There has been a growing movement throughout schools to turn their old-fashioned computer labs or seldom-used shop rooms into STEM labs. While the decision is an individual one from school-to-school, it is worth thinking about. STEM education focuses on promoting creativity and exploration in the learning process.
As Douglas Ferguson explains in Transforming Computer Labs into STEM (&M) Labs, “Many schools have a space dedicated just to technology referred to as the computer lab or something similar along those lines. Why not expand the purpose of this space to include other relevant aspects of science, technology, engineering, and math? What there needs to be is a set of tools and space that allows students to better integrate and apply the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math.“
These new learning environments, sometimes a transformed library space or computer room, can be redesigned to include new levels of learning such as the STEM and STEAM programs. These new spaces go by many names — Innovation Labs, IDEA Labs, MakerSpace, FabLabs, weCreate Centers, Learning Commons, etc. The names may differ, but they all serve the same purpose — to revolutionize the teaching of subject areas such as mathematics and science by incorporating technology and engineering into a regular curriculum.
The mere thought of turning a beloved computer lab or art room into a modern-day STEM lab could be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. These days computer labs are being combined with other creative sciences to make one complete STEM classroom.
STEM labs are not for only one subject: They combine the world of computers with the worlds of discovery and experiment in Science, Math, Technology and Engineering. They provide hands-on discovery experiences the regular classroom cannot. Labs often are held during open study periods or before or after school, allowing the seating section to be used for other educational needs.
According to Dr. Patricia Fioriello (Critical Issues in K12 Education), “All students benefit from the STEM program because it teaches independent innovation and allows students to explore greater depths of all of the subjects by utilizing the skills learned; these skills are going to be required in order for today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders.“
How do you start a STEM lab?
You need to get together with other teachers, board members, and parents to get input on how to not only introduce STEM to the classroom, but how to expand the concepts of STEM and STEAM into your daily routine. Search online for starting and implementing a STEM program. Some educational outlets have ideas, plans, publications, and leads on what it takes to start a STEM curriculum. You can incorporate the computer lab into your STEM lab as well. No need to totally disregard what the room is designed for — you can always split the room’s usage or incorporate them into your own classes.
There are a number of articles reflecting the how-to-start basics of STEM classes. Stem Education in the Elementary Classroom and Starting Our STEM Lab are cases of teachers integrating STEM into their classrooms. Once you get your rooms converted, Nasco has a great selection of STEM kits that support your curriculum. We also carry kits and products that support all subjects, including Science, Art, and Math.
Converting a computer lab into a STEM/STEAM lab may not be foremost in your mind, but your students will benefit from your taking them out of the classroom dimension and into the exploratory world of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. And according to John Engler, contributing writer to U.S. News, “We need STEM-related talent to compete globally, and we will need even more in the future. It is not a matter of choice: For the United States to remain the global innovation leader, we must make the most of all of the potential STEM talent this country has to offer.”