Beginning a STEM class- My Journey

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I recently posted about my excitement in teaching a STEM program using the PBL method.

Since we are now in our second semester (third term) of the year, I figured I would check in with how it has gone so far and what I have learned during this experience.

Luckily, I have been very open and honest with the students as I have been building my courses, and they have been able to put up with the craziness with good humor.

So- how do you start a STEM class from the ground up?  I would like to share with you my beginning of the year planning, what happened, and what I plan to fix for next year. This is obviously not the end-all-be-all of STEM class planning, just my process.

Beginning of the year-

My original idea was to break the year into each of the major branches of science, with the end of the year dedicated to a genius project. It looked a bit like this:

First term- earth science/environmental science

Second term- life science
Third term- physical science
Fourth term- genius project

Actual year so far-

First term-I did start with an life science/earth science unit on ecosystems. I had them create a biome, complete with plants and animals adapted to it. I had them create infographics on invasive species. Come to find out, this was almost exactly what they were doing in their regular science classes.......

Second term- this one was dedicated to my passion- saving the Earth! We did a research project on recycling in our school, made recycling bins, (attempted) to make bioplastic, and they created presentations to be given to the administration to make a change in the school- either increased recycling program, switch from plastic to biodegradable plastic in the cafeteria or install water refill stations for the broken water fountains. At this point, they are thoroughly burned out on Earth-saving, and I am learning that they do not have enough skills to really complete the work I want them to do.

Third term- we are working on electricity/energy, circuits and possibly coding. I have dialed it waaaay back- their activities are much more guided and my expectations of their work has come down a bit. I am giving more time for them to complete projects, much more guided worksheets to try to dig out deeper thinking answers and I an not expecting them to be able to research or to have intrinsic motivation to search for answers.

Plans for next year-
I have learned that my STEM class will actually be more about teaching them 21st century skills than about strict science. I am moving to have all of my classes have a more "internship" type quality, where the students are stepping into a role in a business, and will be taught the skills needed. This means I will move toward more of the basics- researching, problem solving, presentations, group work and peer reviewing, critical thinking, global and personal awareness, and a sense of being able to do something that makes a difference. I will try to line up authentic audiences for the work that my students do, so that they get a real sense of accomplishment beyond a grade. Here is how my plan for next year is shaping up so far:

First term- introduction to engineering and design (grit, problem solving, global and societal roles)

Second Term- Life/Earth science- we will work on an environmental impact projects, and human impact/ resource use (researching, global and self awareness/responsibility, critical thinking)

Third term- Physical Science- electricity and energy, circuits, simple machines, engineering (problem solving, critical thinking, presentations, real life applications)

Fourth term- I am still planning on Genius projects, but we will see.......

As we move into the second half of the year, I am becoming more comfortable with my plans and designs. I am getting better at guiding the students to create the kind of work I want, and that I know they are capable of. I am also getting better at not being a main science- I am getting used to not having pressure behind anything I do, or having to meet standards, or give out tests, which was a big one!

I can honestly say I am very excited for next year! I can't wait to share my end of year reflection with you- Stay tuned! Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in building a STEM curriculum in the comments below!


  1. I don't teach STEM, but I work with our STEM teacher sometimes when there are opportunities for teamwork and teaching perseverance!

  2. I don't teach STEM but I've seen some exciting lessons I'd be willing to try!

  3. Do you work with curriculum science teachers to make sure you are not both doing the same or similar projects? A few of your ideas are just like ones I use I my 7th grade science class.

  4. Sounds like a great plan to introduce STEM!

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