Maybe you’ve been teaching STEM for a while, but you’re looking for a way to mix it up, or you’re a new teacher looking for some ideas to add fun and engagement to your teaching. We’ve got you covered! We’ve identified ten methods to teach STEM innovatively.
It can be challenging to get complex theories across, and students may not engage as well if a lecture is one of your only tools of choice. Try mixing up your teaching with some of these ideas.
Many STEM facts are just mind-blowing and may boost students’ natural excitement about a lesson. Interspersing facts related to the scientific topics you’re teaching can make lessons more engaging and bring a new perspective to an otherwise perhaps mundane subject.
Here are some weird and interesting facts (1):
The human stomach can dissolve razor blades
A cloud can weigh around a million pounds
Hot water freezes faster than cold water
What are your favorite interesting facts in your discipline?
Integrating career exploration for students can encourage them to stick with the subject, which is important because dropout rates for STEM majors are high, especially for women (1).
Students sometimes have difficulty picturing themselves in STEM careers, partially because they don’t know the breadth of job options. It can be fun for them to explore activities related to a potential career they may not have known about, such as forensics.
Labster has a Polymerase Chain Reaction Virtual Lab where students are thrown right into a crime scene where a murder has taken place. After investigating the crime scene, their first task is to collect blood samples in the hope that the murderer has left traces of their DNA. It’s fun to get students excited about a topic - especially if a career in forensics interests them!
Alt text: detective inspecting crime scene in virtual lab
Watching videos is a simple yet effective way to communicate complex scientific concepts, especially since students are used to watching tons of videos in their personal time. It’s a way to deepen their understanding of a concept and get them excited! Students have different ways of learning that are best for them, so this method also supports varied learning styles.
Labster offers free 3D animation videos to support the learning of particular STEM topics. One is: Antigen-Antibody Binding - Why are some blood types incompatible? In this video, students learn about the concepts of antibodies and antigens and the Rhesus blood grouping system.
Take a virtual field trip to learn about topics that students might only be able to read in a textbook! They can give students a sneak peek into concepts outside the classroom. They can even be transported to new worlds! Some labs are inaccessible due to the cost or nature of the lab, so virtual field trips give students access they may not otherwise have.
In our Propagation of Sound: Help a rock star tune their guitar! Virtual Lab, students ride a shrink-o-ship so that they can see a propagating sound wave up close. Shrink-o-ships aren’t exactly available in classrooms, so it’s a cool and unique way to learn physics! Labster has many simulations that can count as virtual field trips that students can take.
The mission of Skype a Scientist is “to make science accessible and fun through personal connections with scientists.” This is a unique project that connects scientists with students in classrooms across the globe. They have events and set scientists to meet with students one on one. This kind of method of teaching STEM can get students excited about a potential education or career path because it can show the human face behind the job.
Many STEM concepts are challenging to glean through a lecture or even a hands-on lab. Labster virtual labs are gamified simulations that engage students in following a storyline to learn objectives and techniques. It can be a fun 3D way to engage them, especially when students are already fans of games in their personal life! Virtual labs can illustrate complex concepts that are not ordinarily visible and can be a great supplement to hands-on labs.
A study found that there was a 101% increase in learning outcomes when virtual lab simulations are used in combination with traditional teaching.
Labster has a Periodic Table of Elements Virtual Lab where students must organize the table in time. It’s a fun mini-game that can reinforce learning of the elements. Students even test their flame color and investigate trends in atomic properties.
Polling serves many purposes: it engages students where they may otherwise be silent in class, allows for healthy competition, and encourages them to share where they’re stuck and could use additional help. It’s a good way for instructors to get instant feedback from students so they can adjust their lectures or activities accordingly. Students can use their phones or laptops to send in their answers! Many free options include Poll Everywhere, Slido, and Google Forms.
Project-based learning (PBL) is where students work on a project for a dedicated period (one class, one week, one semester, etc.). It’s a unique way to teach because it gives students a problem or a situation, and they must work to solve it. PBL isn’t as simple as just doing one project to culminate a unit and moving on. Rather, PBL is the unit where students go through the learning process (3).
Giving choices allows students to learn in a way that makes sense to them. One tangible way to implement this is to introduce choice boards for students where they have multiple options on how to learn a subject. You could offer them the choice of creating a video or a podcast, doing a virtual lab, or creating a slide presentation to show to peers.
Connecting STEM to the world around students is crucial because that’s how you’ll capture their attention and get them interested in learning. Many topics are relevant to current-day struggles and successes: climate change, infections, and medical conditions. Choosing topics that they can do projects on to relate to their everyday life can be beneficial.
Labster has a Human Impact on Climate Change Virtual Lab where students balance human emissions and a growing population. They’ll use a climate model to investigate the effects of anthropogenic climate change on people and the environment. Why are scientists pushing to decrease global emissions? What will happen if we don’t? The fate of the world is in their hands!
Sometimes it’s best to hear about what other instructors are doing to glean some ideas for yourself. Do you have a community of science teachers you can learn from? Look no further! Labster has a free Community Campus, and no subscription is required. It’s open to any science educator. You can ask questions, answer prompts, and utilize the resources Labster has provided.
What’s a new idea you might consider implementing in your classroom?
Are there any other ways we’ve missed that you like to use?
(1) Yuko, Elizabeth. (2022) 25 Amazing Science Facts that are Weird, Wild, and True. Reader’s Digest. https://www.rd.com/list/science-facts-never-learned/
(2) Isphording, I. & Qendrai, P (2019). Gender differences in student dropout in STEM. IZA. Retrieved from: https://docs.iza.org/report_pdfs/iza_report_87.pdf
(3) (2) PBLWorks. (n.d.). What is PBL? Retrieved from https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl