There is a great and increasing need for STEM-capable workers. Indeed, the current demand for such workers surpasses the supply of trained applicants and “some 16 of the 20 occupations with the largest projected growth in the next decade are STEM related” (Improving STEM Curriculum and Instruction, 2017). We believe that all teachers, not just Intermediate/ Senior teachers in the STEM fields, can help foster STEM ways of thinking, learning, and creating. The following teaching strategies/tactics were selected because:
- they can be used in almost any subject (not just STEM); and
- they can develop or enhance STEM skills and/or habits of mind.
As you can see by the list and prompts, there are many ways to incorporate STEM into any classroom.
We would like to recognize the contributions of our associate teachers, professors, lecturers, and resources provided in the BEd program at Western University to this list. Page Keeley's books on formative assessment strategies (compilations of strategies, many of which she does not claim authorship of) were also consulted, but the descriptions and examples are our own.
All or Nothing:
Have students evaluate a statement that purposefully uses “hard” language (always, every, all, never, none, etc.) to get them to explore just how generalizable (or not) a problem is. Often, when proving or justifying in math, this will require students to consider cases and/or unique counter-examples. Ex: Chemical changes are never reversible., The word 'or' always means one or the other, but not both., All is fair in love and war.
Analyst, Liaison, Engineer:
In this activity, something is made out of readily available materials behind-the-scenes. Students work in groups of 3 to try to recreate the object (structure, sculpture, graph, drawing, etc.). The catch is that only one person in each group can see it (the analyst or “see-er”). The analyst communicates (only) with the liaison, telling him/her what it looks like and how it might be built. The liaison then passes the information on to the engineer who is tasked with recreating/building the object. This activity could be done without a liaison. This activity is great for building analytical and algorithmic thinking, as well as design skills and, of course, communication skills. Ex: a marshmallow and toothpick structure, trail mix, the graph of a parabola (students can use new vocabulary).
Students solve some sort of a problem, showing steps in thinking/reasoning. Then, the teacher and/or the students group the solutions according to strategy and discuss characteristics and benefits of each strategy. Solutions are often then displayed on a bulletin board (with the “name” of each strategy) so that when new problems arise, students can refer to the various possible strategies and select the most efficient one for them. Alternatively, students could copy down 1-2 solutions that used a different strategy than their solution. This is a fast growing strategy in math classes to help build the belief that there are many ways to get to a/the right answer, and also to engage students in practicing selecting the most efficient method. Ex: finding the slope of a line when given a table of values (strategies include graphing it, using a formula for slope, and calculating first differences of x and y), how to apply for a job (in person, online, etc.), how to calculate molar mass.
At the beginning of a new topic of study, students are presented with an unlabelled diagram/graph and a list of unfamiliar terms, and they must place the terms on the diagram where they think appropriate, and provide justification. This helps students practice working with models and diagrams and makes them think about, rather than just memorize, terminology. Ex: a graph of a parabola with terms like vertex and roots/zeros, a diagram of a curling ice rink with labels for the point values, a diagram of the digestive system with terms like lingual lipase, glycogen, pepsin, and so on.
Students are given cards that have words, definitions, or pictures on them. They then have to sort, pair, or order them based on characteristics, forming association with a larger topic/concept. This puzzle-like activity can be done in pairs or individually. Students can group/order the cards according to their own thinking. In doing this activity, students are practicing "concept formation", a part of theory development. When explaining the groupings, students are using their justification skills. Ex: types of consumers, math equations, historical dates and events, the components of an electrical circuit.
In this tiering strategy, the teacher creates and prints onto small squares of paper questions of varying difficulty related to the lesson and then stacks them from most basic to most challenging. The teacher carries the deck around during the activity and hands out appropriate challenges to students based on formative assessment; pulling cards from the deck in a way that students do not notice the teacher is selecting strategically (card choice seems random). This is great for building a growth mindset (important in STEM) as every student is challenged. Ex: computer science coding challenges, chemical equations for balancing, sentences to translate in French.
Each student is assigned to complete 1-3 slides (by teacher or group-mates) of a slideshow that is available to, and editable by, all students in the class/group (through an online drive software such as Google Classroom, Google Slides, or PowerPoint Online). This could be 1 slideshow for the entire class, or one for each group of 5-6 students. When everyone has finished, the class-created slideshow(s) can be presented (formally or informally) and/or posted for the class to access from home and have as a note/resource. This is a great way to get students more comfortable with drive-accessible technology as well as accessing and presenting research – it is a great tool for inquiry-based learning. Ex: each student describes 1-2 kitchen tools such as a whisk or spatula, each group describes a country in the world with each student creating slide(s) for a point in history, each student comes up with 1-2 test/exam questions so the class has a set of review questions.
Data match provides students with an empirical data set as well as several statements about the data. Students are to use evidence from the data to determine which statements are true. Many times people will look for evidence that is consistent with prior beliefs and ignore evidence that is inconsistent with those beliefs (Keeley, 2016, p. 115). That is, the tendency is to make the data fit assumptions rather than letting the data inform views. In this activity, students are encouraged to rely on the scientific data rather than their pre-existing beliefs to make inferences. Ex: statistics on family forms, graphs/charts on popular art forms, data from experiments.
This strategy is like KWL (Know, Want to know, Learned), but instead caters more to a continual (learning is never done) and self-assessing learner with a problem-solving mindset. Students list Easy problems, Challenging problems, and next/new Questions raised by the problems. Ex: types of math problems, problems that might/have arrived in personal or family life (for a Family Studies or Leadership course), problems involving physical properties such as displacement, mass, etc.
A Fermi question is a question which seeks a fast, rough estimate of quantity which is either difficult or impossible to measure directly. Students or teachers pose a ‘How many…’ or ‘How much…’ type question (usually very large) and think about how one might go about answering it. The questions can be quite silly and/or very related to the class content for the day. By thinking about how the question might be answered, students are engaging in algorithmic thinking and also often need to think about mathematical operations as well as scientific properties and quantities. Ex: How many hairs are there on a human head? If your life earnings were doled out to you by the hour, how much is your time worth per hour? What is the weight of solid garbage thrown away by American families each year?
This approach, almost always technology-dependent, exposes students to course content at home (through, for example, videos or articles), and has them work with, practice, and/or expand upon the knowledge gained (this work is traditionally assigned for “homework”) at school. This gives students the chance to ask peers and the teacher questions while they are doing the more active (rather than passive) parts of learning. Technology is an asset to this strategy, but either way the strategy helps students develop research and information consolidation skills at home, as well as collaborative problem solving skills in class. Ex: have students watch commercials and videos on marketing strategies at home and make an advertising campaign in groups at school, have students read and listen to French at home and practice speaking it for most of the period in class, have students watch videos that teach them math at home and do practice questions and group investigations in math class.
This is a great exit card or mini-summative activity. Students create a Graph, Sentence, and Image to represent learning in the unit. For example, the student could graph time (x-axis) versus level of understanding (y-axis), write a sentence (or math sentence a.k.a. an equation) about the biggest ‘take-away’ message for them, and create a logo that represents the topics learned. The STEM fields all involve an element of modeling – taking information and data and making a model of it, and this helps foster that mindset. Ex: GSI on linear relations, GSI for a French unit (graph of ability to speak vocabulary fluently, sentence in French, image to represent unit), GSI about wars over the course of history as learned in the course.
The classroom is divided into 4 or more sections representing a graph. One side (x axis) will correspond with the choices (usually 2 choices), while the other side (y-axis) will indicate level of confidence (one end of the room being very unsure, and the other end being very confident). Students will be asked questions and will have to place themselves in the correct section to indicate their confidence in their answer. This provides an immediate illustration of where students are in terms of their learning experience and how close they are to achieving the desired learning goals. It also gets them using a grid/graph to convey information. Ultimately a strong, confident, correct answer is desired for students. Ex: What is a blended family?, What is the chemical formula for hydrogen peroxide?, What is the formula for calculating the surface area of a prism?
Similar to the flipped classroom, instructional videos are an excellent technological tool to help teach students a concept, idea, or phenomenon. The teacher records himself/herself doing something on the board or in the classroom, or screen-records work on a tablet, with a voice-over so students are viewing written work. These videos can vary in length but it is best to keep them short (roughly 5 minutes) to keep the audience engaged. Students can watch the videos on their own time (flipped classroom) or in class. The great thing about this is that students can go back to the videos if they do not understand a concept or simply would just like to review. Screencast-o-matic.com is a free tool that one can use to record their voice and the visual of one’s screen at the same time. An alternative to this is to have the students compile their own instructional video, share them with their classmates, and assess each others. Ex: how to measure density, how to put on a button, how to wire a circuit.
Is X a Y?:
This higher-order questioning technique can be used to draw out student knowledge beyond recall level. Instead of asking “What is…?”, ask “Why is X an example of Y?”. This question requires a much deeper definitional answer that shows understanding (or a lack of understanding) at the level of application, rather than that the student has guessed the correct terminology or memorized a list of words and definitions. STEM fields (especially math) involve thorough knowledge of definitions so that the definition can be used to categorize things, prove conjectures, etc., so this is a great set of skills to get students practicing. Ex: instead of presenting a triangle and asking what type it is, ask “why is this an example of an isosceles triangle?”, instead of asking students “what is democracy?”, ask “is Canada a democracy?”, instead of “what is religion?”, ask “is a cult a religion?”
Lab reports are used to provide an explanation of the laboratory process, its importance, the findings, along with providing answers to discussion questions. The components of the lab report include: introduction, purpose, hypothesis, materials, procedure, observations, discussion, sources of error, conclusions, and references. This process, used very frequently in science, allows for a clear and organized format that helps to facilitate the understandings of the findings in order to make conclusions. These reports can be used in any subject area that poses a question or facilitates a demonstration and writing lab reports can be seen as a skill one needs to develop in order to be successful in the sciences. Ex: students can complete a lab report on a frog dissection, a water sample testing lab, a clothing or food lab.
A makerspace is a place in which people can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. In a school, libraries/learning commons are often turned into makerspaces when new educational technology and tools are brought in for students to learn how to use and create something with. This increases students’ abilities with technology and often promotes experimentation and growth mindsets. Ex: arduinos for circuitry projects, makey makeys for musical instruments, construction materials for dioramas in English.
This is a technological teaching tool that allows students to have access to the lesson/powerpoint presentation (that is on the front board) on their own computer in real time. They do not have to switch back and forth between slides, the teacher is responsible for changing the slides. This is a great tool to incorporate into schools with one-to-one classrooms. The tool also allows for real-time feedback from students so that the teacher is able to monitor their learning and make goals for future lessons. Ex: any situation where a slideshow is used.
Online Mind Maps:
This strategy allows students to visually organize important information in a web like diagram. A main idea is in the centre, and other ideas and concepts surround it through logical links/connections (represented by lines). The ability to make connections between data and information is critical in STEM fields. This is also an awesome tool to facilitate student brainstorming. There are even websites where students can work on mind maps from different devices, for example, MindMeister and Popplet. Ex: have students create a mind map on factoring, ecosystems, or a Shakespearean play.
PEOE is a strategy often used in science because it fosters students' abilities to scientifically hypothesize, explain, and observe. It works best with demonstrations that allow immediate observations, and suits Physical and Material World contexts. The teacher sets up a demonstration of an event that is related to the focus topic and that may surprise students. First, students Predict: Students independently write down what they think will happen. Then, Explain: Students write down why they predicted that outcome. Next, students Observe: The teacher carries out the demonstration and students describe what they see/smell/hear/feel/etc. Ask students to write down what they do observe. Finally, Explain: Students explain what happened, amending or adding to their previous explanation to take account of the observation. After students have committed their explanations to paper, the class discusses the different possibilities.
Rather than the teacher demonstrating to the whole class, small groups can carry out the activity themselves. With some students it may be more appropriate to ask for oral responses, for example, young or ESL students. If the students are unfamiliar with the underlying concept, or are very young, provide options from which they can choose. In mathematics the students could investigate, rather than observe. Ex: pour ginger ale into a beaker and add raisins, have three candles of different heights, light them and then put a clear jar overtop of them, shine a UV light through water and then through tonic water.
Similar to PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) and Two Stars and a Wish, this reflective strategy involves the mathematical symbols for plus, +, and delta, ∆, (which represents change). Beside/under the symbols + and ∆, students state a thing (or list of things) they perceive as positives or beneficial to their learning (+’s) and things that need to be changed or that they wish were done (∆’s). This could be used to analyze a topic in the course or the teaching itself. Ex: one plus and one delta about the teaching today, a list of +’s and ∆’s about globalization, a Plus-Delta table about the marketing industry.
Teachers can create podcast-type lessons in order to provide an alternative to the traditional teaching method. Teachers record an audio file of themselves teaching in an interview/radio show style. Students can then listen to the podcast and learn in this unique way. This is a great technology-infused teaching strategy to have for a backup plan or even when a supply teacher is in the class. Ex: the controversy of GMOs, the pros and cons of wind energy, the parenting styles.
Polling and Analyzing Data:
Taking a poll in class is a great engagement strategy, especially for controversial topics. With technology, sites like Poll Everywhere can receive and chart student responses for a variety of question formats. Without technology, students can respond on sticky-notes which can be stuck to the wall/board to make a bar graph. Teachers can prompt students to look at and consider, for example, the labels, scales, visually-appealing features, and finally, analyze the results. This exposure to data and data representations is great for promoting STEM-competent individuals. Ex: Do you agree with “designer” babies? Is behaviour more influenced by “nature” or “nurture”? Do you use math in “everyday life”?
Present students with two similar words and have them explain how they are similar and different. Comparing and contrasting is a great skill, again, for building definition analysis skills, which are critical in math as well as science and other disciplines. Ex: mass and weight, glycogen and glucagon, simile and metaphor.
This word, from a Greek term, means the fitting together of different and apparently irrelevant elements. The teacher provides one of the blanks in the statement “A _________ is like a ___________ because…”, and students must fill in the other blank (from a list of words) and provide the explanation. This activity boosts metacognition, enhances definition and characteristic analysis, and encourages outside-the-box creative thinking. Ex: ‘A mixture (formal sense) is like a (sky, cloud, tree, or blade of grass) because…’, ‘A function is like a (movie, hike, book, or workout) because…’, ‘A colour palate is like a (salad, meatloaf, cookie, or smoothie) because…’
This is another great technology-inspired exit (or other) card strategy. Students rate a lesson, idea, concept, theory, strategy, or other as they would a product on a website. This could be done on a website (ideally) and might include students providing a star rating and pros as well as cons. This activity is great for promoting critical thinking and evaluation. Ex: What did you think of today’s activities?, Provide a blurb about one of the problem-solving strategies seen today., Which did you find easier to learn, the verb Être or the verb Avoir?
Which One Doesn’t Belong? (WODB):
Four to five things (ex: images, graphs, shapes, objects) are displayed for the students to analyze. Each student must decide which image/graph/shape/object does not fit with the rest. The unique thing about this activity is that there does not have to be, and usually is not, one correct answer. The students may then select any answer as long as they have a reason, which is the important part. In math, and other STEM subjects, many educators are trying to move students away from focusing on the right answer, to focusing equally as much (or more) on the reasoning or proof of why the answer is true. Ex: equations of lines where slopes and y-intercepts differ, pictures of rocks/minerals, types of sports.