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Bring STEM lessons to any subject area

By Team ISTE
June 27, 2016
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Educators are well past the point of debating whether STEM belongs in the classroom. Most agree that it’s vital. Now the question becomes how to do it effectively.  

Karin Davidson-Taylor, the education officer at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, has some answers. “STEM doesn’t have to take place in STEM classrooms,” she says. “We can’t limit ourselves as to where we discover information or where we are inspired.”

That’s why she considers videoconferencing (and its close cousin, audio calls) an important tool in educators’ hands. As a member of the ISTE STEM Professional Learning Network and winner of ISTE PLN’s 2016 STEM Excellence Award, she’s earned the expertise behind her advice. She beams into classrooms via videoconference almost daily to ignite curiosity in students. It's a great ways to engage with students about any topic.

So, for example, if a student notices something on her walk to school and asks the teacher about that discovery, it’s the right opening to dive into a STEM discussion. Videoconferencing allows educators to quickly bring an expert into the classroom, creating a reverse field trip of sorts.

And oh, the places you can go. Davidson-Taylor does approximately 200 sessions a year, and has teamed up on camera with experts from Japan, England and the Netherlands.

Whether a teacher involves Davidson-Taylor at the beginning of the process to guide the exploratory questions or at the end of a unit to validate the class’ discoveries, the benefit is the same. “What I like about STEM is that it isn’t a stop and start. It’s a continuum to explore,” she says.

With that in mind, here are some of the STEM lessons that educators can incorporate into language arts, career, even music classes as cross-disciplinary units:

Insect poetry. Read one of the poems from Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian to students and ask them to guess the insect or adaptations hinted at in the poem. It’s a literary way to slide into curiosity.

Readers' theater. Share a small plant or seed germination sample. Kids work in groups to develop actions to correspond with assigned vocabulary words. For example, if they hear “the seed was a patient seed, it waited for the spring rain that would water it,” the group who was given the word water might chant: "Water, water, cool, clean water," and display a hand motion to mimic the movement of flowing water. Students learn the needs of plants via acting skills.

"Life is integrated so we need to be sure we fit STEM in there," Davidson-Taylor says.

How far food has traveled/food miles. Determining where each menu item on the cafeteria tray came from is rife with STEM possibilities. This lesson incorporates geography, biodiversity and sustainability. It also appeals to students’ sense of consumerism and economics as they explore what they could buy local versus buying something grown in out of state or even out of the country. (Even a restaurant and hospitality program in Vermont used this lesson as part of a career program).

Healing plants. Experts can explain how plants are involved in human health and lead classroom discussions on how plants can bolster the immune system to prevent illnesses and diseases as well as treat them.

At the ISTE 2016 STEM Playground, Davidson-Taylor presented “Inspiring Natural Curiosity Using Videoconference Technology.” Looking for hands-on STEM learning? Don't miss ISTE 2017 in San Antonio, Texas.