Roots of STEM: Books and ideas for real world problem solving in your classroom

Getting Started - Guidelines

Some teachers are intimidated by STEM (particularly that scary word, “engineering”) or worry that they will not have the resources necessary to teach it.  By starting small and remembering that STEM is really about problem solving you can feel more comfortable jumping in. Problem solving happens every day in elementary classrooms!  This blog post has some great tips for changing your mindset and getting started as well.

Start with a real problem in your school community.   Model in whole group lessons the process for attempting to solve it. A simplified version of the engineering design process might be Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve, and school examples might include things like:

  • How can we reduce the amount of trash generated by our school?
  • How can we figure out which vegetables are most popular at our salad bar, and get more of what we want?
  • How can we make the lunch line flow more quickly and efficiently so we have more time to eat?
  • How can we find out which food the birds like best at our bird feeder?
  • What is the best way to share the equipment at recess?

Look for problem solving opportunities when doing your unit planning. Brainstorm with your team a real world problem related to the content you are going to teach. (Take something you have taught before but turn it into a challenge.)  

Think about connections to other disciplines.  How might math or technology be used in the course of solving this problem? What will students read and write in order to build and share knowledge? What STEM career connections can be made?

Decide what will serve as evidence of student learning. (Will they make something, or build something?)  Be sure students know what it will look like/sound like when they going about their work.

Utilize community and regional resources.  Connect with local agencies, businesses, parents, colleges or universities and partner with them to provide authentic real-world experiences as part of the unit (guest speakers, interns, practitioners in the field, field trips).

Foster teamwork.  Reinforce the community-building efforts you have already made in your classroom. More learning takes place when students construct meaning and solve problems together. Provide opportunities for them to communicate their ideas and reasoning to one another.

Be prepared to be a facilitator rather than someone who has all the answers. Ask lots of questions, and turn students' questions back upon the group.


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