Month: June 2016

10 Characteristics of Effective STEM Classrooms

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In this series, we’ve been talking about characteristics that make an effective STEM Classroom.  Hopefully you see a lot of your own classroom in these characteristics that I’ve discussed.

Teamwork
Inquiry
Problem Solving
Leadership
Support
Challenges
Technology Integration
Student-Centered
Critical Thinking

It is vital to student achievement to foster a great learning environment for learning STEM!  If you think I’ve missed some important characteristics, post them below!

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Effective STEM Classrooms- Reflection

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In keeping with characteristics that are present in Effective STEM Classrooms, comes reflection.  A lot of time this step is skipped because the kids finished the project and the teacher ran out of time or is pressed for time to move to the next unit, lesson, performance indicator.  I get that time is a luxury, but please don’t skip this step!  Reflection is one of the most important steps because it provides such benefits to both the teacher and the students.

For the students, it lets them recap what they have learned, connect more dots as other students share and clear up any misconcpetions.

For teachers, it shows us what students have learned and how deep that learning is.  It also helps us to guide students’ future learning and plan future lessons/units armed with good data.

Reflections can be as easy as going around the room and asking students to share or as in depth as the reflection sheets I use that align with the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices.  No matter how you do it, make sure that you do!

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4 Super Fun Science Experiments for Kids

Effective STEM Classrooms- Critical Thinking

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I’ve touched a little on critical thinking in the previous post, but it really does deserve its very own spot on the list because it is a key facet of Effective STEM classrooms.

Critical thinking is different than problem solving.  Although related, critical thinking is much harder to both grasp and teach.  We tend to mash them into one “thing”, but they really are quite different:

Problem Solving, according Google, is the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues.

Whereas Critical Thinking is defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

So, problem solving is really the “what” and critical thinking is the “why”.  It brings us brings us back around to the CER analyses that we (hopefully) have our students write.  After students brainstorm their solutions and choose one, they need to support their solution by providing evidence (What scientific data supports your statement?), reasoning (Why/How does this evidence support your claim?) and an explanation (What conclusion can you draw?)

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Effective STEM Classrooms- Student-Centered

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In having the opportunity to go into different teachers’ classrooms (which I love to do by the way!), it allows me to see commonalities among them that all contribute to Effective STEM Classrooms.

This week, I want to talk about the importance of a STEM classroom (or any classroom for that matter) being student-centered.  Back in the day, it was the era of sage-on-the-stage, where the teacher was the sole provider of the information and dutifully shared that information with students in a lecture style format.  I’m not going to completely dismiss that model, because in rare circumstances, that is the model that is most effective, but in general, this method will likely send student engagement off a cliff.

Providing a student-centered classroom allows students to take control of their learning and be in the driver’s seat and have a say in what comes next.  This is a scary proposition for some teachers because it means giving up control, but giving the students latitude to direct their own learning will pay huge dividends in the end.

So how do you work to create a student-centered classroom?

Introduce Engaging Projects– If students are engaged in the work, it will do miraculous things!  It will cut down drastically on behavior issues, it will build confidence and it will let your students’ natural curiosity guide their learning.

Encourage Collaboration- Start with the furniture.  Encourage collaboration by creating pods or stations in your classroom instead of rows of desks. Next, set the expectation of what good collaboration is. (Good- asking a teammate for help with a perplexing problem you’re having with your model.  Bad- Asking someone in another team what movie they plan to see Friday.)

Involve Students in Assessment– At the beginning of each unit, I would frame the project for students and we’d work together to determine how they would be assessed.  It builds tremendous buy-in for students and they are waaayyy more likely to be critical thinkers when comparing their work to the rubric that you developed together.  The results? Incredibly higher quality work!

Hold Learning above All Else– You know how people “look like” their dogs?  At the end of the school year, students look like you!  If you teach them throughout the year the mantra that everything we do in our classroom is in the pursuit of learning, that will encourage them to keep their team on track, to value setbacks and to congratulate successes.

Introducing engaging projects and fostering collaboration go a long way to creating and maintaining a student-centered classroom.  With these in place, the others will fall into line.

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