What makes great sub plans in STEM?

We all know taking a day off of school can be more work than it is to go in and teach for the day. For STEM teachers, creating or finding great sub plans can be an even greater challenge, because many substitute teachers don’t have experience in our content area and our courses are usually hands-on requiring lots of specific (and expensive) materials. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

When I was a new STEM teacher, I’d often ask myself, “How do I leave something relevant for my classes, that a sub can easily implement and won’t create extra work when I get back?” After some trial and error, I identified this list of look-fors that helped me leave sub plans that worked well for my students and substitute teachers and gave me a much needed break on my days off.

1. Great sub plans need to be engaging

If students are engaged and interested in the lesson, your substitute will have an easier time managing the class and you’ll get more positive feedback upon your return to class. I always try to find a topic that I know will capture my students’ interest and motivate them to do the activities to find out more. The kids are happy, the sub is happy, and I’m happy when I get back to my classroom.

2. STEM sub plans should be easy to implement

Substitute teachers have a wide range of experience in subject matter expertise and classroom management skills. I always try to leave a lesson plan with explicit instructions for the substitute, and as much as possible, I try to limit the amount of direct instruction they need to do. Student-centered activities allow the sub to focus on managing the class and taking care of administrative tasks, instead of standing in front of the classroom delivering content. These activities also help with keeping students engaged (see #1).

3. Sub activities should reinforce or extend student learning

Whenever possible, I try to choose a lesson that will review or elaborate on a concept my students are familiar with. I don’t want the substitute to field a lot of questions or introduce a new skill or complicated topic. A great sub lesson in STEM has a lot of accessible independent work to keep students busy and keep the sub’s stress level low.

4. The assignments should be easy to grade

The last thing I want to do when I return from a day off is spend hours of my day grading work my students did with the sub. Ideally, the sub plan has an easy to use grading rubric or answer key that I can leave with the sub with directions to have students grade their own work or the substitute can use to grade the assignments before I get back to the building.

One thing I don’t use as sub plans are design challenges. When I have tried leaving design challenges with my substitute teachers, my students were less productive. I think because they didn’t have a physical assignment to turn in at the end of the period and my substitute teachers weren’t familiar with the design process and how to manage these types of cooperative learning activities. Also, my materials weren’t always cared for or organized appropriately upon my return, adding unneeded stress to my day.

What is something you look for in a great STEM sub plan? Are there types of lessons you avoid leaving on a day off? Let us know in the comments!

If you are looking a stress-free day off, try giving your sub one of these ready-to-go lessons!

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