STEM Teaching Strategies for Elementary & Middle School

By Kitty Taylor on June 11, 2024

The demand for high-quality STEM education continues to grow, but, for many STEM educators, providing students with an effective STEM education can be challenging. In order to navigate the world of STEM education, we gathered the leading STEM education strategies and STEM education best practices in this guide.

Essential STEM Education Strategies

The following STEM teaching strategies and best practices can be worked into an effective STEM classroom to increase student engagement and success. 

Hands-on STEM Projects

Hands-on learning is a core pillar of a strong STEM teaching strategy. STEM teaching strategies continue to shift away from traditional lecturing and note-taking and toward activating learning and interactive activities.

Four upper elementary school students put their hands in with a young female STEM teacher over a table, about to raise their hands up in a "go team" gesture.

The National Inventors’ Hall of Fame explains the benefits of hands-on learning in STEM, saying, “A major reason why hands-on learning is so effective is because this type of education promotes student agency. Instead of leading your class along a predetermined path meant to reach an expected outcome, allow your students to take control of their learning.”

STEM labs from Kid Spark Education put this type of hands-on learning at the forefront of the curriculum. Our STEM labs utilize robust, reusable materials that make for a great long-term investment while giving the students physical materials to work with as they learn key STEM concepts.

Integrating Technology

Technology is a core component of STEM education, and tech literacy is crucial for all young people in order to prepare them for the rapidly evolving world around them. While some of this technology can include devices like CAD software and 3D printers, it can also include the use of multimedia and online learning opportunities to incorporate different aspects of technology.

STEM educators can bring in virtual labs, educational apps, and coding lessons to offer students the opportunity to gain experience working with technology. This experience can help students gain confidence when it comes to embracing new technology.

By integrating technology into the classroom, STEM educators can spark more interest and engagement from the students. Technology is a part of day-to-day life from a young age, so a technology-focused STEM education can help those students build important digital literacy skills.

Project-Based Learning

One STEM teaching strategy is the implementation of project-based learning. Project-based learning is a teaching method that requires students to solve a problem, often in a real-world application, through the hands-on design, development, and construction of a solution to that problem.

Project-based learning is more than just assigning a project for students to complete. This teaching method has four phases:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Planning a solution
  • Developing a prototype
  • Refining based on feedback

Project-based learning can work well in STEM education for several key reasons. Project-based learning helps students to connect with the content they are learning while embracing their own creativity and developing their STEM identity. Additionally, project-based learning mirrors the educational style of many institutions, including colleges and universities.

Projected-based learning helps students to make connections between disciplines, even outside of STEM subjects. It also helps students understand how STEM occurs in real-world applications, which can begin to foster STEM career paths for students.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Another effective STEM teaching strategy is to employ inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning asks the students what they want to know, allowing students to identify specific topics or questions they want to pursue to research. In inquiry-based learning, students are not given the “answers” up front and instead have to investigate for themselves, often followed up by a presentation of their findings.

Inquiry-based learning helps students develop key skills that are part of a strong STEM skillset, including critical thinking, problem-solving, interpretation, and communication.

Real-World Applications

Many students question why they need to learn different topics throughout their educational journey, and a strong STEM teaching strategy addresses those questions directly. STEM educators can leverage real-world applications of STEM to help students see how STEM connects to the world outside of the classroom, sparking buy-in from students.

Real-world applications of STEM can show students how these subjects apply to their daily lives. Discuss how engineers design bridges, how technology powers their favorite gadgets, or how mathematics is essential for coding video games. This STEM teaching strategy not only sparks interest but also helps students see the relevance of what they're learning.

Three students work on a compound machines STEM lesson from Kid Spark Education.

One effective way to implement this STEM teaching strategy is to tie in instances of STEM concepts in the news. This can also be assigned to students to bring in, which helps students identify instances of STEM topics in their own lives. Additionally, incorporating hands-on projects and experiments can bring real-world applications of STEM to life for students. This not only enhances their understanding  but also builds their connection to the material.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

STEM education strategies benefit greatly from leaning on the national and state-level standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). NGSS is a K-12 educational framework that brings together three dimensions of learning to help students develop a cohesive understanding of science over time.

NGSS shifts away from traditional STEM teaching strategies that only give students a shallow understanding of different topics. An NGSS-aligned STEM curriculum allows students to not only develop a thorough knowledge of the content but also helps them to develop the key skills that will serve them in future educational endeavors and careers.

NGSS has three dimensions to learning science:

  • Crosscutting Concepts: Fundamental scientific concepts that connect all domains of science, such as cause and effect, patterns, logic, and systems
  • Science and Engineering Practices: Scientific inquiry processes that allow for the investigation and modeling of ideas and theories
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: Key content and information that deal with the most important aspects of science and serve as the core of science curriculum

Kid Spark Education STEM labs align with the framework for the  NGSS concepts. Through hands-on learning, Kid Spark STEM labs help students learn foundational STEM ideas and then build on them as they progress through school. The STEM labs are accompanied by a complete curriculum to make the education process seamless. 

3 Benefits of Effective STEM Teaching Strategies

An exceptional STEM classroom will incorporate additional concepts beyond the core teaching strategies, including the following features.

STEM Identity

A great STEM education will provide young students with the opportunity to develop a strong STEM identity. STEM identity is how a person sees themselves in relation to the subjects of STEM—for example, this can include if a student sees themselves as a “math person” or envisions a future career as a scientist.

Effective STEM teaching strategies will aid in the development of STEM identity and build a lifelong love of STEM. When students have strong STEM identities, they can be confident in their academic pursuits and future careers.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

STEM education has an opportunity gap when it comes to educational equity, with many students receiving minimal exposure to a comprehensive STEM education. Accessibility and inclusivity in the STEM classroom ensure that every student can engage with a quality STEM education that is reflective of their own experience and identity.

If a student is faced with an educational environment that does not meet their unique needs, or that classroom does not welcome them, they may feel less interested in pursuing those subjects enthusiastically. Furthermore, by addressing inequities at the beginning of the STEM education pipeline, we can begin to close the gap in STEM careers and higher education.

At Kid Spark Education, we believe that by giving kids of all backgrounds and abilities an equal chance to learn and love STEM, we are nurturing a next generation of successful professionals, bold thinkers, and inventors.

Digital Literacy

Teaching digital literacy in the STEM classroom means students will be able to utilize key digital tools and pursue strong digital citizenship. Digital literacy is especially important when it comes to learning different technologies, which is the “T” in STEM.

Two female students lean in toward a an open laptop. The student directly in front of the laptop is pointing at the screen where they are reviewing a coding lesson.

Digital literacy benefits students by preparing them for the future of their education and career as well as increasing their engagement in the classroom and decreasing the risks they will take on digital platforms. By making digital literacy a feature of STEM education, teachers can set students up for long-term success in the digital sphere. 

Implement Effective STEM Teaching Strategies with Kid Spark

A strong STEM program can work in tandem with effective STEM teaching strategies to create a highly successful education. By integrating hands-on learning experiences, fostering critical thinking, and encouraging collaboration among students, these STEM strategies can significantly enhance student engagement and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

At Kid Spark Education, we created STEM programs for elementary school and middle school classrooms, with an NGSS-aligned curriculum that teaches students key STEM topics including applied mathematics, engineering, prototyping, robotics, and more. 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 STEM programs.

Topics: Professional Development, STEM Education, NGSS

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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