Sunday / May 19

Maximizing the Use of STEM Labs within Schools

Implementing high-quality STEM education doesn’t require a fancy lab or even a specialized classroom. With some creative planning and collaboration, STEM can thrive in any learning environment! If your school doesn’t have a dedicated STEM space, don’t worry – you can absolutely bring STEM into your regular classroom. The key is integrating STEM into your existing instruction, rather than treating it as an extra subject to cram in. Use STEM as a way for learners to apply important math and science concepts in creative, hands-on ways. For example, some teachers implement STEM inquiries at the end of a unit as a culminating project. Others devote set blocks each week or month specifically to STEM. How you schedule it is up to you and the needs of your learners.

Making Use of the STEM Lab

If your school does have a STEM lab, take full advantage of it! At the same time recognize the importance of partnering closely with classroom teachers.

The STEM lab teacher could suggest inquiries that reinforce core math and science content. The classroom teacher provides context on learner needs and guides connections back to grade-level standards.

Communication and clear roles are key. Perhaps the classroom teacher leads pre- and post-instruction while the STEM lab teacher guides the hands-on inquiry itself—or the responsibilities could break down differently based on your specific strengths and learner needs. The possibilities are endless for integrating STEM at all levels and in any setting. By getting creative and working together, we can bring STEM’s powerful learning opportunities to every learner!

Roles and Responsibilities for Classroom Teacher and STEM Lab Teacher

If you are working with a STEM Lab teacher collaborator, take a look at the following list describing roles and responsibilities for the Classroom Teacher and STEM Lab Teacher:

Classroom Teacher:
  • Conduct a needs assessment to identify mathematics and science content and practices to target in the STEM lab
  • Lead planning of classroom instruction to reinforce and enrich identified math/science content and practices
  • Attend STEM inquiry sessions in the lab and co-teach with STEM Lab Teacher when possible
  • Lead planning of strategies for reaching all learners’ needs
  • Suggest possible STEM inquiries targeting identified math/science content
STEM Lab Teacher:
  • Suggest possible STEM inquiries targeting identified math/science content
  • Focus on content applications that require designing solutions to real world challenges
  • Lead planning and preparation of the STEM inquiries
  • Lead planning of connections to college and career pathways
  • Identify and plan for specific tools to be used in the STEM inquiry
  • Lead planning for showcasing ideas and final solutions in school and/or community
  • Provide feedback and assessment data to the classroom teacher

It’s important for the classroom teacher and STEM teacher to know what is happening in each others’ classrooms – which means staying in contact. Co-teach a kick-off lesson or join each other for learners’ presentations. Perhaps the classroom teacher can visit the STEM lab to explain certain science or mathematics content that is needed for the STEM inquiry. Consider ways in which your existing school structures allow for communication and coordination.

Collaborating with Colleagues

Collaboration is critical for successful STEM both with or without the use of a STEM lab. Involve other teachers, special educators, instructional aides, parents, and community partners. Their diverse expertise and support will be invaluable in creating an engaging, well-managed STEM learning environment. Some questions (modified from Bush & Cook, 2019) to get you started in your STEM collaborations are as follows:

  • What are the key requirements and areas of need for the learners we share? What insights can we derive from the available data?
  • How can we collaborate effectively to provide the maximum benefit for each one of our shared learners?
  • How will we organize and allocate time for joint planning and reflective sessions?
  • What are our collective strengths in terms of subject matter expertise, teaching methods, and relevant experiences?
  • In what ways do each of us hope to achieve professional growth through this collaborative partnership?
  • What aspects of jointly planning, implementing, and reflecting on STEM inquiries make each of us feel most confident?
  • What aspects of jointly planning, implementing, and reflecting on STEM inquiries make each of us feel most apprehensive or nervous?
  • What is each of our individual comfort level and familiarity with STEM disciplines?

As classroom teachers and STEM teachers collaborate to identify topics, the integrated STEM practices provide a framework for how STEM inquiries look in action. Using the four integrated STEM practices in Simplifying STEM (Jackson et al., 2024a, 2024b) helps to implement equitable STEM instruction for all learners. The disciplinary content provides the context for applicable, real-world solution seeking. As STEM teachers, we are tasked with nurturing learners’ engagement with the practices as they participate in STEM inquiries, allowing  scholars to:

  • use critical and creative thinking to seek solutions
  • collaborate and use appropriate tools to engage in iterative design,
  • communicate solutions based on evidence and data, and
  • recognize and use structures in real-world systems

All of these skills are important to each discipline and reflect each of the STEM disciplines’ commitment to problem solving (Roberts et al., 2022). As we engage learners in the integrated STEM practices, we not only nurture their transdisciplinary STEM thinking skills, but also reinforce the habits and dispositions important in each of individual disciplines.


Bush, S. B., & Cook, K. L. (2019). Step into STEAM, grades K-5: Your standards-based action plan for deepening mathematics and science learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Jackson, C., Roberts, T., Maiorca, C., Cook, K., Bush, S., & Mohr-Schroeder, M. (2024a). Simplifying STEM: Four equitable practices to inspire meaningful learning (grades preK-5). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Jackson, C., Cook, K., Bush, S., Mohr-Schroeder, M., Maiorca, C., & Roberts, T. (2024b). Simplifying STEM: Four equitable practices to inspire meaningful learning (grades 6-12). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Roberts, T., Maiorca, C., Jackson, C., & Mohr-Schroeder, M. (2022). Integrated STEM as problem-solving practices. Investigations in Mathematics Learning, 14(1), 1-13.

Written by

Dr. Kristin L. Cook, a former high school science teacher, is a Professor of Science Education in the School of Education at Bellarmine University. She received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction specializing in Science Education and Environmental Sciences from Indiana University. Dr. Cook teaches courses in K–12 science methods and STEAM Education. In addition to teaching initial certification and advanced graduate classes, Dr. Cook serves as a professional developer and consultant for K–12 STEAM-focused school reform and project and problem-based learning development. Dr. Cook is actively involved in federal grants and research that focus on engaging students and teachers with the community of science through the exploration of socioscientific inquiry and transdisciplinary STEAM instruction.

Dr. Thomas Roberts, a former elementary school teacher, is an Associate Professor and co-program coordinator of the Inclusive PreK–5 Education Program at Bowling Green State University, where he teaches STEM education and mathematics education courses. Dr. Roberts’s research explores students’ perceptions of STEM learning environments and ways to increase the effectiveness of teachers’ instructional practices so that all students have the opportunity to participate in high-quality STEM learning.

Dr. Cathrine Maiorca, a former high school mathematics teacher, is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at Oklahoma State University, where she teaches courses in mathematics education and STEM education.  Dr. Maiorca’s research interests include model-eliciting activities, effective STEM teaching and learning practices for every student, integrated STEM education in formal and informal settings, preservice teachers, and students’ dispositions toward integrated STEM.

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