Walk into a traditional classroom, and you’ll see rows of desks, a whiteboard, bookshelves, and so on.
But when you walk into a STEM classroom, you should see potential — both creatively and intellectually. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, all of which benefit from hands-on learning.
Most students need to engage with complex material to absorb it and learn how to apply their knowledge to future careers. Therefore, the ideal STEM classroom is a learning lab that excites students’ imaginations and nurtures problem-solving skills.
As you might have guessed, that calls for more than desks, maps, and dictionaries. Read on to learn the ins and outs of STEM classroom setup.
Modular Layouts and Furniture
The ideal STEM learning space can adapt to lectures, group activities, and solo work sessions. This means it needs flexible layout options, such as tables that double as both desks and shared workspaces.
The room should be oriented around students’ activities rather than a single point (e.g., the whiteboard in traditional classrooms).
Modular design also helps classrooms operate more efficiently. Furniture can be rearranged however best suits the lesson plan.
- Task carts with drawers can bring supplies directly to the students.
- Wheeled desks can be pushed together for brainstorming sessions, then moved into a circle for demonstrations.
- Storage cubes can be divided among working groups, then instantly re-stacked once the lesson concludes.
- Whiteboards or pinboards are easily moved around the space.
A good STEM classroom inspires students to think big and dream bigger. A rigid layout with immovable furniture doesn’t leave that impression.
Accessible Classroom Technology
As technology is the “T” in STEM, tech is obviously important to STEM classrooms. Even if you’re not teaching computer science or robotics, you’ll want students to have all the tools they need to optimize their learning.
Technology keeps students connected to the world’s knowledge. It allows them to explore solutions and interact with academic concepts.
Your tech shopping list may include 3D printers, virtual reality devices, touchscreens, and more. No matter what’s on the list, a STEM lab must make it easy for students to use the technology.
That means classrooms needs plenty of electrical outlets, power strips, and surge protectors, and, again, modular furniture for a flexible layout.
Consider what types of seating or work surfaces are best suited for the tech, so that everyone can focus on the lesson rather than squirming in their chairs. Students need ergonomics, too.
Convenient Storage for STEM Lab Supplies
With so many technological devices and movable furniture, it’s all too easy for STEM learning spaces to get disorganized. Add in all your supplies for hands-on activities (rubber bands, building blocks, etc.) and clutter is just a tipped table away.
Try using cube organizers or bin racks to keep STEM lesson supplies close at hand. The removable drawers and trays can be brought directly to work surfaces, then put away in a pinch.
As mentioned above, you can also use task carts (aka utility carts), which usually have built-in drawers or shelves. Have students do their activities on the carts, and post-lesson cleanup will be simple.
If you’re dealing with a small space, think vertically. Pegboards are a great way to hold pliers, scissors, tape, and so on. Plus, students can easily see where to put away their tools.
Tall shelving units can hold classroom equipment or bins of supplies. Plus, they double as a bookshelf. Try attaching plastic hooks to the sides to store measuring sticks, cables, and more.
Decor to Inspire Innovation
Now that all the basics are in place, let’s talk about the fun stuff: STEM classroom decorations. Kids respond well to visual stimuli, so the right decor can ignite their curiosity. Plus, hands-on activities often use visual aids.
Educational imagery should infuse the space with a sense of potential.An effective STEM classroom design immediately gets students excited about what they’ll be learning.
You can get practical with your decorations (informational posters, a colorful periodic table of elements, etc.) or purely aesthetic (think gears, atoms, DNA, etc.). Either way, your creativity will rub off on your students.
Create a one-of-a-kind STEM space
As a STEM teacher, your goal is to create a vibrant learning environment that’s also safe and easy to use. The ideal STEM classroom design stokes curiosity and encourages students to think outside the box — which means the layout should be innovative as well.
Modular design choices, multi-functional storage, and convenient technology all help make STEM learning more accessible and efficient.
Once your classroom is primed for lightbulb moments, explore our STEAM and coding solutions for grades K-8.
Shaunda Douglas is a former educator with over 15 years of experience in all levels of education. In her free time, she reads, plays with her dogs, watches baseball, and loves a good nap.