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Primary school STEM challenges – How to overcome them, from a teachers perspective

Katie Vidal
Katie Vidal
15 Nov 2021
overcoming stem challenges primary school

Many teachers are faced with Primary School STEM Challenges. Including teacher’s perceptions, student knowledge and timetabling STEM lessons. It doesn’t have to be.

Defining STEM in primary schools, teachers understanding of STEM, their students understanding of STEM, and finding the time to make STEM happen in the classroom.  There are many things to consider when implementing STEM in a primary classroom.

Primary School STEM Challenges

Defining STEM

Support primary student development in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills so that they can solve real world problems and connect to the complex world around them.  STEM is not only the four subjects stated in the anagram, it is the skills that help them explore those subjects.  In primary school it is about being exposed to these skills and developing them.  These include:

  • Establish problem solving skills- involving critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Increasing understanding of digital technology
  • Data driven decision making
  • Flexibility

Introducing primary school students to these skills will support them as they move into secondary school.  It will give them increased confidence when being introduced to new topics whether they be STEM related or in other Key Learning Areas.

Teachers Understanding of STEM

Teachers have different attitudes and backgrounds that will influence how they view STEM education. Providing an environment for staff to be confident is a crucial step in a successful STEM program. 

How many people do you know that would confidently say that they’d love to run STEM activities with primary school students?  Probably not as many as you would think.

If you approach building teaching capability first, then your staff will feel more confident and empowered to use STEM in their classrooms.  Start by identifying supportive, highly quality professional learning (PL) to build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills in STEM teaching. Quality professional learning should not only educate teachers on what they are teaching, but it should immerse them in practical applications of how to teach it.   

For example, She Maps Membership provides drone and geospatial information systems (GIS) professional learning and teaching resources.  Teachers learn how to sync the technology, understand flight safety and how drones are being used in industry.  There is also ongoing online support for staff who are a part of the Online Together Program, this includes three online face-to-face professional learning sessions and a classroom presentation.  It helps to create confident and knowledgeable teachers.

She Maps Membership (ORBIT)
She Maps Membership (ORBIT)

Student STEM Perception

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, teachers approach STEM with different attitudes ( not always positive) and this is also true for students.  How many times have you heard a student say “It’s too hard” or “I’m not good at it”. 

In order to support positive perceptions of STEM, activities need to be introduced from the start of primary school because in today’s age of information, the ability to innovate, be technologically fluent, and understand how and why things work together is incredibly important. 

Allowing students to solve real world problems using skills and knowledge that they have learnt creates a wider range of success and also improves the growth mindset in younger students.  Showing students that there may be more than one answer helps to create confidence in future learners. 

Connecting students with current real world issues also allows students to make decisions and implement plans so that they feel they are connecting and contributing to their local community and even to other countries.

STEM Budget

STEM programs come in all shapes, sizes and budgets.  Identifying the right resources to fit your budget makes everyone more accepting of a STEM program, but just because you have little to no budget does not necessarily mean that your students miss out. 

Take a look at Teaching Digital Technology on a Shoestring with Clair Allan, an EduDrone presenter.  Here you will find some advice about identifying how to teach STEM on little or no budget.

The key is to look to try and create a multi dimensional resource kit that allows students to learn in different ways, not just one technological resource to cover the whole school.

Ask the questions whether there are professionals and organisations within the school community that could help contribute to a STEM program in the school. From mentors to teaching resources there are many options for industry to get involved.  

Primary school STEM challenges
A DJI Tello EDU Drone in the She Maps Resource Kit

Time for STEM

Finding the time to make STEM happen in the primary classroom can be tricky, especially when the curriculum is already full of so much learning.  Depending on how your school works, there are 3 different ways to incorporate STEM into your school.

  1. STEM clubs – this can be a great way to start.  It allows you as the teacher to hold smaller sized classes with activities that don’t necessarily have to fit into curriculum objectives. 
  2. STEM lessons – some schools like to actually identify one teacher or a small group of staff to implement separate STEM lessons throughout the timetable.  This allows STEM teachers to run whole school STEM programs as they can identify what units each year are working on and how they connect to the next year. This allows students to develop problem solving skills that continue to develop throughout their schooling.  
  3. Integrating STEM into your classroom – if you have teachers that have been given the tools and confidence to implement STEM in their classroom then there are many opportunities to use it within other Key Learning Areas (KLAs). Incorporating the correct terminology into your classroom is a great first step in integrating STEM into your classroom.  Using a drone picture as narrative writing inspiration provides students with a different perspective.  

Addressing Gender Bias

Less than 5% of drone pilots in Australia are female.  It has grown, but not by much.  Why is this so?  One conclusion is that gender bias happens throughout the community, including school via students and teachers.   Here are a couple of prompts for you to think about:

  • Do you think about the language used when incorporating STEM into your teaching? e.g. The use of the word “guys” can become students or pilots, when flying drones.
  • Do you support all genders equally or is there extra support that needs to be given to certain groups of students? 
  • Do you call on all students in your class when having discussions or do you unconsciously lean towards certain students because of the topic? 
  • Do you provide a safe and encouraging environment where all students have the opportunity to see what they are capable of in STEM? 

Here are some great resources with practical ideas that can help you create an inclusive learning environment.

  • Classroom strategies for inclusive learning environments – Watch here
  • Eliminating Unconscious Bias in the Classroom Download here
  • The GiST Girls in STEM Toolkit – Seven principles for inclusive STEM education Download here
primary kids drones
Primary kids flying drones at a She Maps Program

The primary classroom can seem a little scary when it comes to including STEM in your curriculum. We highly recommend that you start by engaging with your students to ascertain when it comes to STEM, what they are really passionate about? Space? Drones? Electricity? Engineering?   Then you can determine what support, professional learning, and teaching resources will be required to ensure both your teachers and students fall in love with a STEM based approach to learning.  

About She Maps.

She Maps is Australia’s leading expert in drone and geospatial education. 

She Maps assist schools with the purchasing of drones, school-industry created drone and geospatial teaching resources and highly supportive teacher professional development.

You’re in Safe Hands!
She Maps is a CASA approved commercial operator to fly microdrones indoors with students and teachers. CASA holds commercial operators, to a higher standard than recreational users and educators. This means that She Maps has been assessed by CASA as having rigorous training and risk mitigation procedures in place.

Ready to buy drones for your school? We are an authorised DJI reseller in Australia

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