Focusing on Student Management in the STEM Classroom

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This past Monday, our program assistant Ben traveled from our offices in Dover, NH, a mere .6 miles over to St. Mary Academy. Ben visited two 2nd grade classes and taught a brand-new lesson, entitled “It’s Cloudy!” The lesson teaches students how clouds form, and asks them to use their powers of observation to see differences between clouds and identify different types of cloud formations. The 2nd graders were enthusiastic to learn and acted as good scientists.

For an instructor at Cody Outdoor Classroom, teaching a lesson that has never been taught before can be intimidating, but it is also a chance to learn and quickly apply new thoughts and ideas.  We caught up with Ben and asked him about what it’s like to pilot a lesson.

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OC:  What is it like to write and teach a brand-new lesson?
Ben:  It’s extremely exciting!  It’s always fun to get new content out there. Having not taught a particular lesson, it’s hard to know how different student groups are going to react. Students are different from school to school and class to class. It is extremely important to work hard to create a great plan so that I can gauge the ability and engagement levels of the students in the moment. It was nice to be able to teach this program twice in a row, as I could make changes after the first lesson and apply them to the second. These two student groups were wonderful to have as the “test run,” and they enabled me to deliver the best possible lesson.

OC: What tips and tricks do you have for ensuring that a lesson goes well the first time you teach it?
Ben:  Focusing on student management and structuring the space.  Before every lesson I address behavior expectations, ensuring that students raise their hands, are respectful, and know how I am going get their attention (“If you can hear me clap once…”).  I also make sure that my space is structured the way I want it. In this case, I had room for all my students to sit on the floor in a circle. By having them in a circle, I can ensure that all eyes are on me and that everyone has enough space to see and perform the experiments.  While having good student-management is important always when teaching, it is especially helpful when teaching a new lesson, in the case that changes need to be made quickly, or if the instructor has to glance at their notes for a second.

Management Tip:  The Magic Word

Giving instructions to students is an everyday part of a teacher’s job.  However, using a magic word is a simple trick that ensures every student hears and understands the instructions.

  1. Gain the students' attention.

  2. Tell them you are about to give instructions.  However, they may not begin moving until you say the magic word, which is “____.”  The magic word is any word you choose.

  3. Give the instructions, ensuring that no one is moving during that time.

  4. Ask 1-2 students to repeat the instructions back you to.

  5. Say the magic word, releasing the students to perform the instructions.