Classroom Management Tips for Elementary STEM Lessons and Labs

Elementary STEM Classroom Management

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An inquiry-based classroom is loud, especially during elementary STEM lessons. Students are having their own independent conversations, they’re out of their seats, and doing different activities. Upon first glance, these classrooms appear chaotic, and for teachers who are not used to this atmosphere, classroom management is intimidating. 

However, in the real world STEM is messy, collaborative and interactive, and your students need multiple opportunities to engage in messy STEM. There are four common problems that teachers face when teaching STEM:

  • Off task conversations
  • Failure to follow directions
  • Yelling out answers
  • Students feeling frustrated

Often, these issues arise because:

  • Students are feeling bored and not challenged.
  • Students are feeling confused or lost.
  • Students are not having their educational needs met. 

Instead of using discipline and unnatural consequences for your students to correct their behavior, we have some suggestions and strategies that can help you avoid these issues altogether.


Helpful Ways To Tackle STEM Classroom Management

We’re going to start off with long term solutions and then address other common issues individually below.  


Long Term Solutions

If you regularly do messy lessons or lessons that require on task and focused attention, create a set of “Lab Rules” with your students. Involving your students in the creation of these rules promotes a sense of obligation, value, and responsibility — since students helped to create the rules, they will also assist you with reinforcing the rules with their peers and they will feel like their input is helpful. If you already have an idea of what rules you want to have, you can use those ideas to guide your students as you create your list of lab rules together. 

Second, establish routines and expectations for doing science. For example, having materials at the front of the table with the expectation that once students have read and understood the instructions, they go to the front to get their items. Have the expectation that students walk into the lab knowing what they are doing. If they don’t, then they can’t get the materials until they’ve talked with peers to understand what they need to do. Always leave time toward the end of the lab to make sure students return their items to the table before they go. I call this CUAPA (Clean Up And Put Away).


Off Task Discussions

Students are like adults  When you are working on projects with your co-workers, do you sometimes take a moment to talk about your day? It is okay to let students do the same. What initially may look like an off-task discussion may actually be a way that students are connecting and learning from each other.

If you find they are staying off-task for long amounts of time, tell students they have a certain amount of time to finish this project and remind them as their time starts to run low.  

Ask questions that help redirect them without feeling like you are punishing them such as, “How can I help you?”  “You’re behind and I’m worried you might run out of time. What do you need help with?” 

Some students may be off-task because they are lost or confused, so checking in and breaking things into smaller tasks may help them bridge a gap in their learning.


Following Directions

Use the 3Rs: Read, Review, Repeat to hold your students accountable. Give your students time to Read the directions and make sure they understand them. Have your students Review the directions with a partner or group. Finally, have the students Repeat the directions back to you before they gather the materials for the lesson.

If you continue to struggle with students not following directions, you may need to find alternatives to labs where safety may present an issue.  


Lack of Participation

Group up your students and assign roles that rotate throughout the group. Because students must switch and share roles, they may be more likely to contribute and participate.

You can also have an alternate activity and offer that to students who are having a low participation day. However, be careful about giving students the option to not do a lab, or worse, excluding a student from doing a lab. When we exclude students from science, we’re sending the message that they can’t do science or they are not good at it (rather than sending the message that it’s their behavior that is keeping them from participating in the lab). What we have found is that labs give students who might be off-task or uninvolved an opportunity to step up and shine.


Yelling Out Answers

When students forget to raise their hand it may be due to the fact that they are excited to learn. Give wait time, and model behavior by raising your hand but calling on anyone until students quiet down. THEN call on students. 

Using T-Charts and “Think-Pair-Share” invites everyone in the room to participate. Students think about the subject and write their thoughts down on a T-chart, pair with a partner, and then share their thoughts with the entire class. 

Are there other issues you are facing when doing STEM lessons? Let us know what they are and we would love to share more content with you that can help you problem-solve any classroom management issues you might be facing! 

We also have a 3Rs: Read, Review, Repeat poster you can use as a reference for your students!  Download it below:

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  1. Pingback: Introducing Engineering Practices to Your Classroom - STEAM Café

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