Until recently, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math were considered topics for high school students, particularly for boys. But these 21st Century skills are now important for all students (boys and girls) beginning as early as preschool. The younger that kids start seeing themselves as skilled at STEM, the better. You can begin building students’ confidence in their abilities to solve real-world, hands-on STEM problems in your classroom with these tips.
1. Ready, set up, go!
STEM learning often centers on hands–on activities in small groups. This encourages teamwork and communication, in addition to the work of the actual project. Can students’ desks or tables be easily moved into groups so that they are all facing each other with work space in the middle? Or do you have higher tables for groups to stand and actively participate in an experiment or activity?
2. Be tech savvy
Technology is important in 21st century learning. Do you have a way to access the internet in your classroom or school? Students can use websites to gather data and research topics. Do you have equipment for students to present their information? Slideshow programs and document cameras help students develop skills to present their projects, conclusions, or solutions. Check out Twist, Zoomy and Luna for low-cost, easy-to-use classroom technology.
3. Give kids a STEM challenge
Early learners are naturally curious. They like to investigate with their hands, and when they do, their minds follow along. Pose questions to them. During what would otherwise be open–ended play, challenge them with an idea so they have to figure out solutions. Sand and water tables are great for a variety of simple challenges. An example of a question might be, “What happens when you add water to sand?”
4. Think outside the box
Coding is a skill even small kids can benefit from learning, but sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time just isn’t realistic given their short attention spans. Coding toys make coding feel more like play. Kids can practice foundational coding skills like sequencing and critical thinking with toys like our Code and Go™ Robot Mouse Activity Set. Kids as young as 5 find the activities with the robot mouse fun and engaging and can get a big boost of confidence from successfully leading the mouse to its cheese.
5. Ask “what” not “why” questions
If you ask questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do leaves fall off the trees?” you are implying there is a right answer and that they should know it. If the student doesn’t know that answer, their confidence wanes, as does their interest. By asking “what” questions, you lead them to observe something and then describe it in words, drawings, or actions. They can communicate what they see or feel, which increases their confidence while building early STEM skills of inquiry, critical thinking, observation, and communication. So ask questions like, “What happens to the leaves in fall?” You can always follow up with a why question like, “Why do you think that happens?”
6. Word up
Introduce STEM–related words in your everyday communications with students. During block play, for example, use words like design, or construct. At the sand table, mention experiment, test, and observe. When you use these words with early learners, the next time they hear them, the words will be familiar and will reinforce prior exposure. Other words to use include: analyze, collaborate, conclusions, evidence, data, inference, innovation, predict, and solve.
Adding STEM to your classroom can start with simple tweaks, and progress step by step until you’ve created the ideal environment for nurturing young problem-solvers!