Teaching STEAM in the Classroom: 5 Ways to Create Authentic Learning Experiences

Teaching STEAM in the Classroom: 5 Ways to Create Authentic Learning Experiences

How do we become more authentic in the way that we teach as educators?

When we think about implementing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in the classroom, our first thought might be to crack open the Chromebooks or swipe to unlock an iPad.

While hardware is an incredibly useful component to STEAM education and learning, there are so many other ways you can complement your lesson plan to create a truly authentic environment for students.

Authentic learning is a teaching approach which underpins the successful implementation of STEAM as it allows students to explore, discuss and construct projects in the context of real-world situations they can relate to.

The beauty of STEAM learning is that there isn’t a single recipe that works for every student or teacher, as long as you follow a few best practices. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t play with the context of your curriculum and provoke authentic learning. This week we’ve rounded up five ways you can amp up your curriculum in the classroom while going full STEAM ahead.


5 Ways to Shake Up Your STEAM Lesson in the Classroom

1. Use the Teach Unplugged Method and Philosophy

There’s so much stimuli in the classroom that anything can become a distraction. When you ask educators what the biggest distractions in the classroom are, technology and off-topic conversation can often be top of the list. At SAM Labs we understand the need to give students the space to reflect throughout the learning experience.

Teaching Unplugged is a method that aims to strip away all forms of external stimuli — not just frivolous technology usage or chatting — to stimulate an engaging learning environment. Interestingly enough, the model recommends temporarily removing many distractions or sources of “barriers” between teachers and students.

These barriers include:

  • Textbooks
  • Worksheets or activities
  • Technology
  • Media Content

The idea is that by priming your students with time away from these outlets that can become easily distracted and focusing directly on student needs. It gives educators a chance to teach with undivided attention and students the opportunity to pose thoughtful questions and answers.

This can be a great exercise for kicking off a STEAM lesson. Because STEAM is so inclusive with all of the subject areas that it covers, it’s likely that most learners in your classroom will find a reason to want to work on a project. Getting students to pause and think about their strategy is key.

With as little as a whiteboard, you can close the textbooks, pose a scenario and get students engaged in thoughtful commentary. For more information on Teaching Unplugged, including its benefits and drawbacks, click here. For a list of unplugged computer science resources, visit CSUnplugged.org.

 

2. Brainstorm Projects — and then Swap Ideas

STEAM helps students visualize real world context through working on projects that provide solutions to everyday problems. Even better, when students work in groups, they build on their soft skills, like communication, collaboration and social skills.

First, have students work in groups to come up with a project idea. Then, take the challenge one step further by introducing a twist: after groups have decided on a design, have groups swap projects to work on someone else’s. Give them 15 minutes to explain to each other what the project should entail.

This will challenge groups to explain to another what the original design was, what it should accomplish and ultimately see what their project looks like when completed by another team.

This method does two things:

  1. Gives students the opportunity to push their communication skills by explaining to another group what their vision was for their initial project idea
  2. Gives students the challenge of communicating and collaborating on a brand new challenge set aside from the original one

When projects are complete, have students reflect on how the designs aligned or differed based on their original vision, have them assess whether the time allotted was enough to communicate the vision and have groups explain what modifications they had to make along the way to make the project successful.

 

SAM Labs 2019 Grant Guide

 

3. Learn Through Conversation

One of the most powerful ways that students can learn is through thoughtful conversation. Learning through conversation is the idea that students can speak productively in class while the teacher listens. By dividing learners into groups to talk to one another, this can often result in student-to-student teaching moments. And as a side effect, gives students who may not have the familiarity or confidence in speaking about something they don’t fully understand the ability to do so.

What’s beautiful about this model for STEAM is that many students struggle with speaking about math, science and technology. Learning through conversation gives these students the chance to speak to one another about what they’ve learned and pose questions to one another when something doesn’t make sense.

Some educators may worry that conversation may stray off topic, so the The National Science Foundation recommends that teachers “center the instruction around the idea that the person doing the talking is the person doing the learning”. This is important, because educators should try to encourage that every student gets an opportunity to participate.

To learn more about learning through conversation and best practices to ensure success, click here.

The next step is to get students to get students from talking about their project requirements to formatting them in a way that makes them actionable to a user, and this is where “User Stories” come in.

 

4. Create User Stories Before Design

By now your students are probably itching to start their STEAM projects, which is a good thing! But there’s one last step that you can take prior to kicking off their designs to help facilitate their success.

In software development, many development teams follow Agile Methodology practices. These practices are meant to be lean on business resources, accomplishing only what needs to be done on a project to complete builds that work every check in (colloquially called a “Sprint”).

One of the components of a Sprint is creating “User Stories”. User Stories are written out by a Product Owner to help developers engineer a project. User Stories may differ in language based on organization, but they all have one thing in common: an end goal stated from the user’s perspective, usually in the form of a sentence.

Atlassian’s Agile Coach’s User Story template provides the following:

“As a [persona], I [want to], [so that].”

A simple, one-step example using components from SAM Labs’ STEAM Kit could look like this:

“As a user, I want the LED light to come on when I cover the light sensor block.”

In the context of STEAM curriculum, you could have students brainstorm, prior to their actual project design, a couple of answers to the following questions:

  • WHO is this project being designed for? What is their persona? What considerations should be taken for the typical user we are designing for?
  • WHAT are the main objectives we want to accomplish with this project?
  • WHICH objectives are the most important?

Have students begin writing out their User Stories puts them in the shoes of the user who will be engaging with their project. After they have completed listing out their User Stories, have them order them by priority so the group knows where to get started first.

This can help students collaborate, communicate and understand how the user will ultimately engage with their project.

Let students know that User Stories can be added at any time! It’s totally normal to realize that a project needs another User Story halfway through the project in order to accommodate the user or complete the project.

By creating User Stories, students will communicate with one another more effectively, use computational thinking skills to break down the project into smaller pieces and think critically on how to prioritize.

To learn more about Agile Development and User Story creation, check out this article from Atlassian.

 

5. Connect Daily Lessons with Each Project

Many educators may feel that they don’t have the time to work daily with students on their STEAM projects. Finding time before and after school, during lunch or once or twice a month for special work block times, may feel like the most your curriculum can afford.

This can take away from the core concepts being learned by students from the lesson. Teachers need a way to reinforce the content being taught, and that’s where the method of regular practice come in.

Try to keep the STEAM learning alive in the classroom with daily work that keep the content top-of-mind for students. These lessons can correlate with the work being conducted by students and motivate them to stay inspired about the work.

A great example is from SAM Labs’ STEAM Course, where students need to create a light source from the wireless SAM blocks to help the character Little Blocky grow plants. At the same time, a corresponding daily curriculum activity for students could be watering plants in the classroom and rotating them to make sure they are receiving enough light.

Comparing these real-life activities with their project can help drive connections between the content and the project they’ll work on when time allows. It’s up to you as the educator to find a way to incorporate daily activities, but the sky's the limit — it only takes a few minutes each day to inspire your students with a short lesson that keeps their mind on STEAM.

 

More Resources for STEAM Kit Implementations

With STEAM, there are so many ways you can inspire and challenge your students. Your classroom can become a place of thought-provoking conversation, design, creativity and learning. The suggestions mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg — we’ve heard so many other great ideas being implemented in classrooms around the world.

Tell us, what’s your unique twist you add to STEAM implementations in your classroom? We’d love to hear in the comments below!

Looking for more resources on all things STEAM? Check out our:

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Eleanor Jacobson

Written by Eleanor Jacobson

I'm an edtech writer who's passionate about changing the world one classroom at a time. When not spreading the news about the latest in K-12 technology, you'll find me geeking out about the latest startups or video games and adding to my '80s toy collection.