It’s never too early (or too late!) to embrace STEM. More than just the “science, technology, engineering, and math” themselves, teaching STEM is teaching critical thinking skills. Teaching STEM is fostering curiosity and a sense of discovery in your students. Teaching STEM is inspiring creativity and building confidence in our next generation of innovators. STEM education is necessary for your students to succeed in our modern, technology-based society. Equitable access to STEM learnings helps to bridge gender and ethnic gaps in the math and science fields, strengthening our workforce. Celebrating STEM Day shows your students the multifaceted nature of the monolithic ‘STEM’ and encourages them to explore and engage in their own futures. For some, it may be their first exposure to STEM concepts and ideas, but for others, STEM may be a lifetime focus. No matter where your students are, there’s a way for you to celebrate STEM day in your classroom.
What is STEM Day?
Even though we know that STEM day is every day in your classroom, marking a specific day to celebrate STEM is a good reminder to step back and look at the big picture. It’s a time to get your students excited about the different applications of STEM and to show them its importance. It’s a time to get interactive and get STEM off the page and out into the real world! It falls annually on November 8th, so that the date (NOV8) cleverly reads INNOVATE. It’s celebrated by national organizations such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Environmental Education Foundation, among others. It’s always worth checking out these organizations for events and activities. But what can you do to celebrate STEM Day in your class?
Celebrating STEM in Elementary School
For young learners, it’s all about hands-on exposure. They are just being introduced to STEM ideas and concepts, and with interactivity you can foster curiosity and excitement about STEM rather than dread. Conducting simple science experiments, such as making a lemon battery, making a tornado in a jar, or even extracting DNA from a strawberry are classic ways to spark interest in STEM. In an even simpler way, building structures with blocks or Legos is a great choice to encourage tactile learning and problem-solving. And it’s never too early to introduce the basic concepts of coding! There are many interactive games that teach programming and coding that can be onscreen or offscreen. Keeping things fun will plant a seed of curiosity in your elementary school students!
Celebrating STEM in Middle School
In middle school, you can begin to take a deeper dive into the critical thinking required for STEM projects. Rather than one-off experiments, students get the confidence boost of leading a project from the beginning to the end and seeing how much they were able to accomplish. Project-based learning opportunities give students a way to celebrate STEM in a more thorough way. To celebrate STEM Day, you might try organizing a robotics competition. There are many kits that are available to make the tech accessible, and it’s always exciting for a student to work with robots in real life. Or, you could have your students create STEM-related art projects, such as designing a custom 3D print or using circuits to create art that lights up. And there’s nothing wrong with the classics – designing and building model bridges and rockets or holding a good, old-fashioned egg drop. Using immersive STEM activities is still important as students progress in their academic careers.
Celebrating STEM in High School
For high schoolers, we celebrate STEM by taking it out of the classroom and into the real world. Rather than a group project, we encourage our high school students to conduct individual research-based projects in STEM that are applicable to them. This connection creates a deeper learning than an arbitrary project that is not relevant to a high schooler’s life. While not every student is going to be an engineer, exposure to the vastly different types of vocations available in the STEM fields may inspire a student to pursue a job they never knew existed. Or, if a student does know they want to pursue work in STEM, you can offer them as many opportunities as possible to see what it’s like “on the job.” For STEM day in high school, you might invite guest speakers in STEM fields to come and tell students what they love about their careers. And, it may take a little more outreach, but organizing a career fair and reaching out to potential employers may prove to be a turning point in a student’s life.
Celebrating STEM in College
By this point, the critical thinking skills instilled as young learners will be flourishing in your college or university students. At this level, more complex celebrations of STEM day can be organized, such as hackathons or coding competitions. Robotics competitions also work well here, too, albeit on a bit different level than middle school robotics! Students in college are (hopefully) already pursuing studies of their own, so showcasing their research projects and student innovations is a great way to celebrate STEM Day. Here, too, providing contacts in STEM can be invaluable to college students. Creating STEM day panel discussions with leading industry professionals will keep your students at the top levels of innovation in technology.
Inclusivity on STEM Day
STEM education may look a little different for some. That doesn’t make it any less important or useful for students with disabilities to engage in STEM activities. Inequities in learning access leads to a lack of diversities in STEM careers, and this includes students with disabilities. Given the proper accommodations to allow for success, academic achievement is possible for all learners. For some students, it’s simply giving the instructions for a project in different ways, not just written or spoken, that allow them to participate more fully in STEM activities. Sometimes it may be physical accommodations for a student that is unable to use tools necessary for a STEM project. But equitable access for underrepresented populations in STEM – students with disabilities, minorities, women – starts in our schools. Fostering inclusivity in your classroom is easy with a few modifications.
Across all learning levels, STEM has gotten a bad rap. Many have the misconception that these subjects are too complicated or boring, while forgetting that science, technology, engineering, and math are what run our world. Honoring STEM day can be a valuable opportunity at any age to stop and appreciate the sense of wonder and discovery that drives human innovation.