Traditional classroom teaching is a staple of education and for good reason: it works! That said, there’s an entire world of nontraditional STEM education and innovation out there. Why not branch out a little?

We all like to be a little set in our ways, but our students greatly appreciate participating in STEM skills education in nontraditional ways. After all, STEM hands-on learning is what truly gets students excited about the material!

STEM Skills Education in Outside Coding Classes and Bootcamps

Simply changing the how and who of instructing our students can have a positive impact on STEM skill development. Outside coding classes like Codecademy present practical STEM information in a free, easy-to-absorb format. If you’re questioning whether a coding bootcamp is worth it, here’s a hint: it is!

Instead of requiring our students to sit in a classroom computer laboratory, why not let them complete a coding course online? Students tend to respond well to freedom — STEM should be a passion, not a chore — so set your students loose and see what happens.

Will online coding courses work for every student in your class, regardless of their personal interests? Probably not. Then again, no teaching method is 100% foolproof. But when it comes to developing STEM skills, we must instill a love for the material. The freedom and reward of online courses may be one way to do just that.

Fun fact: The job placement success rate of coding bootcamps is remarkably high. The debate of coding bootcamp vs college is a tough one, but the more options, the better.

STEM Skills Education Outside the Classroom (Literally)

As a general concept, STEM tends to be highly practical. Software programmers create code. Engineers build all sorts of things. Mathematicians solve problems. Why not get outside the classroom and see these things in action? We’ll break down some real-world STEM lessons below.

Solar ovens, yard maps, and photo scavenger hunts are fantastic ways to get our students outside and enjoy STEM outside of the classroom.

Solar Ovens

Physically building something with your own hands that works is one of life’s greatest pleasures. A team-based solar oven project works wonders for students (provided the weather cooperates).

The task is simple. Divide your students into teams (alternatively, each student can produce their own with their family’s help) and have them work together to design and build a solar oven. You’ll find instructions everywhere, but this resource does a particularly good job. For older students (middle or high school), consider a solar hot dog cooker project if the first one seems too easy.

Tip: Hot dogs and s’mores make for great snacks. Solar ovens are a great example of STEM hands-on learning.

Yard Maps

Outdoor yard mapping is a great way to introduce students to the world of botany. Have your students work together to create a physical map of the school’s outdoor yard, park, or garden. Students should try to identify and plot each major plant on the map.

You’ll have your hands full managing a horde of schoolchildren wandering around outside, so let the “technology” in STEM do some work. Don’t just give the students the answers — ask them to research the plants online and come to their own conclusions. Not only does this develop their STEM skills education, but it gets them up and out of the classroom.

Tip: Check for poison ivy first! Also, this Khan Academy course on life on Earth ties in perfectly.

Photo Scavenger Hunts

Photo scavenger hunts are an excellent way to introduce students to the concept of photo editing, framing, and composition. Break your students into teams with a digital camera (smartphones will work, if necessary). Have them go out and take pictures of things like the following:

  •          Someone in red/blue/green clothes
  •          An incredibly tall person
  •          People playing sports
  •          Their favorite teacher

The trick? The group that takes the most beautiful photos (lighting, framing, composition, and so on) ‘wins’. Keep it simple, of course – try this resource for basic photography rules that are simple to teach – and (depending on the age group), allow for photo manipulation or digital editing.

Always Push the Envelope

As STEM skills education continues to evolve, it’s vital to always be on the lookout for new and inventive teaching ideas. The more we make STEM a practical, enjoyable field, the better prepared our students will be. We should never be afraid to opt for STEM education that is innovative, hands-on, and creative. It works!

Real World Learning Matters

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