5 Steps to Successfully Designing a Kindergarten to Grade 12 STEM Program


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From inside the K-12 education bubble, it’s easy to believe that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and STEAM (adding art to the STEM mix) initiatives are a done deal – everything the world makes them.

There are integers conferences dedicated to STEM. But as recently as 2016, a Gallup poll driven by Google found that only 40 percent of the United States schools offer programming or coding courses.

With the Trump administration prioritize $ 200 million per year for STEM and the giants of computer and technology education, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook are launching $ 300 million more, there may be opportunities for schools new to the idea of ​​STEM to get started.

Knowing where to focus your time and attention when starting out can make all the difference between a strong program and one that fades after a few years.

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1. Understand the origins of STEM and their importance

Where do STEM programs come from? The initial idea for a program may arise from one of the various stakeholders in the educational community: administration, teachers, students and even the business world.

“Often it’s a local, one-teacher effort,” says Laura Fleming, senior teacher, voice behind the Worlds of Learning Blog and author of The starter guide to creating BIG Makerspaces, “Someone who is a STEM champion, who gets buy-in from other colleagues and in some cases even gets administration and membership involved as well. Everything can happen in a very organic way and is not always a top-down initiative pushed down by the administration.

Some STEM programs even originate from a visit to an external organization which exposes students and teachers to STEM concepts and programming.

SparkShop, whose mission is to educate students about STEM and make them aware of the diversity of career opportunities in engineering, is one such nonprofit.

“We go into a school with our manufacturing lab and offer STEM classes that take place in three intensive weeks,” says Shonali Ditz, co-founder of SparkShop. “We are providing teachers with a STEM program to engage children in this three week window and throughout the year. And at the end of the three week session, we have took the designs the kids created and built them outside on our 3D printer, and we report them for the students to see the final results.

“Our program focuses on three topics: varieties of engineering, manufacturing, invention and entrepreneurshipAdds Tiernan Murrell, the other co-founder of SparkShop. “Our makerspace helps bring these topics to life. We use it with every school we visit, but especially with needy schools that do not have adequate funding.

2. Identify the specific STEM mission of your school

Given the growing popularity of STEM, it is understandable that districts and schools want jump on the train and engage quickly to an initiative.

Unsurprisingly, these attempts often fail without the research and planning required. A thoughtful mission and roadmap are essential to develop a successful STEM program.

“Before a district embarks on any STEM initiative, it need to ask the question “Why?” “Says Fleming. “They need to identify what their needs are, what their interest in STEM is based on and what their goals are. It is very important not to embark on any STEM initiative just because it’s a trend. There has to be more to it than that for there to be any kind of success and sustainability. ”

One of the best ways to plan the direction of your STEM program is while observing what other districts are doing.

“One suggestion I always give is to build on what other schools are doing,” says Todd Burleson, director of the resource center for Hubbard Woods School in District 36 to Winnetka, Ill., and author of The Green Screen Makerspace Project Book. “If you are looking to create a makerspace, I recommend you go visit other schools and see what they are doing. And ask, “What are you using? What are you not using? What can you do without? We did this in our district, traveling through Wisconsin and Colorado, and we learned a lot from these tours. “

Fleming agrees with this approach and says there is great value in “visiting local districts that have successful programs that are in line with your identified goals, attend conferences that offer sessions that meet your identified goals, seeking thought leaders in the STEM space whose work aligns with your vision, leveraging social media platforms to learn more and getting ideas related to the curriculum you want to create for your school or your district. “

3. Integrate STEM to work with the current program

As you seek inspiration outside of your neighborhood, you also want focus internally on existing programs in classrooms to understand how you can integrate STEM into what’s out there.

“First look at what you are doing in science and how STEAM can increase these projects and enrich them, “ suggests Burleson. “I suggest starting small: pick a particular project and work from there.

“The most effective STEM programs are those that integrated directly into the classroom program, rather than skills and concepts taught in isolation, ”adds Fleming. “Embedding STEM in this way provides a learning context and will help create learning that lasts. ”

Teachers should try to create authentic educational activities aligned with content domain standards, as well as STEM, says Flemming. “This will maximize further learning. “

4. Don’t give STEM an age requirement

A question that STEM neophytes often ask themselves is when to integrate STEM into the classroom.

Experience has shown that STEM programs are applicable to students of all age groups, from kindergarten to high school. Although these topics can be sophisticated, children understand them.

“There is certainly no age too young,” says Fleming. “Young learners are fearless, have a natural curiosity and are more willing to take risks and chances, and these qualities serve them well when it comes to STEM-related concepts. “

Currently, SparkShop classroom tours are focused on fourth and fifth graders.

“There is research which shows that children shape their self-image when it comes to academics. between 8 and 10 years old, that’s why we focus on this age group, ”says Ditz. “We’re coming in just at the age when kids identify with their academics. We help them apply these forces they recognize in STEM subjects and engineering fields.

5. Improve STEM programming with appropriate technology budgeting

Since all topics under the acronym STEM touch on technology in one way or another, it is important to think about where and how the technology will fit into your program and budget accordingly.

Within District 36, Burleson explains, “We have tons of technology: construction, robotics, circuits and electronics, and coding. We try to distribute our budget evenly among these compartments. Each bucket is important and in relation to the others.

If you’re just getting started, Burleson suggests the following tools:

  • Construction: Legos, Rigamajigs
  • Robotics and coding: Robot Turtle, Sphero, NAO robot board game
  • Circuits: Squishy circuits, simple circuits

When introducing its makerspace in classrooms, SparkShop generally includes a Makerbot Replicator + 3D printer, an Inventables Carvey 3D sculpting machine, a laser cutter, a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to run CAD software and electronic kits for all students.

By providing the technology themselves, schools unable to afford their own tools are still able to take advantage of it.

“SparkShop’s approach is to keep all kids engaged,” says Murrell.

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