STEM classrooms are a great place for students to engage in real-world problem solving, and a great place to learn about important concepts in science, technology, engineering, and math, along with critical 21st century skills. But STEM classrooms can also be unfocused, complicated, and chaotic.
Efficient classrooms all share some common characteristics. Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker have a great article about what an efficient and effective classroom looks like. Some of the common characteristics they mention are:
- The classroom is organized. A place for everything and everything in its place.
- Lessons are inviting and exciting.
- The students do most of the talking and the doing, prompted by the teacher ’s questioning and guidance.
- Routines and procedures are evident. Students know exactly what is expected of them.
- Lesson objectives are clear and measurable.
- There is little dependence on worksheet-type activities. Lessons are highly interactive, and students remain engaged in meaningful activities.
- Technology is used, thoughtfully, to enhance lessons and learning.
How can you cultivate these characteristics in your STEM classroom? Here are a few tips:
1. Implement blended learning
Using online and digital teaching tools is a great way to enhance your STEM classroom and make it more efficient. Here’s a great blog post about how blended learning makes it easier for you to intervene with struggling students, offers more choices to fit your classroom, and helps you make the most of your time.
But, not all blended learning is created equal. Research has shown that Online Learning with interactive activities is six times more effective than online lectures.[i] It’s important that blended learning features:
- Clearly Defined Learning Objectives
A great choice for blended learning that incorporates clearly defined objectives, interactive learning, and self-assessment is a tool like Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming, even if they don’t have direct access to a physical robot. Check out this blog post from last fall to learn more about how Robot Virtual worlds can help make your STEM classroom more efficient.
2. Use structured problem-solving
Structured problem-solving allows students to be creative, but within parameters. While students will still have opportunities to personalize their projects and justify their solutions, their creativity will still be structured. That way, teachers don’t have to worry about students constantly losing focus.
A few examples of how you can add structure to problem-solving include:
- Allow students to plan and be creative when remixing (customizing) programs after being guided through their programming.
- Use iterative project development repeatedly within lessons and/or modules. Experiences in previous lessons and/or modules help students and teams to increasingly self-monitor to work at peak efficiencies.
- Have the class complete unplugged activities that prompt students to apply their skills to situations in other domains.
To implement structured problem-solving in your classroom, choose a curriculum that:
- Provides guidance to both students and teachers
- Scaffolds difficult concepts and complex tasks
- Schedules class time closely so that no class time is wasted
3. Get a handle on team work
Having students work in teams helps students develop important 21st century skills that are critical for career success. But it’s one more element that can cause inefficiency in your classroom. Edutopia has a great article with some tips to make group work more manageable. But, the STEM curriculum you choose can also make a difference as well.
When thinking about your STEM curriculum, consider these questions:
- Are the team tasks detailed for each class section?
- Do the teacher notes explain how to facilitate the team activities and how to model teamwork skills?
- Are the team activities aided by planning templates so they remain focused, organized, and productive?
- Are students provided with teamwork rubrics so they know exactly what’s expected of them and their teams?
4. Invest in training
Investing in the right training will go a long way to helping you make your STEM classroom more efficient. Because STEM requires students to take a more active role in their learning process, look for training programs that provide practical, hands-on experience to help you manage your STEM classroom and maximize your resources.
5. Keep things organized
This one sounds obvious but it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds. STEM classrooms are often full of cool stuff, but this cool stuff can become clutter if you’re not careful. A few obvious solutions are to:
- Make sure your high-traffic areas are clear and uncongested
- Cut down on set-up and clean-up time by keeping your frequently used tools and materials on-hand and accessible
But, the activities and curriculum you choose can also affect the organization of your classroom. Blended learning can really help you cut down on clutter in your classroom. Structured problem-solving activities can help too because they provide guidance on what materials should be used and how students should use them. Same goes for teamwork activities that provide guidance for both students and teachers. And, finally, the better trained you are for your STEM classroom, the more organized it will be.