We’ve all seen those teachers. The last day of school it’s hardly before the bell stops ringing that they are out the door. Perhaps these folks are on their way to some tropical paradise or can’t wait to sip cocktails poolside. Others just want to be anywhere but a classroom. Dedicated teachers have a different perspective. To them summer break is more than just a chance to unwind and recharge.  It’s time to rethink the entire process and plan for the upcoming year. Now is the time when thoughtful educators concentrate on what worked last year and what didn’t.

For the latter, find some innovative new ways to engage and inspire students. Even if you have to follow a set curriculum, mixing things up can breathe fresh life into your teaching. If you are working with some other teachers, talk about how you are going to plan over the break. You can even meet up a few times during the summer to swap ideas.  First off, consider the standards you must meet. Inquiry-based learning is the most popular and many believe best suited style for STEM. Do you see any tasks, projects, or assignments that these subjects lend themselves to? Where do the math and science come together and how do they interact?

Next, reflect on what is working in your classroom and what is not. Ask yourself some questions. What are some fun, challenging, and unique ways to inject problem-solving skills into lessons?  A good place to look is real world problems. Students love the challenge of trying to solve a problem that they can relate to, and using their skills to accomplish the task. Think of things they deal with in their lives, problems in the community, or topics they are generally interested in. California students for instance can investigate unique ways a household or community can conserve water. Classes learning life sciences could create their own ecosystem from water collected at a local pond. Engineering problems abound.  For some of those visit the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) website: http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/.  Consider the social component of your lessons. Do students get a variety of tasks? Can everyone complete them? Are many or all of the learning styles incorporated? What about working in groups? Ask yourself if students get a chance to work alone, in pairs, and in different groups throughout the year. Studies have shown that social interaction is one of the best ways in which children and adolescence learn. But if they are always interacting with the same students or in the same dynamic, it becomes tiresome and the learning process becomes limited. Novel experiences and interactions are best for student learning as well as their personal and social growth.

Consider the class you will be teaching. How much do you know about them? Have you talked to their teachers from the year before? What is the social dynamic? Who are the leaders, the class clowns, and so on? The better you know your classes, the better you can tailor your lessons to suit their needs, to capture their interest, and to minimize any potential classroom management problems. It’s also important to know what they are capable of. Some lessons can work well with some classes, while others just fall apart. Find out how much STEM education they’ve had before. If they haven’t had any, how can you introduce it a way that reduces anxiety while at the same time piquing interest? Think about how classes will be assessed. What kinds of tools will you use? What outcomes are you looking for? For projects, you may want them to find, analyze and use data, come up with novel solutions, use teamwork, and innovate if the first attempt does not succeed.

Consider what resources you have, including technology, and how you can incorporate it into your lessons. Do you need to learn how to use a certain piece of equipment? What skills or tools can you acquire that can help invigorate your classroom? Perhaps some new software or a new app can help. People are impressed by bells and whistles. The more technology you can incorporate, the more engaged your students will be. Lastly, make sure that your lessons are congruent with other goals that you have set. Do you want to encourage more female students this year? How about students from minority or ethnic backgrounds? Whatever your goals are, make sure your unit and lesson plans are likely to help achieve them. For more help try this handy planning guide: http://powerofdiscovery.org/sites/default/files/ppt_form-4.pdf. Don’t forget to work in a little down time for yourself this summer, too.

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