STEM is a hot topic in education and beyond. We hear all the time about the importance of strong STEM skills and why we should expose our students to STEM early and often. But what exactly makes a good STEM project, and how do we develop our students’ STEM skills in middle school?
One way you can have a great impact on your students’ interest and skill set in STEM is by planning good STEM projects. STEM is not just teaching science, math, engineering, and technology. It is a specific approach to teaching, where students use the engineering design process and their science, math, and technology skills and knowledge to solve real-world problems. Good STEM projects should develop students’ creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills.
5 tips for identifying a good STEM project
Check out these tips to make sure you are planning STEM projects that meet the goals of STEM education and help your students further their creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills.
1. Features a real-world problem
Good STEM projects allow students to consider real-world problems. Real-world problems naturally engage and excite students. The problems can be big or small. Whether students are designing solutions to the climate crisis or developing a less messy way to eat tacos, the problem they are solving should impact the world beyond your classroom.
2. There is no “right” answer
Creativity is a pillar stone of STEM. Good STEM projects are open-ended and allow students the freedom to develop their own solutions to the presented problem. Good STEM projects are not crafts or step-by-step models. There are places for such activities within a curriculum, but those are not STEM projects.
3. It’s teacher-guided, not directed
In a good STEM project, the teacher presents the problem and assists students with using the engineering design process to develop a solution. This includes outlining the criteria and constraints. However, teachers do not tell students how to solve the problem or what solution they should come up with.
4. Students are doing the heavy lifting
Students are doing the work in a good STEM challenge. They are using critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity to solve the problem presented in the STEM project. Students should be conducting research, brainstorming, developing models, and testing and revising their own ideas. At the end of the project, they should present their solutions to others.
5. Students have opportunities to fail and revise
Failure is part of the engineering design process. Good STEM projects let students try ideas that won’t work. Then students analyze where their idea failed and how they can make improvements to better meet the project criteria and constraints.
In good STEM projects, students work together in teams to solve problems. This mimics real-world STEM professions and builds 21st-century skills. There are lots of challenges that come with group work, but when you push through and challenge your students to work together, you are helping your students develop communication and collaboration skills that they will continue to use throughout their education and beyond.
What great STEM projects have you tried?
Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re looking for good STEM projects to add to your curriculum, check out these 20+ great middle school STEM challenges!