because it reduces the interruptions that take you and your students away from learning. Not much is learned while you’re searching for construction paper or finding where the chargers were stored. If the logistics are down, you’ll have smoother lessons that will be easier to teach, which will boost your confidence over time.

Give Exploration Time Before Assigning Challenges

With STEAM & coding in particular, it’s important to give students exploration time up front. This “tinker time” is key to making sure students feel comfortable with their tools before you assign a task or a challenge.

This little bit of time to let them get comfortable will make classroom management easier once you add the additional complexity of the lesson content. It also reduces interruptions early in a lesson, which helps you get off to a good start.

It’s About the Process As Much As the Result

This is one of the biggest keys to success when teaching STEAM & coding, and one of the biggest barriers to teaching it with confidence.

In some educational environments, there’s a huge emphasis on results—usually test scores. While results are important, when applied to STEAM & coding they can obscure where the learning is actually taking place: the iterative design process. That’s where students get to engage in the productive struggle and problem solving that STEM encourages, and it’s where they learn.

If we only assess their final results, the student who creates the best project would always get the best score. But what about the student who iterated several times, learning after each failure? Or the student who collaborated and created an excellent project with one flaw that made it into the final iteration? If we assess solely based on results, the last two students might get lower grades, even if they learned a lot. That doesn’t seem fair, and is counter to the intent of STEAM & coding.

This is a challenge for teachers, both in assessing students, designing lessons, and in managing classes. The more you can free yourself from overly worrying about end results, the more you can focus on where the learning actually happens, and be confident in assessing students based on that.

Leveling Up With STEM & Coding

Education can go a long way to increasing your confidence teaching STEM & coding. Even practicing just one of these tips at a time would quickly boost your confidence as your classes flow better, you’re more prepared to deal with challenges, and you’re focusing on the right things while not worrying about the other ones.

Above all else, the biggest key to boosting your confidence with STEM & coding is to go for it! Just as your students will learn from failure, so will you. Iterate, try something new, and see how it works. You’ll learn plenty in the process, and so will your students.