pauline roberts steam

Middle School STEAM: 5 Ways to Amp it Up!

Exciting STEAM projects can ignite and excite any middle school. Today, Pauline Roberts gives us five important ingredients for amping up STEAM in middle school.

Middle School Science teachers should get the FREE Xplorlabs Fire Forensics kit.Solve a mystery. Meet Next Generation Science Standards. Have fun!

Go to today to get your Free Fire Forensics Kit.

fire forensics kit middle school stem

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript

Middle School STEAM: 5 Ways to Amp it Up!

Vicki: Today we’re talking with my friend, Pauline Roberts @Pr05bps. She’s an Instructional Specialist in Michigan, working with grades 3 – 8.

But Pauline, today you have for us five ways to amp up STEM in middle school.

What’s our first way?

Pauline: I think the first thing to consider is how you can collaborate with your science, engineering or math teaching colleagues.

Tip 1: Connect and Collaborate

At the middle school level, teachers tend to become more isolated as content experts, and in order to make your STEM activities more powerful and engaging, I would highly recommend that you connect in any way possible with those expert colleagues.

Explore the curriculum, look for natural connections, plan together, develop a common language and rubrics together. Try and observe each other teach, and use those opportunities to team teach.

Taking the time to develop a coherent approach to STEM in your building will help to develop STEM experiences for students and have a much greater impact on learning.

Vicki: Absolutely. And you know, change and innovation is all about relationships, isn't it?

Pauline: Absolutely. Yes.

Vicki: OK, what’s our second, Pauline?

Pauline: I think the second thing to do is to provide an authentic, real-world context for your STEM projects by challenging students to generate creative solutions to real-world problems.

Tip 2: Provide an Authentic Context

The level of enthusiasm and engagement just soars as students learn to ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences… and to describe or explain and articulate their thoughts about the world around them.

In the process of solving real-world authentic problems, they begin to see themselves as true innovators who can make a positive difference in the world.

Vicki: I love that! Do you have any examples for us of something you’ve done at your school?

Pauline: Oh, we’ve got lots of real-world problems going on at the moment in my building.

We have fifth and sixth-grade students in a middle school setting who are working on how to save the bees.

They’ve learned all about the science behind the bee population, the reasons why it could possibly be declining, and they’ve contacted local experts.

They’ve worked very diligently to build their own beehives offsite, and they collect data and manage that data to try and learn how they can help save bees and spread what they’ve learned to the wider community.

Vicki: Oh, how exciting! I’ll bet they love it!

Pauline: They do! They love going out there in their full beehive outfits and then harvesting honey. They harvest the honey, and they sell that honey within the local community as part of an educational process and to raise funds to fund things they need to continue the project.

Vicki: Wow, We could just go forever on that one. (laughs)

Pauline: I know. (laughs)

Vicki: OK, what’s our third?

Pauline: I kind of just touched base on that. I would just say tap into experts within your community.

Tip 3: Tap into Experts within your Community

We frequently survey our community members about their careers and their passions in order to include them in the learning process. We often have family members come into the classroom to present or work alongside students as they work on their projects.

We look at local businesses or organizations who have expertise in a subject area that we need. We can go visit them onsite to gather knowledge firsthand, or for experts who are further afield, we interview them by phone or by video conferencing.

Connecting students with experts in the field really increases their level of understanding and results in deeper thinking for them.

Vicki: Awesome. Can you think of a recent expert that your students connected with?

Pauline: Oh, we have students in our fourth-grade classrooms who have been working on hydroponic gardening. They had a local expert called Pauline who is a 70-year-old hydroponic expert in our community.

She brought her hydroponic garden to our school and taught the students about how she manages it, how she increases the productivity, how to make sure it runs and functions smoothly, and the things that she does with her harvest afterward.

So she was an amazing expert for our students to learn from.

Vicki: Incredible. OK, what’s our fourth?

Pauline: Oh, I would say teach skills, not just content.

Tip 4: Teach Skills, Not Just Content

If you want students to collaborate, you really need to spend time explicitly teaching them how to communicate, how to be politely critical, how to reach consensus, how to ask questions and synthesize information.

If we want them to learn about high productivity, we need to provide them with challenges and deadlines and teach students the skills they need to hit those deadlines.

I would ask students to conduct a personal skills inventory and ask them to use those inventories to determine who will play specific roles in a team project.

For example, who would be the best project manager? Who would be the best lead engineer or technology manager, etc?

The STEM classroom can often be a noisy and chaotic environment, and by teaching students the skills and asking them to assume specific roles, we empower them to manage themselves.

Vicki: Oh, where did you get your personal skills inventory?

Pauline: We just created it at school. It’s basically just a list of skills broken down by what digital skills have you got, what organizational skills have you got?

Students kind of check on a continuum, on a scale of 1 – 5:

  • I have great organizational skills.
  • I have great communication skills.
  • I am a great problem solver with technology.
  • I spend a lot of time with technology.

And they use these personal skills inventories to kind of struggle amongst themselves when they’re allocated to a team. They kind of interview each other, based on those personal skills inventories to determine who will get each role in the team.

At the end of a project, they will sit and reflect upon those skills and see in which areas they grew, which areas they still need to work on, and use this information to keep improving on becoming a better team member.

Vicki: Fantastic. What’s our fifth?

Pauline: I would say teach empathy.

Tip 5: Teach Empathy

If we want students to generate solutions to problems, we need them to be able to walk in the shoes of others, in order to fully understand the problem and to develop effective solutions.

I would take time to develop empathetic habits, like cultivating curiosity about others, encouraging kindness. I would teach students about emotions and how to manage them and teach active listening skills. By providing opportunities that help students to become other-focused, then they can become the caring, responsible, global citizens that we want them to be.

Vicki: Oh, that is challenging!

Pauline, as we finish up, can you give us an activity or something you’ve encouraged teachers to do to help build empathy?

Pauline: One of the key skills of empathy, one of the first skills that is outlined by Michele Borba in her book, Unselfie, is to recognize and name emotions.

So we created various quizzes for students, depending on grade level from third through eighth. We created quick quizzes and activities for students to be able to look at images.

So, for example, in third grade, we used different emoticons and asked students to name the emotion that’s portrayed by the emoji.

And all the way through to eighth grade, we showed students photos of just eyes of people and asked them to name the emotion that they thought the picture of the eyes was conveying.

Just by being able to name emotions and accurately be able to give it an actual name, students are way more able to manage their own emotions.

Vicki: This actually hits home a very important topic. A lot of people don’t discuss, which is Non-Verbal Learning Disorders.

I have personal experiences with this. With a child with a Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, one of the things that you teach them is how to recognize emotions. Sometimes they can’t recognize emotions, and it can easily make them a target for both bullying, as well as just feeling misunderstood because they are also giving out mixed signals.

I love that you’re doing that, Pauline. That’s fantastic!

Pauline: Thank you.

Vicki: So teachers, we have five excellent ways to amp up STEM in the middle school.

I love how empathy and some of these things that are in here are not necessarily what some people would call STEM, but they’re a very important part of what we do in STEM.

Please check the Shownotes for all of the links and the resources that we will be sharing, as well as how to connect with Pauline Roberts. She’s a fantastic go-to.

I have no idea, Pauline, how long you and I have known or followed each other’s work, but it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Pauline: It has. And I learn from you every day. Thank you, Vicki,

Vicki: Oh, you’re so sweet. It’s just nice to connect. You know, we all have friends that we kind of connect with, and Pauline is one of those for me.

So let’s amp up STEM in middle school, and I think we can also apply this to other grade levels.


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Pauline Roberts – Bio as submitted

Pauline Roberts is originally from Liverpool, England and has been an educator for nearly three decades. She is currently an Instructional Specialist in Birmingham Public Schools, Michigan.

Twitter: @Pr05bps

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

Never Miss a Podcast Episode

Subscribe to get our podcast episodes by email.

Powered by ConvertKit
Picture of Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

All Posts »

Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Cool Cat Teacher Blog
Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere