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Your Guide to Effective STEM Classroom Design

The subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are anything but new, yet the importance of effective STEM classroom design is a somewhat recent development. Traditional classrooms may work for lecture-style lesson plans, but the hands-on activities involved in STEM curriculum require a completely different type of environment. 

Read on to learn about the most important features of STEM classroom design and how schools can get started.

The Importance of STEM Classrooms

Traditional lecture-style teaching is only a small part of a STEM class. Instead, the majority of class time involves active learning through hands-on activities and team-based projects. Students learn the fundamentals, but are also able to learn by doing — for example, building a miniature robot, developing a mobile app, or recreating a volcanic eruption.

Why Do We Need STEM Classes?

In 2018, 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled. In the coming years, this demand is only projected to increase, which has led many U.S. K-12 school districts to re-evaluate their STEM strategies. 

Wider access to STEM classes is also necessary for diversity initiatives. K-12 courses are when many students explore their potential and realize their passions, but STEM is not often a path that female, African-American and Latinx students end up following. iD Tech notes the following statistics: 

  • 74% of middle school girls express an interest in engineering, science, and math but only 0.3% choose computer science as a major when they get to college.
  • Even though women earn roughly 57% of all bachelor’s degrees, they only earn about 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees.
  • African-American and Latinx workers represent 29% of the general workforce population, but only 16% of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15% of the computing workforce, and 12% of the engineering workforce.

While it may feel like we have a long way to go, many schools across the country are making efforts to either launch new STEM programs or improve their existing ones. And getting there starts with an effective STEM classroom design.

6 Characteristics of an Effective STEM Classroom

  1. Flexible Classroom Designs

STEM classrooms are most effective when designed for a multitude of activities, like team-based projects and hands-on learning. But space is hard to come by for some schools. Sixth-grade science and seventh-grade math could be taught in the same room at different times throughout the day, so teachers need to be able to quickly make layout adjustments before and after class. 

Flexible STEM classroom design skips traditional seating charts to utilize space more efficiently. For example, oversized classrooms and collaboration rooms offer a creative use of space that is adaptable to group learning, study halls, and after-school activities and clubs. This design can also serve as support space for teacher offices and workrooms.

Other features of a flexible STEM classroom design include:

  • Oversized classrooms that provide more space for multifunctional learning and lab space.
  • Operational partition walls, like NanaWalls, that provide teaching options and allow rooms to be combined or divided for optimal learning.
  • Configuring utilities, gas lines, and other core functions along the perimeter walls to optimize space design, and leave the center of the room open for flexible arrangements of moveable furniture.
  1. Mobility

A crucial part of flexible classroom design is mobility. Tables, desks, chairs, and whiteboards should be on wheels so that students are encouraged to make the space their own. 

Lightweight furniture on wheels is easy and quick to move, but you also need to consider the flooring. It’s difficult to rearrange furniture on carpet, so STEM classrooms should feature concrete floors for easier mobility and for robotics programs.

  1. Tech-Savvy

Technology is a crucial part of every STEM program, and it should be accessible for all students. These classrooms need to be constantly connected to the internet with boosted signals, plentiful electrical outlets, and retractable power reels to give students access to power anywhere in the classroom. Ultimately, the classroom will need to be able to handle equipment like:

  • Interactive TVs and Displays
  • 3D Printers
  • Tablets and Computers
  • Virtual Reality Devices

The more technology a classroom has, the more important a reliable network will be. It’s also critical to remember that technology is constantly changing and classrooms need to be able to adapt to the latest trends. 

  1. Organized

STEM classes are packed with fun gadgets and equipment, but clutter can quickly negate the flexible design. Different types of classes being taught in the same room calls for maximum organization. Using built-in and mobile storage provides thoughtful space solutions for organizing and storing project materials, students projects, and experiments.

  1. Collaborative

STEM classrooms encourage active learning, which is the practice of engaging students through projects and activities instead of passive listening from lectures.

A free-flowing layout is ideal for project-based learning because it allows students to innovate and solve problems both individually and in teams. Fluid spaces support brainstorming, building, testing and experimenting, inspiring students to work together to find solutions to real-world challenges.

Whiteboards and interactive displays are also key features of successful STEM classrooms, as they encourage students to gather around an area and collaborate. Teachers should also have the ability to move freely around the room to assist and monitor students’ progress. 

  1. Sustainable

Well-designed STEM classrooms encourage problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration skills, which are necessary to address the environmental challenges of today. As schools incorporate climate change topics into STEM lesson plans, sustainable STEM classroom design is a way for schools to learn and teach by example.

Sustainable classroom design incorporates features that are beneficial for both people and the planet. Natural lighting, indoor air quality programs, and construction using responsibly sourced building materials are just a few of the many ways for a classroom to become sustainable. Plus, sustainable practices can help reduce operational and utility costs. And what better way for students to learn about green building practices than inside a sustainably built classroom?

How to Design an Effective STEM Classroom

First, school districts need to understand what projects and activities the STEM program will include. What does the curriculum involve, and how might it evolve in the future? 

The next step is to determine who will be using the classroom. Will you have a STEM classroom for all students or one for each grade? Will it be a STEM classroom 100% of the time, or is it more operationally efficient to hold a few English classes in there as well? Will you use it primarily as an educational space or will after-school and community activities be held there as well? You also need to determine where the classroom will be on your campus. Are you going to retrofit an existing classroom or build new? 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when considering the design of your STEM classrooms. 

  1. Implement a student-focused design. What will your students like to see in their STEM classroom? How will they interact with the space?
  1. Use a collaborative design process. You should involve all stakeholders, including IT, STEM teachers, and students.
  1. Develop prototypes. Many successful STEM programs start from a prototype. Replicating one pre-approved classroom district-wide that meets all program requirements can help save on design and construction costs.
  1. Tour other STEM classrooms. Schools that have implemented successful STEM classroom designs are often passionate about the program and are eager to discuss successful strategies.
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