Over the past decade or so there’s been an increased focus on STEM education in America. There are several reasons for the trend, primary among them a continuing shortage of personnel for technology jobs, as well as the increased popularity of competitive robotics.
Even if students choose not to pursue a career in a technology field, a STEM curriculum teaches important skills like critical thinking, innovation and problem solving, and STEM concepts are now being incorporated into other educational disciplines as diverse as music and languages.
STEM, of course, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Sometimes “arts” is added to the equation, changing the acronym to STEAM. For our purposes, we’ll stick with STEM, because when it comes to classroom design the principles for arts and technological pursuits are very similar.
What are those principles? First, flexibility. A STEM curriculum is not a “sit still at your desk and learn” environment. Considering seating alone, students might need to stand, sit at desks, sit on stools, roll from one place to another on chairs, or flop on a comfy couch to collaborate, all in the same day.
To accommodate all that, both high and low desks/tables are desirable, and they should be able to easily reconfigure for different circumstances. Tables that taper front to back can be used individually or combined in a tight formation for group work (like pizza slices). Surfaces need to be especially durable, also, to stand up to paints and chemicals or the heat of a soldering iron.
Often overlooked in planning educational settings for STEM is the need for storage. STEM is more than just coding and classroom learning; there’s a lot of hands-on work, and projects that may span multiple days or weeks. Just as with art projects, there must be space to safely store this work in between sessions, clearing the room for the next group.
Finally, remember to plan for the technical requirements of a STEM classroom. As students embrace technology, the environment must do the same, and it’s impractical to demonstrate coding techniques on an old-school chalkboard. Requirements will vary according to the curriculum, but electronic whiteboards and projectors are often parts of the solution. And there should be plenty of outlets or power strips so students can charge and power their devices.
Flexibility, durability and technology are three of the main keys to designing a successful STEM (or STEAM) learning space. We’re here to help.