I get questions all the time. If you are a subscriber to my newsletter you will understand what I am talking about. I frequently feature a question in a team email and answer it based on my experience as a STEM Specialist. I thought it would be fun to feature some of those questions and tips for everyone.
Today’s question is all about those struggles we have as our school year begins- especially if a job is new for you. There just might be a bonus link for you- so keep reading!
Someone sent me this question recently and I completely understood how overwhelmed she was. When you start a new position- no matter what it might be- there is nervousness as you decorate, plan, and get ready to greet those precious students on that very first day.
I have just gotten a STEM Lab job and I am overwhelmed. Where do I begin?
Oh my, I have answers for this dilemma because I have been exactly at this point.
My advice to these teachers and to you is a series of steps. This is what I did when I found myself standing in my new classroom with about 4 weeks to get ready before the school year began. I have blog posts to share about each of these steps and I linked all of them for you.
STEP 1: Organize your space!
The first thing I did was empty all my cabinets. I inventoried all the materials I had. And then I put everything away in a logical way. My blog post is about Getting Organized. I had tons and tons of materials and I placed them in groups together. I really felt like this would make everything easier to find later. And, it did! I also created an inventory book that I use all the time.
The photos above are part of my organizing plan. I needed lots of bins and most of these are bins I use every day. TIPS: Grab some dishpans from the dollar store. We use them for floating boats. Also, grab some plastic shoe boxes, but they are less expensive at Wal Mart. And, yes we do use those hot glue guns. I buy the low temp style and only use them with 5th graders. Read more on this post>> Getting Organized.
STEP 2: Classroom Procedures
I sat in my new classroom six years ago and made a list of all the procedures students would need to learn when arriving and coming into the STEM Lab. This was a brand-new space for me and for those students. I focused on procedures for the first month of school (along with teamwork and getting started with STEM).
Here’s a funny story. The very first class to arrive for STEM was stopped near the lab doorway by their teacher. Somehow, without any thought, that became the stopping point for every class from that day forward. They walk up, stop at this same spot, and wait for me to greet them. I decided to make this a useful stop. I added a rolling easel to the hallway right near the door and while classes are standing there waiting they can see our weekly agenda.
Posting the agenda turned out to be the most fun thing. I would see kids walking down the hall and stopping to see what their grade would be doing that week.
TIP: Post your weekly agenda for students to see before they come into the classroom. Add something to it occasionally- like a science-related question or riddle. Read more about my procedures on this blog post:Procedures for Specialists
STEP 3: Teamwork
About six weeks ago I presented at a teacher’s conference (about STEM) and the point I made during that presentation is that teamwork must be taught, practiced, and emphasized. You cannot just say, “You are working as a team” and expect students to do so. Teamwork is something we work on for the first month of school – every year! I do have blog posts about teamwork: Teamwork Tips and More Teamwork Tips. Check those posts for all the details. The photo is showing one of our favorite team-building activities. I call it the String Lifter.
STEP 4: Curriculum
Curriculum was the last thing I tackled for that first year as a STEM Specialist. I had access to a few engineering design kits. I tested one of those kits, but I found it much easier and less expensive to invent my own resources. I relied on reading blogs and scrolling through Pinterest to get ideas for challenges. That was 6 years ago, though, and so much more is available at affordable prices. Here is a blog post about some simple challenges to get you started: Simple STEM Challenges
Now, mind you, here is a caution. When I call something a Simple STEM Challenge, this does not mean it is easy to do. Simple might mean less prep for you or fewer materials needed. The challenge is probably very complicated- but that is why we call it a challenge? #right
TIP: The challenge in the photo is about building a paper chain. Check this blog post for more about this! The tip is- try this one! Kids love it!
STEP 5: Keep it Simple!
Keep it simple! Those first few weeks of adding STEM to your classroom or creating lessons for a STEM Lab are challenging enough! The best advice I can give is to try simple things. STEM Challenges can have one or two materials and still be challenging and full of learning. I would never advise you to experiment with creating the best pancake as your opening project! I can say the two challenges featured below would be perfect for you!
The famous Bucket Tower Challenge is a class-favorite and a best-seller at TpT.
The famous Index Card Tower is one that uses only two materials- cards and tape. The tape is optional. It is amazingly challenging to appear to be so simple. The resource has so many ideas- including alternative ways to use the challenge.
I hope this post gives you some great ideas and tips to get started in your STEM classroom. It’s a grand adventure!
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