STEM Classroom Setup Ideas for Teachers

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

STEM education is extremely important today, and teachers in the STEM fields play an important role in preparing students for the future. This lesson looks at some of the crucial aspects of setting up a classroom for STEM learning.

Why Classroom Setup Matters

Ms. Folks has been teaching high school chemistry for over a decade, and over the years, she has come to understand the deep importance of how a classroom is arranged. Teachers of all age groups, Ms. Folks knows, must attend to both the aesthetic and the utilitarian aspects of their classroom design if they are going to keep students engaged and successful as learners. To pay attention to the aesthetic, Ms. Folks explains, means to think about what makes a classroom attractive, neat, visually stimulating, as well as safe and appealing, for students. Focusing on the utilitarian means thinking about how a classroom can be designed so that students can learn and move in practical, useful and meaningful ways. In STEM classrooms in particular, Ms. Folks thinks that setup plays a crucial role in ensuring that all students participate, learn actively, and feel comfortable experimenting and asking questions. Here, Ms. Folks shares some of the principles she considers most important in setting up a STEM classroom.

Collaborative Groups

Ms. Folks thinks that learning in the STEM education fields happens best when students work collaboratively with one another as well as with the teacher. Therefore, she always designs her classroom to allow for collaborative groups. Rather than individual desks, Ms. Folks focuses on large tables or clusters of chairs where students can work together and have involved conversations. She leaves open space in the front of the room where groups can convene for meetings without making enough noise to bother other learners.

Collaborative work happens best when students can sit in clusters and move around as needed.

Room for Flexibility

Ms. Folks also believes that students need to be able to maneuver freely around the room and be flexible in where they are working. She leaves big aisles between her shelves so that students can move around safely and have easy access to manipulatives and materials. Ms. Folks also thinks flexibility is important in the sense that a student may spend part of a class period working at a desk, and part of the period observing or experimenting at a lab table. She therefore divides the room into two or three segments that reflect the different modalities she anticipates students needing. Finally, Ms. Folks allows for flexibility in the sense that she sometimes rearranges her classroom, and the materials in it, to reflect a particular unit of study or the needs of her students at different times of year.

Visual Supports

Ms. Folks likes her students to be as independent of her as possible. She fills her walls with visual supports that help students remember key concepts and formulae so that they only have to ask when necessary. She and her students construct helpful diagrams, charts and posters together and keep them on prominent display in the classroom.

Ms. Folks also tries to be mindful, though, of minimizing visual traffic so that students who are easily over-stimulated or distracted don't have too much to look at. Providing just the right amount of visual support to meet her STEM learners' needs is a balancing act Ms. Folks continues to work on over the course of each school year.

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