In the whirlwind of school reopening policies, social distancing, contact tracing, and all the uncertainty of 2020, educators and parents had to sail new waters all on their own. Breakout rooms and Google Classrooms provided only so much engagement for kids – and naturally, academic, social, and emotional learning suffered.
For STEAM education, the impact was even more drastic! Instead of encouraging students to build robots and play with Arduino boards, educators were forced to deliver their lessons through video lectures to check off curriculum requirements. Here at SAM Labs, we learned from our teachers that the most pressing question remained: How can I make STEAM a fun and meaningful experience for my students?
If you personally relate, we’re here to assure you that we hear you, we see you and we feel you! Our team is here to equip you with the right tools and mindset to effectively connect with your students and bring back the old sparkle in their eyes as they create and iterate.
We’ve put together a list of 3 things to avoid while teaching STEM, STEAM and Coding in 2021 based on our learnings from educators and parents. Make sure you read all the way to the end, the last one is the most important.
#1. DON’T be afraid to get a little creative with hands-on instruction
For most STEM educators, teaching STEAM or coding seems like a daunting experience. How am I supposed to teach computational thinking to 7 year olds without physical blocks or hardware? For students partaking in hybrid instruction, is it even worth it to use hardware kits given COVID health scares? You might feel limited in your STEAM instruction because let’s face it, you might not always have the option to incorporate hardware components into lessons. Here are a few ideas on how you can be creative when teaching computational thinking skills.
- Your students can clean their room AND learn computational thinking skills? Sounds like a win-win to us. Teach your students the foundation of computational thinking by encouraging them to think and plan how to solve a problem with this fun, tech-free activity. Trust us, their parents will thank you later.
- “If-then” is a common coding language that instructs a computer to execute an output because of an input (or cause and effect). This important concept isn’t just limited to instruction that uses computers, tablets, Chromebooks, or any additional hardware. Teach your students how to think about conditional statements with this easy and active game.
- Our recently launched virtual blocks for both our flow-based and block-based coding programs, SAM Studio, allows students to code programs without the use of any physical materials or hardware blocks. For teaching STEAM from the comfort of your home, our STEAM at Home Pack, featuring Strawbees, is an affordable, hands-on learning pack complete with activities and a variety of materials to build and create prototypes without the need for computers or tablets.
#2. DON’T hesitate to explore new techniques to engage students
With a new learning scenario comes a new set of challenges. One of the most pressing challenges educators face everyday is “how can I engage my students without being in the physical classroom?” Our answer? Take advantage of free resources. Try a new teaching technique. Try another new teaching technique. If you’re not sure where to start, check out some of our favorite engagement tips and our no-cost resource round up for 2021.
- For educators using Google Slides, Pear Deck makes it easy to integrate fun formative assessments and interactive questions in your lessons.
- Looking to spruce up classroom discussions? Tired of text threads and blog posts? Try video instead! With Flipgrid, students can easily record video responses to discussion questions and share with their classmates. This is the simplest way to mirror in-person collective learning from the good ol’ days!
If you’re searching for other low-tech ways to amp up instruction in 2021 at no extra cost, do check out 7 Free Must-Have Distance Learning Resources for Teaching STEM, STEAM, and Coding in 2021 (Free STEAM Activities Included).
#3. DON’T forget to foster intimate spaces for collaboration and creativity
How many times have you as an educator felt scrambled to make sure you were delivering quality instructions in the 30 or 45 minutes allocated? How many times have you delivered a lecture rather than a lesson and watched your students eyes or screens just glaze over? This struggle is all too real. While incorporating collaboration in a virtual lesson might feel time-consuming, we can leverage features on platforms like Zoom to enhance engagement and learning in these ways:
- Giving students 5 minutes each class to socialize and connect with each other, perhaps in smaller groups of 3-4 each. Educators can assign optional discussion questions or give students the leeway to steer conversation. (Here is a topic we like that might get you started: “Today, as a __th grader, what is one skill that you can work on that will help you in the future?”)
- Crafting timed, project-based assessments that can be delivered to a group of 4-5 students through an online breakout room; this can be a great way to boost engagement and assess learning gaps.
- Occasionally cold calling. By incorporating cold calling in your lessons and seeking live feedback from your students, you can instill a presence and energy that is similar to that of an in-person classroom. Plus, it gives you the chance to do a little one-on-one check in!
- Involving students physically virtually. Instead of using the in-built poll function, maybe encourage students to jazz hands for one option or raise their fists for another. If space permits, educators can also kick each class in the morning or afternoons with a two minute stretch or meditation session. These activities allow for students to readjust and focus on the lesson ahead.
- Introducing office hours that are ‘for students, by students’ where learners can help each other debug their code or clarify each other’s questions.
#4. DON’T think that you have to be superhuman
As educators and parents, you are already doing your best. No instruction advice in the world is as important as the energy that educators and parents bring to the students. Take care of yourself when you need it and understand that these are uncharted waters for the world of education. Do something for yourself when you need it! Eat lunch outside, take a walk (and if you’re in a cold climate, make sure you bundle up before), bake yourself some cookies! The number one thing you shouldn’t avoid is taking care of yourself.
More Free STEAM Content and Tools
Looking for more content to add to your toolkit? We have you covered. Check out our:
We have a team of support staff ready to get you online with your STEAM curriculum from SAM Labs and can help you every step of the way, whether it’s through choosing your communication tools, helping you deliver your lessons or even professional development options. If you’re looking for a digital partner to support your online STEAM learning initiatives, contact us today.
Hi there – I’m Blocky!
I love helping educators teach their students, putting on new outfits and long walks. Anyways… see you around!