STEM education has been “trending” for several years now. With some many products available on STEM, how do we separate genuine STEM from gimmick STEM products?

First, check to see who developed the product you are looking to purchase. Was a STEM professional involved in the development process? If the answer is no, the product may not be your best available option (Although many products created by teachers alone are outstanding and we ARE NOT discrediting these products!). The idea of STEM is to prepare students for STEM careers and products that capitalize on the wisdom of current STEM professionals typically expose students to the reality they will face if they enter into a STEM career. Involving field-based STEM professionals is invaluable to educating our students in a way that prepares them for the future.

Secondly, was an educator involved in development and testing? If the answer is no, the product may not be as classroom-friendly as you expect. When people with zero classroom experience develop a product, often times the implementation is not conducive to 1-30 teacher-student ratio that is the reality in many classrooms. We also have to contend with limited space, time constraints, allergens, etc. People who do not teach may not consider our constraints or the reality of student ability when designing products.

Next, TRY THE PRODUCT. Ask for a sample or purchase the product and try it out yourself. If you don’t feel like the product challenges a student to use STEM to solve a problem or complete a challenge then toss it out. Don’t be afraid to ask for a refund or return a product that just does not provide a genuine STEM experience to your students.

Lastly, is the product student-centered? If the teacher is doing the majority of the work, genuine STEM may not be happening. STEM should put the design, implementation, build, and creative thinking on the student. We are asking them to solve a problem by not providing a solution (unless we are reverse engineering a product ;)).

Look for genuine STEM materials that match your students’ needs. Look to see who was involved in the development and testing and try out the product before you use it! Lastly, make sure the product is student-centered.