How to Teach STEM Virtually

How to Teach STEM Virtually 

Guest Writer, Dr. Corey Hall, PhD STEM Education Works

COVID has certainly impacted the ways we teach, interact, assess, and plan. As one 5th grade teacher put it, “Tough year, not going to lie.  Not a whole lot of enjoyable lately.”

But one area that has taken a direct hit from the pandemic is STEM teaching and learning. STEM has traditionally been very hands-on and project-based by nature. As schools, libraries, and after-school programming continue to operate in hybrid and distance settings, STEM teachers are finding themselves struggling to provide high-quality programming for their students. 

Adding to the frustration is the equity gap for students from low-income families, transient, and homeless populations. How can we meet the needs of our students while maintaining a rigorous program?

Tip #1

STEM Lending Library

Do you have technology tools sitting in your classroom or library that aren’t being used because of COVID restrictions? A STEM lending library might be the perfect answer to your problem. STEM lending libraries give you the opportunity to send home “kits” that include everything students need to conduct STEM investigations and activities from home. Some technologies that work well for lending libraries include:

  • Spheros
  • littleBits
  • Micro:bits
  • LEGOs ™

If you are going to “kit” a technology, consider including the following:

  • Sturdy, inexpensive container (dollar store containers work great)
  • Inventory sheets listing the contents of the kit
  • Laminated QR code or bitly link to activities for the technology
  • Batteries or battery packs
  • USB cables
  • Lending agreement

At STEM Education Works, we have put together kits for the Sphero Bolt, micro:bit, and little:Bits Starter Kit. You can also find examples of libraries lending technology kits:

Tip #2

Family-Based Activities and Challenges

Many students are at home in front of computers for hours on end. How about breaking up that time by instituting STEM family-based activities and challenges? There are so many resources out there to pull from, but a few of my favorites are:

Keep in mind that some families may not have the resources or materials on hand to complete certain challenges. Consider putting together a kit or plastic bag containing the materials necessary to complete the activity. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for students to take selfies or videos of themselves working with their family members and then posting in your learning management system (Seesaw, Schoology, etc.).

Tip #3

Go Virtual

So many technologies now have online counterparts, making STEM projects easier than ever. Do you use 3D-printing in your class or makerspace? You can keep the printing going using an online CAD program such as Tinkercad. Students can work on projects from home, collaborate with others, and then share their prints with you via the new Tinkercad classroom, email, or Google Drive. Tinkercad now also integrates with micro:bit and Arduino for a dynamic STEM experience.

littleBits just released its online program called Fuse. Students can create and build circuits using inputs, outputs, and power bits just like they were in the classroom and then try out their inventions.

Scratch, a long-time popular coding program, just integrated with micro:bit, LEGO, and MakeyMakey.

Here is a list of technologies that are available in online formats:

Tip #4 

Integrate Literacy

STEM and literacy go hand-in-hand. Students can conduct research, read articles, and select nonfiction pleasure reading as part of your virtual STEM program. One new option is Elementari.io, a software program that combines reading and writing with coding. Check out the sample stories. The American Revolution one is amazing!

Epic is a popular online reading platform that provides access to thousands of books. You can filter by reading level, interest, subject, etc. You also can track student progress. Epic is free for educators.

Hoopla is available through some public libraries and includes new releases in both audio and ebook formats. Check with your local library to see if this app is available for your students.

Overdrive/Sora is another online reading platform available through many school districts, intermediate units, and public libraries. Books are easily filtered by reading level, genre, and subject.

Skybrary is Levar Burton’s newest addition to the world of literacy. There is a nominal subscription price, but the book choices and read-alouds are worth the price. 

Don’t forget to engage your school librarian as you seek to integrate literacy and STEM. They are a fantastic resource for databases, articles, books, and other resources to help you with your virtual STEM journey.

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Dr. Corey Hall is a curriculum specialist, librarian, and adjunct college professor who loves all things makerspace and technology-related. She spends way too much money on books and enjoys sharing her favorites on Twitter @rchallway and Instagram @library_doc. You can also find her at STEM Education Works playing with micro:bits, littleBits, building scale models, 3D-printing, and tinkering with Glowforge.

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