3 Steps to Successfully Launching Your STEM Classroom

Will Rogers once said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Full disclosure here, I honestly thought that quote was from a deodorant commercial. Regardless of origin, even though our students are usually very forgiving, starting the school year off on the right foot goes a long way to creating a fun and successful year for you and your students.

I love going back to school, and just like many of the students, I get nervous the night before. Also, just like many of the students, I can’t stand the boredom of the reading of the rules and procedures of the first days of school. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. We can create lessons for the first days of school that are educational, entertaining, and engaging just like we do for the rest of the year.

We start our STEM year with a launch unit. Three easy steps to LAUNCH a great year.

We can create lessons for the first days of school that are educational, entertaining, and engaging just like we do for the rest of the year.

3…  PREPARE your students with your expectations for the year. 

I start each unit with an interactive reading of a picture book, and the beginning of the year is no different. We are out of our seats,  moving to our reading area, and practicing routines. The books are high interest and fun but also convey our theme for the year. We share examples of failure and perseverance. Some books to consider for starting the year:

  • Rosie Revere, Engineer – Andrew Beaty
  • Jabari Jumps – Gaia Cornwall
  • Salt in His Shoes – Deloris Jordan
  • The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do – Ashley Spires
  • The Most Magnificent Thing – Ashley Spires
  • After the Fall – Dan Santat
books lined up on a countertop

Then, we decide together what our classroom will look, sound, and feel like during the year. Students move around the classroom and respond to prompts about classroom behaviors  on post-it notes. The next class period we look at the answers, group like answers, and determine which answers are most important to our classroom. From there we turn those into our classroom expectations that all of us will follow, Students are up and moving and a part of the process.  We come back to these as needed throughout the school year. It makes my teacher heart happy when students will point to these and remind each other of the expectations without me ever having to say a word.

2…PRACTICE applying your classroom rules and expectations.

At the start of last year, we did some easy and fun science activities with skittles and water, expo markers and water, and learned that things aren’t always what they seem when an egg will float in one glass of water but not the other. This year will be a little different, because during the school year we had occasional struggles using classroom materials appropriately and safely. (How did they not know how to safely carry scissors? Why is there always an extra lid to a glue stick on the floor?) This year, we will be creating  a STEM collage that uses found objects and pictures to show the meaning of STEM. In addition to gaining a better understanding of what our class will be covering, students will learn the location of key items in the classroom, how to acquire supplies, and end of class clean up procedures.

1…PROPEL yourself into the school year. 

Teach students the skills they will need to be successful during the year. One skill we use quite often is sketchnoting. We use time at the beginning of the year to learn (or relearn) this skill. The lessons are fun and interactive. We start with a short video like The Power of Sketchnoting  or Sketchnoting for Students  then move to group instruction by  sketchnoting a popular song. Finally, students sketchnote a picture book (mostly) on their own.  “Champion” by Carrie Underwood and “Mean” by  Taylor Swift are some great songs that are fun to sketchnote together. Any of Brad Meltzer’s I Am books also work well for this activity. This year we will be using his newest,  I Am I. M. Pei. It is wonderfully written and goes along with our themes for the year.  Like the other lessons, there are many benefits to this activity. Students learn to do an important skill, practice working at their seats, and review how to turn in an assignment digitally.

sketch by a student
student journal entry

Developing and implementing a launch unit at the beginning of the year will take time, but the benefits of setting expectations, practicing procedures, getting to know your students, and learning classroom skills at the beginning of the year through high-interest fun activities will more than pay off as you blast off into a successful new school year!

3 STEM Classroom tips


  • Jen Stewart is currently teaching a brand new, project based STEM class at Maxwell Intermediate School. This is her 24th year of teaching. Prior to this year she taught computer science, social studies, and language arts. Jen is a long-time Nearpod PioNear and a level three Nearpod Certified Educator. She is also an Apple Teacher. She has led many PD sessions around the Midwest on using technology to increase student engagement and learning.

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