How to Teach STEM Remotely: Guide for Teachers


The over-arching aim of any sound educational system is to prepare the next generation to succeed in life. The key to this is to teach students how to think critically and solve problems. STEM subjects, if taught effectively, will prepare students for life’s challenges, regardless of their career choices. Such education helps students persevere through tough times and recognize and take advantage of opportunities regardless of when and where they appear. 

The key to effective remote STEM teaching is to keep your audience engaged, through online educational resources and teaching aids, and in a well-planned, structured learning environment.

How to Teach STEM Remote

Teaching science, technology, engineering, and math content online should be relatively straightforward, but thoroughly engaging students in authentic distance learning require more than simply relaying information.  This is especially true of STEM curriculum, where there is an emphasis of hands on learning.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Education

The presentation or teaching of course syllabus or syllabi via the cloud, using the internet and hardware devices such as computers, tablets, or laptops, has seen a massive uptake in recent years, precipitated and accelerated massively due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the forced closure of in-person school learning. 

Considering that around 1.2 billion children in 186 countries worldwide have been affected by school closures due to the 2020 pandemic,  the education sector (like most businesses) was dramatically affected and had to respond and adapt to the new challenges prevented by lockdowns, shelter in place orders, and facility closures.

COVID forced rapid progress around telecommuting as workforces around the world shifted to a remote model.  This spawned an increase in the market for cloud-based web video conferencing applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet.

While online learning has been an option offered by many colleges and universities, it was suddenly propelled into the spotlight as the default delivery model.  Those advances (and lessons learned) helped refine remote education, and it continues to evolve.

Remote teaching allows students to learn from any location and for parents to engage with and support their children’s learning process. It allows students the opportunity to learn more independently.

Fundamentals of STEM Teaching (online)

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and refers to many subjects that fall under these four disciplines.   STEM education emphasizes collaboration, communication, research, problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity, skills that students need to succeed in today’s world regardless of specific interests or future career goals.

Related Post: Learn more in our post What is STEM in Education?

One of the elementary requirements of teaching STEM is the need for students to work collaboratively in groups to solve problems. Distance learning can present a challenge.

Considering that critical thinking in particular as an approach to learning is essential for STEM students, it can present itself as an advantage, forcing learners to think and develop creative solutions for their projects.

For example, teaching materials used in an in-class environment are usually provided by the teacher or learning institution. This standardized approach means that every student gets the same ration of paper, string, measuring cup, ruler, or whichever material is required for an experiment without improvising.

In a virtual teaching class, a STEM teacher could ask students to find any suitable materials around the home without resorting to a trip to the supermarket.  Having the students source their own supplies stimulates creativity and also inhibits the tendency of students from copying each other’s work.

The lack of control and direction the teacher would otherwise provide in a physical classroom environment helps produce some wonderfully creative designs by the students who are free to explore their imaginations.

Engineering projects usually require a technical journal to show the planning steps or as a visual representation of the project or experiment that is being presented.  Incorporating the art of digital sketching can help students design using online tools. 

By using sketching tools or presentation apps such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides, students can graphically design, share, or present their ideas and STEM assignments.

Making and sharing videos of the experiments (as well as responses and feedback) is another excellent way to enhance the learning process..

Challenges of Online Learning

Remote learning technology has been a feature of many education systems in the most developed world since the advent of the internet. With ever-increasing access to fast, reliable broadband, both learners and educators have had to upskill their knowledge base to comply with the evolution of internet-based teaching methods and technologies.

The single biggest impediment to online learning is access to reliable internet. The inability to access the internet pushes access to many essential services, including education, out of reach for many Americans. Often, this compounds other inequalities and limits career prospects further down the line.

Access to technology – computers, tablets, etc., can be another hurdle for low income families.  One study shows students from underprivileged backgrounds in the US account for about 25% of 15-year-olds, who may not have access to a computer, which is an issue for schools districts that do not issue laptops or tablets to each student.

Another focus of learning restriction is the household. Kids from single-parent or less privileged neighborhoods usually have less adult supervision than their affluent peers. They often live in smaller houses that can be disruptive or in neighborhoods that can be noisy and chaotic, potentially negatively impacting learning outcomes.

Online learning effectiveness also varies amongst age groups. The consensus on children, especially younger ones, is that a structured environment is critical. Students, especially younger ones, are prone to being easily distracted. They tend to display short attention spans and require constant entertaining engagement to keep them focused and on track.  

They are also less autonomous, less inclined to work effectively in group projects. It is a bit like babysitting, in varying degrees and depending on their ages.  Learning from home in an online conference can be especially challenging.

In a physical classroom locale, teachers can constantly monitor the learners and adjust the learning pace to accommodate anyone falling behind and needing a little extra time. In an online learning environment, it’s less noticeable and hence more challenging to do so.

Seeing it’s not easy to detect body language virtually, students may remain silent not to stand out and feel as if they’re being judged – or just turn off their camera. They then leave the class feeling discouraged and frustrated and eventually can lose motivation to learn.

How can we break down these barriers and make sure we’re reaching students at least as effectively as in a classroom setting?  Let’s explore some ideas for effective distance learning:

Effective Remote Student Engagement

Teachers need to be very clear that they cannot always stay on track with learner participation and engagement. A good teacher must encourage the students to raise concerns without feeling as if they’re being judged by the teacher or the other students, whether during the class, through email, or any form of communication. 

Sharing of contact information for follow-up queries and private correspondence should be encouraged.

The key to thoroughly engaging students is to make the learning process fun and interesting.

The following online teaching practices are helpful teaching proficiencies that can form the basis of a nurturing, successful learning experience.  While we’re taking a perspective of remote teaching of STEM topics, these can apply to remote lessons in general.

  1. Have faith in your students: Create expectations. Set the bar high from the start. They will be far more eager to succeed if they feel they are being challenged. You will need to be creative and develop challenging tasks.

    Nurture their interest: Don’t spoon-feed them. Let them search for solutions and answers. If they don’t get to employ their critical thinking capabilities, you’ll soon lose their focus.
  2. Use learning aids: Online resources and learning material will help provide the hands-on tools needed for problem-solving. Prepare them for their future careers with good habits by teaching them how to search for the answers they are looking for.
  3. Failure is learning, too: Accept mistakes and incorrect results as a learning curve. With every failed attempt, the correct one is closer. All scientists and engineers sometimes make monumental errors in judgment. The key is to learn from them and move on.

    Related Post: Is it Okay to Fail?
  4. Be inspiring and feel inspired: Being an enthusiastic role model for your students will draw positive results. Employ humor where applicable, be playful. Your students will look forward to the lessons if you are passionate and fun.
  5. Be flexible: STEM subjects sometimes require prolonged, deeper focus, particularly in more challenging areas or where your particular class of students find themselves struggling. Be patient, and learn to deviate from your timetable to help keep the curriculum on track. This approach will transfer to your students and prepare them for the flexibility required to deal with havoc in the real working world.
  6. Pay attention: The key to effective learning is communication. Listen attentively to your students and pay attention to their responses which will guide you in the art of teaching. Do not dictate, facilitate.
  7. Embrace technology: Explore the world of digital tools and online learning technology and employ them in your classroom. You are imparting knowledge to the next generation of technocrats. Speak to them in a language they understand.
  8. Collaborate with your peers: Work with colleagues and the professional learning community to develop new methods for your classroom strategy. This will help you learn more about the STEM content you are teaching and keep you up to date and prepared for lessons.

9 Strategies For Effective Remote Teaching

In the absence of in-person learning, successful online teaching relies on well-formed instructional design. Teachers are compelled to provide authentic and effective learning experiences using the technologies available to them.

Here are a few formulated strategies that can be deployed to facilitate an engaging, inclusive, and rigorous learning experience:

1.     Create An Effective Digital Classroom

The foundation of an effective remote teaching plan is a well-organized digital classroom. An uncluttered, easy-to-navigate learning management system is possible using platforms such a Schoology, Canvas, or Google Classroom. (Granted, the LMS has most likely been already chosen by the school. It’s worth the effort to learn how to make the most out of what the system offers.)

A well-structured digital space is a meeting place for students to post queries, engage with their teachers or each other, and find their assignments, materials lists, and receive their announcements or instructions.

Individualized class websites can be created with programs like Weebly, Wix, or New Google Sites. Teachers can fully customize the visitor’s experience using these more functional tools than using only Google Classroom.

Google Sites synchronizes automatically with all Google applications, so calendars, documents, lessons, and assignments are easily accessible. Teachers are also able to publish and share student projects for others to view.

2.     Synchronous Teaching Using Video Conferencing

An effective distance learning experience is hugely benefitted by using video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet.

The learning process is far more interactive in a live video environment and allows students to engage better interactively. Teachers can immediately and effectively review, revise and reteach learning content or assignments and address any questions that may arise. It’s also a more effective method of getting feedback on student understanding of key concepts.

The teacher can include interactive plugins such as Google Jamboard, Padlet, Nearpod, or Pear Deck to liven lessons up and ensure that learners are fully engaged.

3.     Supplement Instruction With Pre-Recorded Video Tutorials

Pre-Recorded tutorials are better suited for students who may need to work at their own pace and with the ability to rewind and replay content whenever they need to.

The limitation with live video calls is that sometimes a teacher may lose a student without knowing it. The student then tries to play catch up while falling further behind. Apps such as Screencastify and Loom are useful for generating pre-recorded tutorial videos.

Recoding live class sessions and making the recordings available for replay will also help students, as they can review concepts or discussions as many times as they need.

4.     Use Hyperdocs To Refer To Additional Resources

As with pre-recorded tutorials, using Hyperdocs is an effective method of giving students the time and space to review and replay lesson content at their own pace. Lessons are packaged in a project-based format.

A Hyperdoc is an electronic document with hyperlinked text that redirects learners to online content such as open-source external websites or additional resources free of charge.

These personalized, project-based resources are valuable, particularly in STEM teaching, as they align with the 4Cs learning plan (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity).

5.     Make Student Thinking Visible

A salient challenge of remote learning is the general absence of visual cues between participants. A teacher cannot direct the learning process effectively without face-to-face interaction with the students.

There are visibility platforms available such as Nearpod and Pear Deck, that help supplement personalized learning platforms. Using Seesaw, students can annotate their work to display the step-by-step process of resolving a problem. Padlet is an online bulletin board that provides real-time feedback for their submissions.

STEM, in particular, math teachers can use a free interactive Google Jamboard whiteboard to create notebooks and facilitate live lessons. Edpuzzle has a content library where teachers can set up a Q&A puzzle that learners need to pass to get to the next level.

Making the most of the tools available will help engage students.

6.     Enhance Learning Experiences With Creativity Apps

Make use of available technological advancements to allow students to showcase their newly learned skills. There are numerous media that students can use, such as digital books and comics, podcasts, coding, videos, or webpages instead of the old paper-based worksheets or tests traditionally in use.

The more immersive and interesting the project-based learning, the more engaged the students will be. Allow them to use digital tools that they are familiar with outside the learning environment.

7.     Publish Completed Work To Cultivate Class Cooperation

Allowing students to display their work fosters a sense of achievement and increases their confidence. Platforms such as Google Sites and Seesaw allow students to showcase their projects and stimulate ideas through a peer-review process.

Our son used SeeSaw in kindergarten during school closures, and leaving comments on classmate’s work was often part of the assignment.  He loves seeing what his peers have done, and loves getting comments on his assignments, whether in a (physical) classroom or online.

When he returned to in person instruction in first grade, he immediately bonded with his friends he recognized from his online experience.

Through the feedback loop created by their peers, published work facilitates their understanding of the content and helps make them feel that their hard work is appreciated and matters.

8.     Provide Continuous And Meaningful Feedback

Providing effective critical feedback in a remote learning environment can be challenging and time-consuming. It takes effort to select which assignments require feedback and to engage with students on an individual basis.

It is also important that the feedback is given in a timely fashion. Otherwise, it can potentially lose its intended effect. Use the tools available to you, such as the Google Classroom comment bank, to post feedback messages to a class of students and try Nearpod, Newsela, Actively Learn, or Google Forms to automatically grade submitted tasks.

For verbal feedback, use one of the video platforms to post video or audio responses.

9.      Engage With Students’ Families

Posting the lessons, assignments, and tutorials online can increase transparency. It can be more engaging and effective for communication between parents, students, and teachers than making phone calls or sending texts.

Invite parents or guardians to the digital classrooms to stay informed about their children’s learning progress. Seesaw allows notifications to be sent to parents when the students receive new assignments.

Teachers can also create surveys in Google Forms to receive feedback from parents and use Zoom or Teams for a quick video chat.

Online Platforms and Remote Teaching Aids

The key is to build a solid foundation in core STEM principles that equips learners with the skills required to handle higher education demands and open them to a wide choice of career opportunities. Teachers can provide that enhanced foundation through comprehensive structured lesson plans and memorable, fun activities with additional resources.

Google Classroom

Use teaching aids such as Google Classroom to lay out the assignment unit objectives in a linear, chronological sequence, including the expected outcomes and the dates for the deadlines. These aids will provide the students with a structured format for their learning objectives and help them gauge their progress as they proceed with the workload

WebQuests

WebQuests is an excellent online resource that uses the constructivist approach to learning. One of the shortcomings, especially with internet information gathering, is that students may feel they are just memorizing and regurgitating facts and information from the internet to get good grades and not necessarily learn or retain knowledge.

WebQuests requires using imagination and problem solving to complete a given task. The answers are not predefined and require effort to be discovered or created. This helps to nurture the skills not only for learning but will also help the students become creative thinkers and problem solvers and help make them valuable members of the workforce in their future careers.

CK-12

CK-12 is an online platform for teachers and students that provides enhanced information on a range of STEM disciplines. Teachers have access to math principles from elementary to calculus. Science topics include physics, chemistry, and biology.

CK-12’s Flexbook feature allows educators to customize lesson plans based on textbook chapters. The content is free and follows state education guidelines. It aims to provide a platform for teachers to create individual lessons helping students to determine their own pace.

NASA’s Educational Resources

There’s no denying that NASA set the gold standard for science education. NASA Educational Resources provides online science publications, videos, links to websites, and even lesson plans for traditional sciences. It includes Space Science and technologies, Physics, and Earth Sciences.

Technology and Math are also available. Grade levels from kindergarten to college are supported. For younger hands-on learners, some educational games kids incorporate core STEM concepts.

Unique opportunities allow teachers and students to involve themselves with NASA projects and new scientific developments.

National Science Foundation

The National Foundation’s website publishes all the latest science news and research. Additional classroom lessons, multimedia tools, and websites that support a broad spectrum of STEM learning. Subjects include math, physics, engineering, chemistry, biology, and astronomy.

Numerous web links to TV programs, documentaries, radio shows, and museum exhibits help kids learn the complex subject matter.

Lesson Planet

Subject to a small monthly subscription fee, prepared lesson plans and educational applications are available for teachers to enhance classroom sessions.

The entire content available on Lesson Planet is constantly reviewed and approved by a team of certified professional teachers who ensure that it meets core requirements as set by state education guidelines and standards.

There’s a comprehensive resource directory for science and math built-in that facilitates the planning of STEM lessons to make them easier to follow.

In addition, EdTech PD for educators are courses that help explain the benefits derived from integrating technology into the classroom environment. There’s an online support group that helps teachers share information and teaching ideas.

Wrap Up – STEM Education and Remote Learning

STEM subjects encompass four areas of learning that share standard practices and skills required for academic success. Several specific resources are available on the web for STEM educators to engage more comprehensively and excitingly with students at every level online.

Studies have shown that remote learning and online STEM courses are as comprehensive and effective as learning in traditional in-class settings. Whether we see remote education as supplemental to in person instruction or an online alternative, remote instruction has proved effective and is here to stay.  With recent advances and general acceptance of online meetings, conferencing, and collaborating platforms distance learning will be a valuable tool and method of instruction.

hevanmiller

H. Evan Miller is as dedicated to fatherhood as he is to life long learning. Musician, Photographer, Educator, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Blogger, and founder of STEMtropolis, where you can share his adventures in STEM and STEAM with his family.

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