Infusing SEL into your STEM Programming

SEL in Science Technology Engineering Math Challenges

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and S.E.L (social-emotional learning) go harmoniously like PB and J. By using the two to drive our pedagogical practice, we can level up our teaching decisions by asking, “So what- now what?”.

This mindset shift helps us focus less on theory and more on hands-on, meaningful learning opportunities to foster forward-thinking, empathetic change-makers.

In other words, we are providing deep and meaningful opportunities to create, build & imagine with the added motivation of practicing relationship-building and random acts of kindness.

What could be sweeter?

Here are 3 guidelines to infusing STEM + SEL into your programs:

  1. Don't be Afraid to Release Control

STEM Activities for Kids Teachers Pay Teachers

How tempting it is to fit a STEM challenge directly into the constraints of what we are currently studying in Math & Science!

Our limiting thoughts around doing otherwise might include: 

“But I don’t have time.”

“What’s the point if I don’t pull directly from the curriculum?”.

I’m here to invite you to step back and trust the process

When I first started doing STEM challenges every Friday, they began with questions such as:

“Make a bed for Super Monkey (our class mascot) that has a perimeter of ___cm.”

“Make a machine that has a lever and a pulley in it.”

Hit curricular targets? Check (without much opportunity to go above and beyond).

Transferable knowledge? More or less. 

Engagement? Hit and miss.

There is nothing wrong with having more focused questions, but it is certainly worth trying to provide more open-ended questions as well! I went to a PD on effective questioning and came out a little more motivated and trustful to step back and open a question up for interpretation, to use different vocabulary and to release some responsibility. 

“How could you solve a problem using simple machines?”
“How could you build a structure that can help someone?”

It turns out we were STILL able to gather powerful curricular data that organically connect to curricular expectations.

For example, one group of learning buddies created a device that had a lever and a pulley system to remove garbage from our oceans. Without having any input, the students were, not only able to hit 1 Science target (Simple Machines), but two (+ Air and Water)! This also led to discussions surrounding accountability and responsibility as planet-loving citizens.

And what’s more? Pages and pages of anecdotal notes that I transcribed directly onto the report cards from the buzz that came with ownership of creating their own learning path, based on their needs or of those around them.

Don't forget to provide choice in materials as well.
  1. Open the Floor to Student-Driven Discussions

STEM and Social Emotional Learning in the K-3 Classroom

We know the power of consolidation after a project is completed (mapping out what worked, what didn’t, how we would improve for next time, etc.).

The beauty of tackling STEM challenges + SEL  is that the pre-talk organically brings to light how we as a class are handling social situations. For example, if our provocation is, “How could we solve a problem for someone?”, conversation may arise about a neighbor who relies on crutches to get around, or a friend who may have a sensory disorder who gets overwhelmed with loud noises. These are the lessons they remember.

  1. Keep it Up

STEM in Primary Classrooms

Consistency is the key to progress. In my class, we had a STEM/ Empathy challenge each week.

The students would have both assigned periods of time throughout the week and free periods to work collaboratively on their challenges. 

Each Friday afternoon, we would present our inventions/ masterpieces and then spend time discussing the process.

Here are just some of the benefits of making STEM + Empathy a weekly routine in our classroom:

  • Conversations deepened
  • The focus became less scattered and more focused
  • A complete 360 when it came to growth mindset (mistakes became opportunities instead of setbacks = less whining and more winning in primary!)
  • Improvement in time management and problem-solving skills (they learned to make the best use of the material they had, to share and to stay on topic because they knew they wouldn't get extra time for off-topic discusssions)
  • Self-regulation sky-rocketed and I was no longer asked what they could work on when they were done with their work

We all had a common goal, understood the expectations and thrived.

If this sounds like a system that you would like to begin with your classroom, I have a few products that may help:

Free STEMPathy Challenge Sample

STEM Empathy Activity for Kids

Early Finishers

These challenges are a little less open-ended and were created for those students who need more structure. They target specific SEL goals, such as self-regulation, mindfulness and self-esteem.

STEM SEL Challenges for Primary Students in Kindergarten First Grade Second Grade 

Early Finisher SEL Activities on Teachers Pay Teachers

 Do you do STEM with your students/ children?

Tell me about what has worked for you in the comments!

  Lots of love,

       Namaste in School

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