Routines and procedures are an essential part of a successful classroom. Solid routines and procedures help students feel confident and cut down on wasted time. Having consistent routines and procedures is helpful for all subjects, including STEM. So what routines and procedures should be in a STEM classroom? How do you introduce STEM to little kids?
Below are seven essential routines and procedures for any STEM lesson.
1. Create rules, routines, and procedures for read alouds
Many teachers introduce STEM with a book. This could be a picture book or a chapter book. Oftentimes the book is important because it provides background knowledge students need to complete the activity. Nonfiction books are critical because they explicitly teach students new content.
For my class, I have students sit in unassigned spots on the carpet. They are to sit criss-cross-applesauce. There is no talking unless I direct students to do so. I am certain to tell students what they should be thinking about before the reading.
Before defining your rules, routines, and procedures, consider these questions:
- What should the classroom look like during a read aloud?
- How should students be sitting during the read aloud?
- What should students be thinking about during the read aloud?
It’s wise to have your students help you create the rules, routines, and procedures to answer these questions. Decide on something you can all agree on.
2. Turn and talk
Collaboration is key! We often ask our students to “think-pair-share” or “turn and talk” with a partner. It’s vital to be clear with these procedures because you’ll want to make the most out of their collaboration time. Nothing is worse than having to repeat instructions or take too much time explaining how to do something.
Turn and talk is one of my favorite activities for brainstorming. I use the group tool in ClassDojo to create partners. They have ten seconds to think about the problem quietly. Then, I give them two minutes to discuss with their partner. Afterward, we meet as a whole group and chart their ideas and solutions on an anchor chart.
Consider these questions to create your procedure:
- Will students choose a partner or will they be assigned?
- How long will you give students to think about the problem?
- What will be the procedure for sharing with the class?
- How much time will students have to discuss with one another?
3. Project Planning
Creating blueprints and planning for projects is important when it comes to STEM. It helps students to be purposeful and saves a lot of materials. Many students struggle with this, especially younger ones because they struggle to see too far into the future, and it’s difficult for some to convey their thoughts and ideas in a drawing.
Doing this exercise helps strengthen executive functioning skills for all students! Introduce STEM with a plan by showing examples and non-examples of blueprints!
STEM journals or planning sheets are helpful for this. We use planning sheets like this one from my TpT shop. Students are to draw their ideas and label. For students in kindergarten, I give them a materials list with pictures. This helps them choose what they need. For students in first and second grade, I model how to draw and label the picture.
This comes in handy for teaching text features in nonfiction as well.
When deciding how your students will project plan, consider:
- How will students share their ideas?
- Will they need to label their pictures?
- How much time will students be given for project planning?
- What are the consequences if they don’t follow the plan entirely?
4. Group Work
Do you remember doing group work in school? It’s hard. Group dynamics can be challenging. On the one hand, you may have a group that relies on one student to lead, and on another hand, you have a group where everyone wants to do everything.
Setting clear, defined roles for group projects is critical for group success. Doing so cuts down on arguments and holds each student accountable for their work.
I personally like smaller groups. This is because it gives students an opportunity for more involvement. We keep our groups at 2 – 3 students. I use the grouping tool from Classdojo to create teams. Students are given specific roles. We have a writer/recorder, materials manager, and reporter/presenter.
Here are some things to consider:
- How many students will be in a group?
- What roles will there be in each group?
- How will students select their group?
- Where will groups meet?
- How do you plan to hold each student accountable?
- How should students resolve conflicts? Who will mediate?
Collecting materials for STEM activities can get expensive fast. That’s why it’s important to use your resources efficiently and have routines and procedures for cutting down on waste. Not all challenges are open-ended. Some include constraints on materials. For projects that don’t, we have a procedure in place.
One way I’ve found to save on materials is by having my students create a shopping list before any engineering activity. They must tell me the object and the quantity (yes, I use this word even for my little kids).
When creating your procedures, think about:
- How will they get materials?
- Where will you store materials?
- In what ways will you ask for donations?
- Where do unused materials go?
- What happens if they don’t have enough materials?
- What should they do if something breaks or they need a replacement?
- Are there consequences if they use materials inappropriately?
Failing is hard, especially for younger students. It’s important to understand that students who fail may feel a little resentment towards their peers. They may also feel embarrassed or question their self-worth.
It’s essential to talk about failing with your students and have some routines and procedures in place to support their needs. You will want to discuss what failure means. Be vulnerable and share an example when you failed at something. This will help students relate to you while normalizing failure.
When teaching my students about failure, I share a story about when I failed spelling grasshopper… Instead, I spelled gashopper. You’re welcome to use this story! Okay, it’s not entirely true, but they can relate, and it makes them giggle.
If you’re looking for a good book that addresses failure, you’ve got to read The Good Egg by Jory John (affiliate link).
Here are some things to consider:
- What should a student do if they are upset/angry/sad?
- What brain breaks, if any, can students take when feeling frustrated?
- How should a student ideally react if they have a failure? What are the consequences if they don’t react in that way?
- Can and should students just copy someone else if they fail?
- Will you have motivational quotes or mantras that you’ll say with the class? If so, what might they be?
- Will students be rewarded for successful projects? If so, what’s the reward? How might students react if they didn’t succeed?
For reward ideas, check out my classroom Surprise Box resource.
STEM challenges and activities can get messy! I thrive in keeping my area organized and clean, so I get stressed when I see messes. One thing I use in my class to help is a clean-up routine.
I give my students about five minutes to clean the room. Students reference a desk diagram for organizing their own desks. I give a ticket for the Surprise Box to the student with the cleanest desk. This incentive helps me stay quiet and motivates my students to clean quickly.
I give another ticket to a student who picks up the “mystery trash.” This is something I secretly spot and wait for a student to pick or clean up. I do not announce who received the mystery trash or cleanest desk until after time is complete.
When thinking about your cleaning routine, consider:
- Where will students place unused materials?
- How much time will you need for cleaning?
- Will there be a desk diagram or other charts? If so, where will it be located?
- How should students organize their space?
- Will you reward cleanliness? If so, what will be the incentive?
- Are there any items that will be off-limits to students?
STEM is such a great way to get students engaged in critical thinking and creativity! I hope these tips help you have a successful introduction to STEM with your younger students! For more benefits of STEM, check out my post here.