There are only so many hours in a school day. Here are seven habits that you can easily incorporate into your teaching approach that will help you maximize your effectiveness as a STEM teacher.
Check out our list and let us know in the comments if you think we missed anything.
1. Modeling By Example
Many of us don’t often think about how we speak, but how you engage your students verbally is a major opportunity to get students to think more deeply. When you ask higher order questions, you model the type of thinking you want to see in your students. How often do you assign fill-in-blank questions where students just have to remember one word? These types of questions only ask students to repeat and remember isolated facts. Instead, when you ask students higher order questions, they have to create an argument based on evaluation and analysis. Not only can you assess your students’ thinking, you are pushing them to articulate their reasoning, which extends beyond STEM to all subjects.
2. Making Science and Engineering Real
Students are naturally engaged when they can see the relevance of what they’re learning. Science and engineering are essential to understanding the world around us, but in the classroom it can be easy to lose sight of this and get lost in vocabulary and facts. Instead, when students are the ones asking questions and solving problems, they are in the driver’s seat and can see how what they’re learning applies to the world around them.
3. Reframing Results
One of the challenges of real science and engineering is that results to investigations are not always clear-cut. When students are answering a question with an experiment, their data will inform their conclusion – and sometimes the data will vary between students. This can be frustrating for students and teachers who are used to one "right" answer. However, you can advance student learning when you don’t emphasize having one "correct" answer, and instead focus on students analyzing and evaluating their evidence. This encourages students to be curious about what their results mean and how they answer the question. It also boosts confidence by validating every student’s effort to find results.
4. Releasing Responsibility
Another habit that can transform your teaching is resisting the urge to control every aspect of your classroom. It can be tempting to create templates with easy-to-follow directions for students to carry out a lab investigation, or lead a lab by showing students what to "do" and ask them to replicate it. These approaches don’t support higher order thinking. Instead, the next time your students investigate a question or problem, try shifting away from guided instruction toward a collaborative model where students work in small teams to develop and then follow their own investigation. By doing this you’ll give students ownership of the process, which builds higher order thinking skills they can use to answer any question or solve any problem regardless of the context.
5. Staying on Top of Changes in the Field
STEM education is undergoing a transformation as the new Next Generation Science Standards reframe what science and engineering should look like in the classroom. Learning about these changes and what they mean for you and your students will go a long way in easing the implementation process. NGSS have many resources, including videos, rubrics, and appendices, that detail how the new standards will impact teaching and learning. Investing a little time into understanding these resources will help you evaluate new STEM curriculum and teaching approaches you might try in your classroom.
6. Seeking Out Professional Development Opportunities
It can be useful to occasionally get out of the classroom and connect with like-minded educators who share a passion for STEM education. Quality professional development can help you refine best practices and equip you with strategies for implementing new standards and other policies. This can be hard if you don’t know where to begin, so check out this video about professional development for teachers to start.
7. Involving Parents
Another habit to get into is to involving parents as much as you can. By getting parents involved in their students’ STEM education, the learning doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom. This reinforces for students that STEM has relevance that goes beyond the classroom. There are many ways to involve parents. You can encourage parents to volunteer during hands-on investigations or ask students to "teach" them what they learned. You can also teach parents how to ask higher order questions and use STEM practices at home.
There’s no time like the present to incorporate new habits, and these habits will prepare you for a strong start to the next school year.