By Jacqueline Dua
Are you a K-2 teacher considering introducing STEM in your classroom plan? Teaching STEM to children as young as K-2 is an excellent way for your students to create a STEM identity and prepare them early for intense STEM subjects in their later years. Their comprehension and retention will become far more advanced for their age. Also, they’ll be more likely to want to learn and pursue STEM. The first-time experience of learning STEM can also create a positive association with STEM learning and build student confidence and familiarity with complex STEM concepts in later years. Here are four tips on empowering your K-2 students to love STEM.
1. Understanding the three things that students need to be successful in STEM.
- A STEM identity
This means that students see themselves as capable and successful in learning STEM subjects and have an interest and aspiration in STEM fields.
- STEM mentors
It’s not necessary to be an expert in STEM to teach STEM. Your role in trying to inspire your students towards STEM is to be a mentor. You don’t have to have all the correct answers. Instead, you must provide your students with opportunities for STEM exposure and explore and deepen their understanding.
You can also introduce your students to successful STEM role models. Through students being able to see successful STEM individuals who vary in race and gender, they will better be able to identify with STEM and imagine themselves participating in STEM. Furthermore, you can provide your students with STEM mentors through a mentorship program with students of a higher grade who participate in STEM. This way, your students can have guidance in their STEM learning journey that they can more easily relate to.
- Technology fluency
When students have fluency in technology, they will have the confidence and skills to creatively solve real-world problems with technology. Technology fluency can also boost a student’s proficiency in STEM. This fluency is developed through hands-on experiences with STEM.
2. Create a comprehensive STEM curriculum.
When implementing STEM into your lesson plan, it is essential to make sure that the STEM curriculum you create is comprehensive, systematic, and consistent. Having your students sporadically participate in STEM activities will not help your students’ recollection, understanding, and application of the subject matter. By tasking your students with practicing STEM subjects daily, they will be better prepared for rigorous STEM academics and develop a strong STEM identity. They must be taught STEM subjects incrementally and in a manner unique to each student’s needs to master the content. Step-by-step instruction is vital for teaching STEM. This is called convergent learning.
Convergent learning is teaching all students the same material, using the same instructive models so that they can arrive at the same conclusion. Convergent learning ensures that students gain foundational knowledge. Once students have a basic understanding of the subject matter, they can be taught with divergent learning. Divergent learning involves creating opportunities for students to apply what they have learned. Starting with convergent learning and progressing to divergent learning helps ensure students gain competency in STEM concepts. Students will learn how to use their knowledge to build problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
Other types of teaching methods are-
- Project-Based Learning: This teaching method uses real-world scenarios and hands-on projects to engage students in STEM and make the STEM lessons more meaningful and applicable to the students. It can get students personally invested in the subject matter and excited about learning the content. It also can give students a deeper understanding of what they’re learning.
- Inquiry-Based Learning: With this method, students are taught to make connections between the world and what they have learned through utilizing real-world examples. Students are encouraged to ask questions and think critically. They also learn about the importance of the connections that they discover.
- Problem-Based Learning: This approach teaches students how to apply what they have learned by working to solve open-ended questions.
- Indoor vs. outdoor learning: Using physical activity to teach subject matter is excellent for performance and retention for STEM. Children need activities that engage their curiosity and kinetic energy.
3. Creative positing learning experiences with STEM.
Always provide positive reinforcement and encouragement while motivating students to participate in STEM activities. Show students that failing is okay and trying again is encouraged. Remember, patience is very conducive to adequate teaching and motivation. Students need to be challenged but within the confines of their comfort zone so they are not discouraged, are excited, and have fun. Students who are challenged to be overwhelmed will withdraw and give up. You want to create opportunities for students to feel independent and accomplished. Also, vary the topics to cater to each child’s unique interests and learning style. You can promote clubs and groups that students can join to get them interacting with students with a positive mindset for STEM and who have a strong STEM identity.
4. Utilize teamwork to motivate interest, engagement, and initiative for STEM.
Teaching students STEM by working with others can provide them with positive STEM learning experiences and leadership, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. They will learn how to solve problems and design within a team dynamic. While learning to apply the subject matter they’ve learned, the whole group will brainstorm, plan, design, and evaluate to solve a problem. This will lead to tremendous and informative group discussions of STEM content. These are skills that will be very beneficial for your students once they start their careers.
Need help to come up with creative ideas to teach STEM? Browse nstem.org for some creative inspiration.
When you’re struggling to come up with ideas on how to teach STEM or empower your K-2 students to love STEM, the National STEM Honor Society (NSTEM) is a resource that can guide you. We have many resources within our resource library and informative blogs like the ones below. Also, while you browse our website, consider learning about our NSTEM chapters and how you can get your school to have their chapter with NSTEM.
Do you want more resources on the topic of tips on empowering your K-2 students to love STEM? NSTEM’s vast resources database provides thousands of searchable STEM resources by category, school level, and state. This comprehensive library includes info on enrichment activities, curricula, internships, scholarships, and more. Check out a free sampling here. Or get an NSTEM membership today to unlock the complete list.
K-2 is where it all starts with STEM education. The National STEM Honor Society focuses on “From K to Career, NSTEM from the Start!” To start your K-2 Chapter of the National STEM Honor Society, click here.