Six Principles of Great STEM Lessons


Anne Jolly identifies six characteristics of a great STEM lesson in a post that originally appeared in “Education Week Teacher”. She provides a set of guidelines as an aid to planning and reflecting on classroom practice in the hope that teachers will collaborate with each other and create lessons that apply technology to what students are learning in science, maths and other subjects.

1. STEM lessons focus on real-world issues and problems
2. STEM lessons are guided by the engineering design process
3. STEM lessons immerse students in hands-on inquiry and open-ended exploration
4. STEM lessons involve students in productive teamwork
5. STEM lessons apply rigorous math and science content
6. STEM lessons allow for multiple right answers and reframe failure as a necessary part of learning

Students tend to be most engaged when the work that they are doing is authentic and meaningful. STEM lessons allow students to investigate real social, economic, and environmental problems and seek solutions. See Real World STEM Problems for some suggestions for projects students might focus on.

The Engineering Design Process provides a flexible model that guides students from identifying a problem—or a design challenge—to creating and developing a solution. Students

          • define the problem
          • conduct background research
          • develop multiple ideas for solutions
          • develop and create a prototype
          • test the prototype
          • evaluate and
          • redesign

This is similar to the scientific method (as it is applied in research and industry) an Action Research Cycle or an Environmental Management Plan but during the EDP, teams of students try their own research-based ideas, take different approaches, make mistakes, accept and learn from them, and try again. Their focus is on developing solutions.

Effective STEM lessons allow an open-ended learning path, within specific constraints, such as the materials available. The students’ work is hands-on, collaborative and decisions about solutions are student-generated. Students communicate to share ideas and redesign their prototypes as needed.

Productive teamwork can be difficult to manage in a classroom with varied ability levels and different personalities, but it is an important goal for all students to become effective team members. If the school has a common framework for teamwork, that uses the same vocabulary, procedures and expectations, students have many opportunities to practice these skills.

Collaboration with other teachers to integrate  two or more different subjects has many benefits for both students and teachers. Students can have concepts reinforced in different subjects and see the relevance for what they are learning as it is applied in other areas. They begin to see that most employment does not rely on only being an expert in a specific field, but working across disciplines to solve problems. Teacher collaboration allows for multiple perspectives, shared workload, varied strategies and learning from each other. In STEM plus Arts (STEAM), science and mathematics teachers can work with art and technology teachers to allow for the creation of attractive, functional and marketable products, using the design process.

Anne Jolly concludes her post with:

“STEM classes always provide opportunity for multiple right answers and approaches. The STEM environment offers rich possibilities for creative solutions. When designing and testing prototypes, teams may flounder and fail to solve the problem. That’s okay. They are expected to learn from what went wrong, and try again. Failure is considered a positive step on the way to discovering and designing solutions.”

Another very useful post from Anne Jolly here: “Time for a Quick Mid-Year STEM Classroom Check-up”

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