Will I need to spend a lot of money on supplies?
You don’t need a lot of expensive materials to get started teaching STEM. You probably have most of the supplies in your classroom already, or in your recycle bin.
I’ve never done STEM challenges before. What can I expect?
Learn to expect the unexpected! What I have found in teaching a STEM challenges class is that my expectations are vastly different from the expectations of the students. In seeing what they come up with, you may think they will be disappointed with their design or that it doesn’t work as well as it could. Be sure to stand back and let the students take charge and evaluate their own designs, and try to remove your own ideas and expectations as much as possible. You can expect a lot of creativity and excitement, as many students have never done anything quite like this before. If you are experiencing a lot of frustration, try making the challenge easier by preparing materials ahead of time or removing some of the choices.
How can I differentiate STEM challenges in my classroom? I teach various grade levels.
The easiest way to differentiate STEM design challenges is by varying the available materials. For example, for a tower challenge:
Easy to more difficult materials:
Easy==> building blocks or bricks, or plastic cups
Harder ==> spaghetti and marshmallows, or only pipe cleaners
Expert ==> straws and paperclips (insert doubled-up paperclips into ends of straws to connect them), or only paper & tape
*You can also use these ideas as stations for your students to progress through all building challenges.
I don’t have time to do this as a group activity in my classroom. Can I still encourage STEM learning?
Yes! You can set up an independent learning center for your early finishers or when you do stations. Provide the materials, and the students can work on these challenges independently, either alone or in small teams.
I’m not an engineer or technology expert, and STEM intimidates me. Can I still do this?
You can absolutely do STEM challenges and incorporate STEM learning in your classroom. You, like an engineer, solve problems every day. The beauty of STEM learning is that there is no “right” answer. Even if you have an idea in your head of what an end design might look like, once you try a STEM challenge with your students, you will see that they will come up with ideas you never could have imagined. This is one of the reasons I love working kids – their creativity surpasses that of most adults I know, and their ability to see beyond the flaws is truly magical.