When a new teacher steps into the classroom for the first time, they are a bundle of nerves. After all those long hours of lesson planning, there are still many open-ended questions: Will they remember to include everything in the lesson? Will the students find it interesting?
But for many teachers, the main concerns revolve not around the actual instruction but managing the classroom itself. A roomful of kids, no matter what age, can get overwhelming quickly. That's why employing effective classroom management strategies in the classroom is vital.
Why Classroom Management is Important in STEM
STEM curricula include many opportunities to hone social-emotional skills, set and achieve goals, build and maintain relationships, collaborate with others, and improve problem-solving abilities. When STEM and computer science only take place in front of a computer, however, it can be isolating, and the opportunities to learn these important life skills are greatly reduced.
Hands-on STEM education tools, like Sphero robots, make learning the foundations of coding and computer science interactive and engaging for students. In addition, good classroom management strategies when teaching STEM are crucial, as they allow them to think critically, discuss, and reach solutions together.
8 Classroom Management Strategies
Let’s look at some specific strategies and techniques that can help you effectively manage your STEM classroom.
1. Set the Right Tone
Where are you when the kids enter the classroom? Sitting at your desk? Busy writing something on the board? You can set a positive tone by greeting your students at the classroom door. It makes them feel welcome and tells them you’re happy to see them. You could even throw something unexpected at them, like, “Hey, if you could change Hulk’s color, what color would he be?” Or “What would you do if you won $1 million?”
2. Get Started Right Away
Once class is ready to start, dive right in! You could even do this in a dramatic way, like announcing, “Your favorite class of the day is starting…NOW!” This is a fun way to get their attention, and at the same time, you’re subtly letting them know that you’re at the helm and you’re going to steer the ship where it needs to go.
A brief preview at the beginning of class to let the students know what they’ll be discussing that day gets them interested and makes them feel a part of the teaching-learning process.
3. About Rules
Enforcing classroom rules can be tricky. You have to have them, but you also don’t want to be too strict. Some teachers have found it helpful to involve the students in creating classroom rules.
If they either want an unnecessary rule or don’t want a necessary one, leading questions can help them reach the right conclusion and make them feel that it’s their rule, not yours. A good example of this is asking your students how they want “sharing time” to look. If your students agree they all want to feel comfortable sharing their projects and ideas in front of the whole class, collectively you can land on a classroom rule that reinforces how to be respectful of others’ ideas. This will help to create a safe space for sharing and allow creative ideas to flow.
After the rules are decided upon, make sure each student has a copy of them, and post a list somewhere in the classroom. Finally, make sure the rules are applied consistently and fairly.
4. One Mistake Doesn't Have to Derail the Entire Class
If a rule is broken, it’s best to concentrate on correcting the issue with the students involved, not the entire class. This method will address the problem at hand without involving students who didn’t do anything wrong.
And, as a general rule, it’s usually best to address discipline issues privately rather than calling someone out or criticizing them in front of the whole class. Embarrassing a student in front of their peers rarely helps to reinforce good behavior in the long run.
5. Create Groups that Work Well Together
According to Adrienne Emerson, Education Content Manager at Sphero and 13-year STEM educator, “Exploration is what creates learning, but exploration is sometimes hard to manage.” Dividing kids into groups for a project can contribute to unwanted behaviors. For a child to feel comfortable doing something new, they have to feel comfortable with the kids they’re with.
Furthermore, students with low confidence can feel uncomfortable and even intimidated by those with high confidence. Emerson recommends that teachers plan student groups when they plan the lesson in order to form groups that will work well together. This is, of course, based on the teacher’s prior observations of each student in the class.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “I Don’t Know”
“Students assume the teacher should always know everything,” says Emerson, but “I don’t know” can also be a powerful statement. Will something work? “I don’t know. Let’s try it.” If you don’t know the answer to a question? “I don’t know. Let’s see if we can find out.”
Emerson has found that this type of response, over time “creates a student group that feels confident that they can try things without fear, and find answers when they don’t know them.” It engenders a fun, collaborative dynamic in the classroom.
7. Give Heaps of Praise
Acknowledging accomplishments and positive behavior can be much more effective than discipline. But when giving praise, try to focus more attention on the behavior while still acknowledging the student. This not only motivates the student and the rest of the class to repeat the behavior, but it also shows everyone that you’re not just playing favorites; that anyone can get similar praise.
8. Reward With Fun Time
If your boss at work hosted a small party because everyone was doing a good job, it would certainly boost morale. Kids are no different. So if the class as a whole is doing well, schedule some time for them to play and have fun. And tell them that’s the reason why.
Use These Classroom Management Strategies to Be a Good Class Manager
Educators are realizing more and more that effective teaching and classroom management has as much to do with building positive relationships with students as it does with preparing and presenting class material. As a teacher, you’re in charge, and ideally students would always remember that. But balance is needed.
Treating each student with dignity and respect, and involving them as much as possible in the teaching-learning process will go a long way in managing your class and making the educational journey productive, pleasant, and enjoyable for all.