STEM: Your Students Are Wowed. But Are They Learning?

STEM has arrived with a bang in classrooms across the country—including yours probably. And the focus is on all things fun. Our kiddos are making exploding pop rockets, pouring rainbows in jars, and whipping up batches of magic aqua sand. They’re oohing, ahhing, and having a blast. But are they really learning the skills they’ll need for their STEM-filled futures?

How can you know for sure?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in the entertainment factor when delivering STEM. Fun is not to be minimized. You’ve got to hook your learners before you can teach them. And exciting experiments and activities are a great way to do just that. Just look at their faces!

At the same time, you must be careful to avoid programs that simply entertain in favor of engaging students while building real skills.

Whether you’re just introducing STEM experiences in your classroom or you’ve been at it for some time, you need to know where to focus your attention and time if you’re to improve your results.

When was the last time you seriously sat down and assessed the effectiveness of your STEM program? Are you checking all the important boxes—the must-haves that can make all the difference in the world?

Here are six questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is my STEM program cross-curricular?

This is often the biggest challenge teachers face. Effective STEM programs involve science, technology, engineering, and math. But, where to begin your cross-curricular instruction? Here’s a tip: Start with the science standards. Then integrate the others. Math, for example, can be worked in through many ways, like budgeting, estimating, and analysis.

  1. Are my students hands-on and minds-on?

Here’s something you know all too well. Students do not want to sit and listen to a lecture. They want to do it to learn it. As you plan your next STEM experience, make sure to incorporate hands-on activities that engage every student. While hands are actively doing, minds will be actively thinking.

  1. Does it encourage open-ended thinking?

A way to know is by asking yourself: What came out of the project? Lots of solutions? Good—you want students who don’t mindlessly follow a series of steps, but rather engage in divergent thinking.

  1. Is my program iterative?

Consider this for a moment. We didn’t learn to walk by following the rules. We learned by walking, and falling over and getting up and trying again. The same holds true for your students. Great STEM programs involve testing and refining and improving. Remember, failure is the essence of engineering. We learn from our mistakes.

  1. Is collaboration built in?

Rather than thinking of working together as nice, think of it as a requirement of an effective STEM program. Employers want employees who get along, work together, and share ideas. What better place for your students to learn this skill than in the safety of their own classroom?

  1. Are students engaged?

As we all know, but often need to be reminded, students learn more when they are engaged. You’ve got to capture their attention from the start. A good hook question will do the trick. Put your teacher thinking cap on—I know you’ll come up with some good ones! In the meantime, here’s a great acronym to help you remember these questions:

CHOICE: Key Components of STEM

  • Cross-Curricular
  • Hands-On, Minds-On
  • Open-Ended
  • Iterative
  • Collaborative
  • Engaging

This a lot to remember when creating STEM programming, isn’t it? But there’s no need to tackle all six of these at one time. Even if you get one down right, your STEM program will improve. And if you succeed at implementing all six, you’ll really be cooking with programs that are cross-curricular, hands-on/minds-on, open-ended, iterative, collaborative, and engaging—and that inspire students to imagine the possibilities in their future should they choose STEM careers.

Let me know which of these six questions made a real difference in your instruction!


For more information:

View the 30-minute webinar on this topic entitled: STEM Essentials—How to Evaluate STEM Programs

Also, check out the downloadable resources within the webinar:

Presentation PDF