Math Anxiety

10 Things to improve in the STEM classroom in 2015

You’re a STEM teacher … which means you have a LOT on your plate.  Not only do you have the most challenging subjects to teach, but the material you have to use is limited and generally not all that engaging.  Yet, if your students don’t engage in the material … and really invest their time and energy and brain power .. the likelihood of success is much less than other educational topics.

To top it off, performing a quick search around the topic of, “most hated school subjects” and you’ll be bombarded with a lot of articles and research on why students hate math. Science doesn’t get a pass either as this article suggests, identifying Math and Science and one and two of the most hated subjects.

So what can we do about it?  Here’s some ideas to focus on for the remainder of the year, our Ten things to improve in the STEM classroom:

1.  Modernize your examples:

Old periodic table

Old periodic table

While it’s tough to part with those well-loved posters, tools and other classroom ornaments … it may be time to change things up.  And don’t neglect your quizzes, assignments, examples, etc.  Facing dated content day in and day out tells students that this material isn’t relevant.

2. Tie projects to seasonal and pop culture topics

Scene from Interstellar

Scene from Interstellar

If you do nothing else this year, please …. please … connect your content to pop culture.  It’s not easy for sure, since keeping up with relevant topics takes a lot of work.  But – and not to blatantly pitch our own material too much – we can help you here.  If you haven’t tried a lesson plan – today is the day!

3. Use video to engage and inspire

Students love videos … they will watch anything on a screen, and with all the great STEM content channels out there, you are almost certain to find a way to hook their interest.  Even if your chosen video is a bomb, you might just introduce them to a new avenue to connect to your subjects.

Not sure where to begin?  Try these youtube channels to get started:

SciShow, STEMbite, Sick Science, and Numberphile

4. Involve other classes and disciplines

Claude Elwood Shannon quote

Claude Elwood Shannon quote

We know you know this already, but sometimes it’s helpful to step back and consider your options with fresh eyes.  History, Art, Music, English … they all have tremendous application to STEM subjects, often posing fantastic problems or uncovering the root concepts behind what you’re teaching.  Even better … if you can reach across the hallway to a non-STEM colleague and engage them in a joint project, you can generate buzz and interest in both subjects as school days will suddenly become more connected and relevant.

5. Tackle dating and attraction as a topic

 Check out one of our posts on the topic and like it or not … this post has had the most views of any post on our site.  It’s a topic that can’t be ignored, so don’t ignore it, utilize it to drive interest in your subjects.

6. Get employers and professionals involved

STEM Jobs digital edition with lesson plans

STEM Jobs digital edition with lesson plans

93% of all jobs require STEM literacy.  74% of all jobs require basic STEM skills.  The subjects you teach are tied to the careers with the highest pay, the fastest growth and the greatest demand … so why not capitalize on those facts by connecting your classrooms to careers.  That, of course is precisely what we do here at STEM Jobs.  So sign up today for our newsletter, grab a subscription or access your free digital copy.

7. Use a STEM Jobs lesson plan!

Teacher utilizes the STEM Jobs Top 10 Career Spread

Teacher utilizes the STEM Jobs Top 10 Career Spread

Ok, so this is another direct push for our content … but hey, this is exactly what we do – help you connect your classrooms to careers.  And right now, we have a lot to offer such as our lesson plans.  You can grab a free lesson plan right now in our late fall edition of STEM Jobs Magazine.  You can also subscribe or let us help you find a sponsor to help connect more of your students to STEM!

8. Put all the hate on the table

PBS image depicting student thoughts on math

PBS image depicting student thoughts on math

A topic of a recent post (check out our post!) and the topic of many many articles, research papers, videos, memes … the issue is not new and is not solved easily.  How do we as STEM educators keep our topics relevant and connected to the real world?  It’s the challenge you face day in and day out.  So why not tackle the elephant in the room immediately with discussion, classroom visuals, humor … keep the issue front of mind and you can minimize or lesson the challenges you face throughout the year.  And stay tuned as this is an ongoing topic of interest for us as well.

9. Use food … frequently and often

A leman manhattan student and teacher celebrate pi day on March 14, 2014

A leman manhattan student and teacher celebrate pi day on March 14, 2014

By now, you are likely all taking advantage of the annual Pi Day (March 14) celebrations.  And you quite correctly will be using some form of food in the shape of a pie.  Aside from dating topics, there is very little else that captures young minds and interests like food … which happens to be very STEM – from growth to manufacturing to marketing to chemistry …. food is all STEM, and an easy way to connect your topics with things students not only readily understand, but connect with daily – unless they are on a very strict diet, in which case perhaps water will suffice.

10. Help your students learn the language of the subject

Don't forget to teach the language of your STEM subject

Don’t forget to teach the language of your STEM subject

One of the toughest challenges in STEM subjects, especially at the foundational levels, is getting beyond the vast amount of fundamental concepts, terms, vocabulary, nomenclature, etc that must be grasped before much of the real work and learning can begin.  Each subject or STEM field, due to its technical or specialized nature, has developed over time a unique language and symbology.  Not unlike learning a foreign language, entering into a new STEM subject can be highly confusing and intimidating if for no other reason than students may struggle to keep up with the language of the subject itself.  Taking a cue from actual language learning can be a helpful way to unlock barriers for students.  Perhaps a talk with that French language teacher could shed some light on engaging students in STEM subjects.

Language learning itself has gone through a number of changes in recent years.  Where languages were generally taught through memorization of grammar and vocabulary, new models stress greater immersion into conversation.  One such model introduces a new acronym that we in the STEM world would benefit from:  “byki”  “Before You Know It”  This model utilize Barcroft’s 5 Principles:

  1. Present new words frequently and repeatedly in input.: not just 8 times, more like 16 “meetings” with the word.
  2. Use meaning-bearing comprehensible input when presenting new words. Present each word in a variety of ways .. and tie those words to things a student already understands or is easily grasped (ie. the real world)
  3. Limit forced output during the initial stages of learning new words. We all stumble here by following the introduction of new words with a quiz, and then assuming short-term quiz results to equal long term comprehension.
  4. Limit forced semantic elaboration during the initial stages of learning new words. Learning the term should be confined to learning the term. Doing other work with the term or concept too early actually hampers learning.
  5. Progress from less demanding to more demanding vocabulary-related activities. Most of our curriculum is already here … building from one idea to the next.  Yet with STEM, we often build from concept to concept without appropriately dealing with the language connected to those concepts.

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Daniel Nichols

Fearless Leader at STEM Jobs
"There is very little that we can do that has a greater, practical impact on a person's life than to assist them in discovering their vocation .... their higher purpose." Daniel's pursuit of his own calling to bridge education and employment began more than a decade ago working with new medical students on the Haiti-Dominican border, and has stretched through his experiences in combat operations in Iraq to serving as a Presidential appointee at the US Department of Labor, and in his entrepreneurial leadership in the launch of vocational programs in healthcare, energy, and advanced manufacturing. An accomplished speaker, writer and business leader, Daniel's passion for individual transformation has led to the creation and launch of STEM Jobs.

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