Educator Guide: Effective STEM Classroom Design

By Kitty Taylor on May 24, 2024

STEM is here to stay. The subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have become a foundational part of the educational journey, with educators across the country figuring out how to effectively incorporate STEM into their classrooms.

By providing an enriching STEM classroom, educators can help students develop strong STEM identities and establish STEM literacy. In this article, we’ll break down what educators need to know about designing a STEM classroom, including key characteristics, techniques, and STEM education tools.

Two middle school aged female students sit at a desk in school. They are working on a STEM lab that features plastic blocks and wires that are being combined to work on robotics.

The Importance of the STEM Classroom

For today’s students, STEM education is as critical as learning to read. STEM concepts are integrated with the world around us, and students need to develop STEM fluency in order to engage critically and problem solve effectively. 

Additionally, early STEM education prepares students to eventually pursue careers in STEM, which benefits our communities as those STEM professionals drive innovation. At Kid Spark Education, we aim to build a pipeline of talent that are ready, able, and eager to change our world through STEM.

That change starts in the classroom.

STEM classrooms can look a lot of different ways. Some STEM classrooms are able to exclusively focus on STEM subjects, like a middle school science classroom. In elementary school, however, the STEM classroom will likely be the same classroom where students learn other subjects. 

The STEM classroom varies from traditional classrooms due to the project-based, hands-on learning found in successful STEM curriculum. Because of this, some STEM classrooms benefit from a flipped classroom design, which does not involve traditional lecturing, and, instead, “students encounter information before class, freeing class time for activities that involve higher order thinking.”

The Educational Opportunity Gap

For many schools, resources are limited, which can be particularly detrimental to the cause of bringing in renewed focus on STEM education. Fortunately, many STEM programs offer educational grants, including the Kid Spark Education STEM Equity Grants Initiative.

To help educators and administrators navigate STEM education grants, we put together a guide to obtaining grants funding. This breaks down how to find and obtain grant funding for your STEM education program, as well as writing winning proposals and maintaining grant compliance.

STEM classrooms do not require huge budgets to achieve successful STEM education. In this article, we list a complete overview of STEM education tools and classroom design, but all of these tools and methods are not needed to provide a great STEM education to your students.

To supplement any formal STEM kits, teachers can find low-cost STEM activities, like these 12 middle school STEM activities or these 7 fall-themed elementary school STEM projects.

Essential Elements of a Successful STEM Classroom

Between choosing a STEM curriculum, getting the right STEM supplies, and aligning with educational standards, it can be intimidating to educators to incorporate STEM into the classroom. Let’s break down what you’ll find in an effective STEM classroom design.

Group of four elementary age students sitting at some desks that are pushed together. They have a laptop open but look on as one of the girls holds a red smartphone in her hands and shows them something.

Collaborative Space

STEM education is exceptionally collaborative in nature, so an effective STEM classroom design should include comfortable space for collaboration. This can be as simple as having a planned classroom layout to adjust desks for when students will work together, or it can mean having dedicated tables or floor space for students to break off and work together.

Another way to increase student collaboration in your STEM classroom design is through your classroom displays and bulletin boards. Ask questions on your bulletin board or invite students to bring in real-world examples of STEM in action to share. 

Hands-on STEM Programs

A robust STEM program can be the centerpiece of an effective STEM classroom design. A great classroom STEM program should include more than just a few instructions for your students, though. STEM programs should include reusable, durable materials that can be used for multiple lessons, accompanied by a complete curriculum and professional development for educators.

The STEM labs from Kid Spark Education cover all of these needs and more. The Kid Spark STEM programs are aligned with NGSS Standards. The Kid Spark STEM programs are served by two different STEM labs. Pre-K through 1st grade utilizes the Foundational Fluencies Lab, and 2nd grade through 8th grade.are served by the STEM Pathways Lab.

Kid Spark STEM labs provide comprehensive coverage of key STEM topics, offering a curriculum designed to build and expand knowledge year after year. These STEM labs encompass a wide range of subjects, ensuring a well-rounded education in:

  • Applied Mathematics: Enhancing problem-solving skills and mathematical understanding
  • Mechanical and Structural Engineering: Fostering an understanding of the principles behind machines and structures
  • Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing: Teaching cutting-edge techniques for creating models and prototypes quickly
  • Coding and Robotics: Introducing the fundamentals of programming and the exciting world of robotics
  • Invention and Innovation: Encouraging creativity and the development of new ideas and solutions

Kid Spark STEM labs are dedicated to equipping students with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in the ever-evolving fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Cross-Curricular Resources

For many students, STEM subjects will not be their favorite lessons to learn. In order to combat that hesitation, STEM teachers can forge connections with other subjects and bring in topics that may be exciting to students. For example, STEM subjects can come together with art class in order to build different STEM projects in creative ways, like egg drop contraptions. 

Another way to do this is to bring STEM books into the classroom, which can be especially appealing to students who love to read. For elementary school STEM teachers, dedicated reading time can be done as a group or supplementally for individual students. We gathered a list of some of our favorite STEM books to help you get started building a STEM library.

A group of five middle school students gather around a laptop. They are cheering on as they complete an assignment.

6 Characteristics of Effective STEM Classroom Design

When designing a STEM classroom, it can be helpful to consider the key characteristics you are looking for rather than just the materials you need. Below we break down the top six characteristics of a successful STEM classroom design.

1. Flexible

The nature of STEM means everyday can be different. A great STEM classroom design will be able to react to those changing needs, with appropriate ways to rearrange the classroom physically for certain assignments as well as to reorient students. STEM education focuses less on the traditional lecture format, so a nontraditional classroom layout may be beneficial as the default for your classroom.

Educators can streamline this flexibility by planning different classroom layouts at the beginning of the year and allotting the necessary time to rearrange when those alternative layouts will be used.

2. Organized

STEM projects involve a lot of materials, which can quickly become every teacher’s nightmare to keep track of. By starting with dedicated organizational methods and clear storage, STEM teachers can establish expectations for classroom organization and bring their students into that initiative. 

For STEM educators using Kid Spark, we recommend incorporating your students into your organization and management of the Kid Spark STEM kits. We created our Foundational Fluencies Inventory Activity and STEM Pathways Inventory Activity, which allow students to help teachers keep their STEM kits in order and identify which components may need to be replaced at the end of the semester or school year.

3. Collaborative

STEM education benefits greatly from group-based learning, allowing students to work together to overcome challenges and embrace STEM ideas. The STEM classroom should encourage students to seek support from one another and actively engage with the material in a collaborative manner.

The Kid Spark Education STEM labs are designed to be shared between two to four students. Educators can encourage collaboration between students as they work through the STEM curriculum. Students can help each other fill in their gaps in knowledge in order to work through the assignment successfully.

4. Digital

Technology is one of the four subjects of STEM, but it uniquely touches all the other subjects in addition to being a standalone component. Because of that, modern STEM classrooms should be digital in that they have and utilize the appropriate technology, including software and hardware. 

By bringing technology into the classroom, STEM teachers can begin teaching digital literacy, which is an essential STEM skill. Students will learn how to be connected to the growing technology they are exposed to while balancing essential digital literacy skills to navigate those spaces.

5. Welcoming

STEM can be an intimidating subject to educators and students alike. When teachers design a STEM classroom, they should keep in mind that not all students will be passionate about STEM learning, and thus the educators should look for opportunities to tie in cross-curricular learning and other unique learning experiences.

In order to foster a passion for STEM education, STEM classroom design should also incorporate diverse and inclusive learning practices. Students who see STEM educators that come from the same diverse backgrounds as them are more likely to succeed, and students with disabilities should be provided with the right accommodations to make their learning experience enriching and effective. 

6. Celebratory

In order to fully engage students with STEM programs, STEM teachers can bring a celebratory attitude to the classroom. This includes lifting up students for their success and bringing a sense of joy to STEM subjects, which are traditionally thought of as dry.

When designing a STEM classroom, STEM teachers can also consider bringing in real-world examples of STEM in action. When students see STEM in action, they are more likely to see themselves as having a strong STEM identity. 

Design a Successful STEM Classroom with Kid Spark Education

The most successful STEM classrooms utilize the best STEM labs as the centerpiece of the educational experience.  

At Kid Spark Education, we created STEM classroom programs for elementary school and middle school, with curriculum that teaches students key STEM topics including foundational STEM concepts, engineering, prototyping, robotics, and more. The materials in our STEM labs are robust and reusable, making for a great investment.

Kid Spark also backs up our STEM labs with thorough STEM curriculum and professional learning modules, ensuring that STEM educators have full support when it comes to implementing the program.

To get started, explore our curriculum library, or contact our team today to learn more about our classroom STEM programs.

Topics: Professional Development, STEM Education, STEM classroom kit

Kitty Taylor

Written By Kitty Taylor

Would you like to receive more information about starting a Kid Spark STEM program for your students? 

Go beyond the buzzword with Kid Spark.

At Kid Spark Education, STEM isn't a buzzword: it's a powerful way to nurture students' natural curiosity; build confidence and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math; and foster abilities in collaboration, problem-solving, and communication. You, their teachers, are our most important partner in achieving our mission of preparing all children for a lifetime of learning about science and technology. The Kid Spark Blog is written by educators, for educators to be a resource in your toolbox so you can feel confident and capable in teaching STEM to your elementary students. 

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