Over the past few years, we have seen an increasing shortage of professionals in a particular set of fields—mathematics, technology, science, and engineering. Did you know that within the next decade, a mind-boggling 40% of engineers are going to be ready for retirement? With so many professionals hitting the retirement stage, what does this leave the workforce to look like?
Fortunately, the remedy comes in the form of STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). STEM learning is geared toward providing children with cohesive and conducive learning environments that expand their knowledge in fields relating to technology, engineering, mathematics, and science. Although in many countries we have started preparing our younger generation to meet the increasing demand for STEM workers, the learning environment itself is largely impacted by the people who do the actual teaching—namely, our teachers.
If you're a teacher who is interested in building ultimate STEM learning environments, check out our go-to guide for helpful tips and advice.
1. Don't Aim Towards Perfection
First and foremost, teachers shouldn't aim toward perfection when building a STEM learning space. Remember, STEM learning is all about getting your students to think creatively. If the learning space is 'perfect,' this defeats the entire goal of STEM learning. With this in mind, make sure to create environments that provoke critical thinking and problem-solving skills. More so, ensure the spaces promote communication and collaboration.
2. Create a Hands-on Learning Corner
Because STEM learning is aimed to provide students with hands-on activities, you should have space or a corner in the classroom that is completely devoted to hands-on activities. Whether it be building robots or space to carry out science experiments, it should provide kids with a sense of "it's okay to get messy here."
3. Electronic Devices are a Must
You can't effectively teach STEM concepts without the use of technology and this is why a large percentage of your lessons should incorporate the use of computers, laptops, and tablets. Some schools, such as Kristin School in Auckland, are already providing all students with access to iPads. However, it is not uncommon for schools in rural areas to have limited access to technological devices due to budget constraints.
This does not mean you have to go without the use of technology in your classroom, though. Even bringing your own personal laptop to the classroom and letting students complete assignments and research 10 minutes per day two to three times a week is an excellent start for building ultimate STEM learning environments.
4. Apply for Grants
If your school lacks access to funds to help you create conducive STEM learning spaces, you can always take matters into your own hands and apply for grants. Take for example the Hoover High School located in Des Moines, Iowa. The school "applied for, and won, a $50,000 grant from the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to redesign learning environments and reinvigorate the district’s STEM Academy. The district matched the grant, giving [them] $100,000 to create learning spaces that would be similar to the environments [their] students may encounter in college or in their future career. [They] overhauled three rooms -- a “redesigned learning environment” or RLE, a Project Lead the Way classroom, and a math classroom. Although the three rooms serve different purposes, they all reinforce the use of collaboration and technology."
5. Involve the Public
A key component to effective STEM teaching is providing students with examples of how their learnings can be put to use in the real world, and there's no better way to do this than to bring in industry professionals to give presentations. When you include industry influence in the classroom, this informs and inspires students by letting them critically think about the fields of employment they may want to pursue.
Even better is that involving industry influence in your classroom promotes networking among employers and students, many of which may offer to pay for students' college tuition fees if they agree to work for the employer for a certain number of years after graduation.
6. Entice Teamwork
A major component of building ultimate STEM learning environments is centered around teamwork and high levels of productivity. This is why you should spend a large portion of your time teaching lessons that require the use of teamwork and extensive levels of collaboration. More so, you should make sure you are properly communicating with other teachers, using teamwork among yourselves to ensure the language (tone), learning processes, and expectations of students are similar throughout all classes being taught. Teachers will find it is much simpler to create ultimate STEM learning environments when everyone is on the same page.
If possible, classrooms should be set up to promote the use of teamwork to complete class projects. At the Hoover High School we mentioned earlier, a room of cubicles was completely renovated to create a makerspace. "Students brainstorm designs around group desks and create the design using modeling and technical drawing software on desktop computers. The instructor then projects the designs via the interactive projector and leads classroom discussions. Students suggest design improvements and more using the annotation tools, and once a design is finalized, they can print out a prototype using 3D printers."
7. Furniture Needs to be Ergonomic
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for the furniture in the classroom to be ergonomic. STEM learning involves the use of critical thinking skills and students will only think to their fullest potentials when they are comfortable. From couches to chairs to standup desks, ergonomic furniture in the classroom should be viewed as a necessity rather than an amenity.
Check out this helpful article to learn more about the ways furniture impacts students' learning capabilities.
If you don't have access to funds to remodel the classroom with ergonomic furniture, at least make sure the existing furniture can be converted into group stations because student collaboration among one another is vital to building ultimate STEM learning environments.
8. Reconfigure the Classroom Often
Lastly, you need to understand that conducive STEM learning spaces are going to differ from one lesson to the next. One day you may need to set the class up in demonstration mode while the next day it needs to be in lecture mode.
To learn more about the various modes and to get an easy-to-follow blueprint of how to set classes up in four different modes, check out slides 15 and 16 of this SlideShare.
All of the tips mentioned above are great starting points for building ultimate STEM learning environments. With research, collaboration among other teachers, and a willingness to change up your regular teaching routine, you can be well on your way to creating learning spaces that help students excel in STEM studies.