So, you’ve been tasked with the challenge of teaching STEM/STEAM and coding to elementary students. If you’ve not led a STEAM lesson yet, or are still finding your way, you may have a lot of questions about how to best teach the subject.
How will I need to differ my approach in these classes? How do I engage students with this new way of learning? What are the key elements each lesson should include? What if we hit a roadblock or our experiments fail?
Today, we’re going to talk about some things to consider as you set out to teach STEAM and coding to elementary students, equipping you with some strategies to apply in the classroom. We hope these tips will guide you in the first steps of your STEAM journey, setting you and your students up for success.
Here are five tips to help you teach STEAM and coding in your elementary class!
1. Prepare Your Students
If you need time to adjust to a new STEAM format, your students probably will too. Ahead of your first lesson, let them know that they’ll be incorporating this new way of learning soon.
Giving students notice sets expectations in advance and allows them to ask questions about what’s in store. Take it as an opportunity to build their excitement for their first hands-on STEAM project, and reassure them that if any roadblocks come their way, it’s all part of the journey you’ll take together.
2. Hands-On Learning is a Must
This quote from Benjamin Franklin says it perfectly – “Tell me and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”
Hands-on learning transforms a lesson into an experience, inspiring kids to create and problem-solve. In fact, studies have drawn a link between active learning and increased performance in STEM, finding that students who didn’t engage in active learning were 1.5 times more likely to fail courses than students who did.
We strongly recommend using physical hardware and materials in each lesson to give students a practical experience rather than a theoretical one. Students can see what’s in front of them, how it connects to other pieces of hardware and devices, and the impact their choices will have on the end result.
Take our work with Orlando Science Center – to understand the concept of planetary transit, students built an automated solar system made of Lego and SAM Labs hardware. By building it themselves and physically seeing this process in motion, scientific learning was cemented, and students grew key technological and engineering skills at the same time.
3. Incorporate Real-World Examples
When what we’re learning can relate to the real world, it resonates more strongly, and we’re inspired to know more. Linking scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematic concepts to tangible real-world scenarios is a great way to connect the dots – and a sign of an effective STEAM lesson. Elementary students make memorable connections and even come up with solutions to everyday problems.
Why do foods oxidize, and how can you slow this process down? How does a car’s braking system work? How does my phone connect to my TV?
There are endless opportunities for students to further understand the world and objects around them!
4. Rely on Other People and Resources
Remember that you’re not doing this by yourself – gaining inspiration and advice from others is a vital part of creating fun and effective STEM lessons in elementary schools.
Create a sounding board within your school and knowledge-share with other STEM/STEAM teachers and subject matter experts like the Head of Science. What has worked well in their STEAM lessons? What did they find challenging, and how did they overcome it? Which lessons did their students love the most?
You can also find inspiration and help in online resources, including Stem.org, the US Department of Education’s STEM site (you can even sign up for its newsletter, too!). Draw on different teachers’ experiences and skills from around the world in online groups and forums such as STEM Teachers Group. You’ve found our blog – but did you know about our webinars too? Register for SAM Labs webinars now.
If you’re looking for all-round support, SAM Labs’ STEAM and coding solutions are purpose-built for different ages – from Kindergarten all the way up to (and including) Grade 8. Everything’s all there ready for you – curriculum-aligned lesson packs, our Bluetooth hardware blocks, access to our software platform SAM Studio, and further content and resources. Our support team is also on hand if you need any help.
5. Celebrate Failures and the Process Itself
Although it’s important to work towards an end goal in your lessons, this isn’t the be-all and end-all.
Traditional teaching formats are often designed to guide students to achieve a correct end result or conclusion by the end of a lesson. Failure can be a gray area, with little time for teachers to focus on understanding why students have failed, and how to persevere beyond it.
It’s important for your elementary STEAM lessons to embrace trial and error and CELEBRATE failures – recognizing that failure is a vital and positive part of the experimentation and learning process.
Take Thomas Edison – he’d tested 10,000 materials for the filament of his lightbulb and not yet found one that worked. When quizzed about his failed attempts so far, he answered “I have not failed 10,000 times – I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
Be prepared for the challenges that your students may face, and consider when and how to step guide them when they reach a road block. Just like Edison, it’s your class’s chance to review the design, eliminate options that don’t work, and come up with possible solutions. By celebrating failed attempts openly, you and your class are one step closer to finding a solution, unphased by previous failures.
It’s as much about the process as it is about the end result – because the real learning happens when you work through the struggle!
Want more advice in navigating teaching STEAM and coding? Read 6 tips on boosting your confidence when teaching.
Rosie is a writer and storyteller with a passion for tech and learning, with nearly a decade’s experience writing for small tech startups and large brands alike. In her free time she enjoys walks with her pet greyhound Boris, singing in a jazz quartet and making new music.