Educators have the power to truly engage their students by incorporating STEAM into the classroom in meaningful and creative ways. But how can educators embrace authenticity while exemplifying best teaching practices? Let’s explore the impact of implementing more effective, authentic approaches to teaching with STEAM education!
When we think about implementing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in the classroom, our first thought might be to crack open the Chromebooks or swipe to unlock an iPad.
While hardware is an incredibly useful component of STEAM education and learning, there are so many other ways you can complement your lesson plan to create an authentic environment for project-based learning experiences. Using technology to assess STEAM and STEM activities is important, but we can go further.
Authentic learning is a teaching approach that underpins the successful implementation of STEAM pedagogy in your classroom. It allows students to explore, discuss and construct projects in the context of real-world situations they can relate to, enhancing their STEM, STEAM, and coding skills.
The beauty of teaching STEAM in the classroom is that there isn’t a single recipe that works for every student or teacher, as long as you follow a few best practices. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t play with the context of your curriculum to provoke authentic learning and teach computational thinking across multiple core subjects (not just computer science!). Ready to bring your STEAM lessons up a notch? Check out our selection of five creative ways to revamp and upgrade your classroom activities!
There are so many stimuli in the classroom that anything can become a distraction. When you ask educators what the biggest distractions in the classroom are, technology and off-topic conversation can often be top of the list. At SAM Labs, we understand the need to give students the space to reflect throughout the STEAM learning experience.
Teaching Unplugged is a method that aims to strip away all forms of external stimuli — not just frivolous technology usage or chatting — to stimulate an engaging learning environment. Interestingly enough, the model recommends temporarily removing many distractions or sources of “barriers” between teachers and students.
These distraction barriers include:
- Worksheets or activities
- Media Content
The idea is that by priming your students with time away from these outlets, educators have a chance to teach with undivided attention and can allow students to pose thoughtful questions and answers.
This can be a great exercise for kicking off a STEAM lesson in the classroom. Because the STEAM learning approach is inclusive of all the subject areas that it covers, it’s likely that most learners in your classroom will find a reason to want to work on a STEAM project. Getting students to pause and think about their strategy is key.
With as little as a whiteboard, you can close the textbooks, pose a scenario and get students engaged in thoughtful commentary. Learn more about Teaching Unplugged and its benefits and drawbacks.
Additional STEAM Resources
2. Brainstorm Projects — and then Swap Ideas
Implementing STEAM in your classroom helps students visualize real-world context by working on projects that solve everyday problems. Even better, when students work in groups, they build on their soft skills, like communication, collaboration, and social skills.
First, have students work in groups to come up with a project idea. Then, take the challenge one step further by introducing a twist: after groups have decided on a design, have groups swap projects to work on someone else’s. Give them 15 minutes to explain to each other what the project should entail.
This is a great method to bring experiential STEAM learning opportunities to your classroom by challenging students to explain to others what the original design was, what it should accomplish, and see their project completed by another team.
This STEAM teaching method does two things:
- Gives students the opportunity to push their communication and sequencing skills by explaining to another group what their vision was for their initial project idea.
- Gives students the decomposition challenge of communicating and collaborating on a brand new challenge set aside from the original one.
When projects are complete, have students reflect on how the designs aligned or differed based on their original vision, have them assess whether the time allotted was enough to communicate the vision, and have groups explain what modifications they had to make along the way to make the project successful.
One of the most powerful ways that students can learn is through thoughtful conversation. Learning through conversation is the idea that students can speak productively in class while the teacher listens. Dividing learners into groups to talk to one another, can often result in student-to-student teaching moments. And as a side effect, gives students who may not have the familiarity or confidence in speaking about something they don’t fully understand the ability to do so.
What’s beautiful about this teaching model for STEAM in the classroom is that many students struggle with speaking about math, science, and technology. Learning through conversation gives these students a chance to speak to one another about what they’ve learned and pose questions to one another when something doesn’t make sense.
Some educators may worry that conversation may stray off topic, so the The National Science Foundation recommends that teachers “center the instruction around the idea that the person doing the talking is the person doing the learning.” This is important because educators should try to encourage every student to participate.
Learn more about learning through conversation and best practices to ensure success.
By now, your students are probably itching to start their STEAM learning projects, which is a good thing! But there’s one last step that you can take prior to kicking off their designs to help facilitate their success.
In software development, many development teams follow Agile Methodology practices. These practices are meant to lean on business resources, accomplishing only what needs to be done on a project to complete builds that work every check-in (colloquially called a “Sprint”).
One of the components of a Sprint is creating “User Stories.” User Stories are written out by a Product Owner to help developers engineer a project. User Stories may differ in language based on organization, but they all have one thing in common: an end goal stated from the user’s perspective, usually in the form of a sentence.
Atlassian’s Agile Coach’s User Story template provides the following:
“As a [persona], I [want to], [so that].”
A simple, real-world example using components from SAM Labs’ STEAM Kit could look like this:
“As a user, I want the LED light to come on when I cover the light sensor block.”
In the context of a STEAM classroom and curriculum, you could have students practice classification (categorizing) and brainstorming, prior to their project design, a couple of answers to the following questions:
- WHO is this project being designed for? What is their persona? What considerations should be taken for the typical user we are designing for?
- WHAT are the main objectives we want to accomplish with this project?
- WHICH objectives are the most important?
Having students begin writing out their User Stories puts them in the shoes of the user who will be engaging with their project. After they have completed listing out their User Stories, have them order them by priority, so the group knows where to get started first.
This can help students collaborate, communicate and understand how the user will ultimately engage with their STEAM project.
Let students know that User Stories can be added at any time! It’s totally normal to realize that a project needs another User Story halfway through the project in order to accommodate the user or complete the project.
By creating User Stories, students will communicate with one another more effectively, use computational thinking skills to break down the project into smaller pieces, and think critically about how to prioritize.
Learn more about Agile Development and User Story creation.
5. Connect Daily Lessons with Each STEAM Project
Many educators may feel that they don’t have the time to work daily with students on their STEAM projects in the classroom. Finding time before and after school, during lunch, or once or twice a month for special work block times, may feel like the most your curriculum can afford.
Try to keep STEAM learning alive in the classroom with daily activities that keep the concepts top-of-mind for students and inspire their love of learning.
A great example is from SAM Labs’ STEAM Course, where students practice sequencing and algorithms to create a light source from the wireless SAM blocks to help Little Blocky grow plants. At the same time, a corresponding daily curriculum activity for students could be watering plants in the classroom and rotating them to make sure they are receiving enough light.
Comparing these real-life activities to hands-on learning tools drives connections between the content and the STEAM project. It’s up to you as the educator to find a way to incorporate daily activities, but the sky’s the limit — it only takes a few minutes each day to inspire your students with a short lesson that keeps their minds on STEAM in the classroom.
While teaching STEAM in the classroom, there are so many ways you can inspire and challenge your students. Cultivate a STEAM classroom that becomes a place of thought-provoking conversation, design, creativity, and learning. The suggestions mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg — we’ve heard so many other great ideas on how to implement STEAM in classrooms around the world.
Tell us, what’s your unique twist you add to implement STEAM in your classroom? We’d love to hear in the comments below!
See SAM Labs in action and request a demo now! We’ll show you how SAM Labs will support and enhance your STEAM initiatives, how our intuitive online coding platform works, and how it can fit into your student’s schedules.
Looking for more resources on all things STEAM? Check out our:
- STEAM vs. STEM Learning for K-12: The True Definitions, Differences and Best Practices
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Eleanor is an EdTech writer who’s passionate about changing the world one classroom at a time. When not spreading the news about the latest in K-12 technology, you’ll find her geeking out about the latest startups or video games and adding to her ’80s toy collection.