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5 Social and Emotional Strategies for STEM Learning

The skills we want to help young students develop don’t just include those directly connected to the subjects being taught. The Nevada Academic Content Standards for Science (NVACSS) give guidance on how students should investigate matter, forces, and living things, of course, but they also emphasize skills like working in teams, collaboration, and engaging in argument from evidence. These skills are important parts of students’ social and emotional learning (SEL), but why is SEL so important and what makes it ideal for bringing into science lessons?

Science lessons—even virtual ones—provide great opportunities to give students investigative problems they must work together to solve. The engineering design process is a perfect opportunity to encourage students to team up, develop and test ideas, appreciate each other’s creativity, and talk about their successes and failures.

As students work in teams, they’re learning to communicate, to respect the ideas of others, and to understand why everybody’s role is important. These are essential aspects not only of classroom collaboration, but also of being part of society. Good teamwork improves students’ social skills. It makes them more self-confident. It even reduces bullying. And it helps children to go on to become successful adults.

That’s why we made teamwork, communication, and collaboration fundamental components of Twig Science Nevada. It’s there in all of our story-driven investigation modules, and we also created special 3-D Team Challenge mini-modules totally focused on teambuilding and how scientists and engineers work in teams. In doing so, we came up with some useful ideas for increasing the SEL value of lessons that we thought we’d share with you—you’ll find all of these in the Twig Science Nevada Team Challenges and investigations, but they can be adapted for any lesson.

Here are our favorite five ideas:

1. Student-agreed Science Expectations – Children hate being told what to do when they don’t understand why they’ve got to do it.

It’s a good idea to get students discussing the factors that create a productive learning environment. Guide them to come up with their own ideas for how investigations should be carried out in an environment that encourages collaboration and respect. Children hate being told what to do when they don’t understand why they’ve got to do it—but if they are included in creating the rules, they respect and learn from them. Twig Science Nevada mini-modules include sections where students brainstorm “Science Expectations.” They think about what good teamwork involves and how it could work better, and they produce a Science Expectations poster to display in the classroom throughout the year. Examples of Science Expectations could include “We respect each other,” “We let everyone share their ideas,” “We encourage each other,” or “Everyone helps to clean up.”

2. Team-building exercises – Prepare students for just about every situation they’ll ever encounter in their professional and personal lives!

Before getting students to embark on in-depth, full-length engineering investigations, it can be helpful to have them take part in shorter, low-stakes team-building exercises. In the Twig Science Nevada mini-modules, we suggest various icebreaker activities, storytelling games, and classroom discussions. These get students engaging in civil discourse, deliberating, debating, building consensus, compromising, communicating effectively, and giving presentations. These are incredibly valuable skills that not only prepare students for the longform storyline investigations that make up the main Twig Science Nevada modules—they prepare them for just about every situation they’ll ever encounter in their professional and personal lives!

3. Reflection points – Students review and discuss their work as a form of self-assessment.

Involving students every step of the way in thinking about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they could do it better helps to embed the skills that they are developing. We made sure to put frequent reflection points in Twig Science Nevada to give students a chance to discuss how teams are working together and whether everyone is getting their chance to take part. The important thing about reflection is that it’s a form of self-assessment. You’re not grading the students, and there are no correct or incorrect responses. The purpose of the discussion is for students to think about the investigation processes and to share and reflect on different ideas. What have they enjoyed? What was easy and what was challenging? How do their experiences in their teams connect to experiences outside the classroom?

4. Real-world connections –  Get students acting out behaviors that they’ll be able to use again and again throughout their lives.

A big part of Twig Science Nevada’s collaborative investigations is how they connect to the way real-life scientists and engineers work in teams. Giving students this real-world connection adds meaning and purpose to what they’re doing. As they take on the roles of scientists and engineers, they’re acting out behaviors that they’ll be able to use again and again throughout their lives. They’ll understand that scientists, too, have team roles. They listen to each other. They’re respectful when they disagree. They build on each other’s ideas. Students will associate these attitudes with success as they act them out and become used to recognizing them in the world around them.

5. Language routines – Communication is a fundamental component of teamwork.

How students use language is an important indicator of their levels of understanding and respect. Communication is a fundamental component of teamwork, which involves a careful balance of being able to express ideas and opinions and also listen to those of others. It’s directly connected to our social and emotional development, because language is our primary method of expressing what we feel about ourselves and each other and describing what we agree and disagree about. Twig Science Nevada includes a number of repeated language routines (e.g. Turn and Talk, Collect and Display) that structure the way students use language in investigations. They’re encouraged to use the words they feel comfortable using—without the need for formal “perfection”—while given the support to connect these to scientific vocabulary when they’re ready. The language routines support English Learners—and other students who lack confidence—to take part fully in discussions. Communicating in an inclusive, encouraging, understanding environment leads to confidence, and confident communication increases students’ ability to work well as team members in the classroom and as successful and respectful citizens.


To find out how you can implement Twig Science Nevada in your school or district, get in touch today.

Five Ways to Use Social and Emotional Learning in the Science Classroom

5 Ways to Use Social and Emotional Learning in the Science Classroom

The skills we want to help young students develop don’t just include those directly connected to the subjects being taught. The Next Generation Science Standards give guidance on how students should investigate matter, forces, and living things, of course, but they also emphasize skills like working in teams, collaboration, and engaging in argument from evidence. These skills are important parts of students’ social and emotional learning (SEL), but why is SEL so important and what makes it ideal for bringing into science lessons?

Science lessons provide great opportunities to give students investigative problems they must work together to solve. The engineering design process is a perfect opportunity to encourage students to team up, develop and test ideas, appreciate each other’s creativity, and talk about their successes and failures.

As students work in teams, they’re learning to communicate, to respect the ideas of others, and to understand why everybody’s role is important. These are essential aspects not only of classroom collaboration, but also of being part of society. Good teamwork improves students’ social skills. It makes them more self-confident. It even reduces bullying. And it helps children to go on to become successful adults.

That’s why we made teamwork a fundamental component of Twig Science. It’s there in all of our story-driven investigation modules, and we also created special 3-D Team Challenge mini-modules totally focused on teambuilding and how scientists and engineers work in teams. In doing so, we came up with some useful ideas for increasing the SEL value of lessons that we thought we’d share with you—you’ll find all of these in the Twig Science Team Challenges and investigations, but they could be adapted for any lesson.

Here are our favorite five ideas:

1. Student-agreed Science Expectations – Children hate being told what to do when they don’t understand why they’ve got to do it.

It’s a good idea to get students discussing the factors that create a productive learning environment. Guide them to come up with their own ideas for how investigations should be carried out in an environment that encourages collaboration and respect. Children hate being told what to do when they don’t understand why they’ve got to do it—but if they are included in creating the rules, they respect and learn from them. Twig Science mini-modules include sections where students brainstorm “Science Expectations.” They think about what good teamwork involves and how it could work better, and they produce a Science Expectations poster to display in the classroom throughout the year. Examples of Science Expectations could include “We respect each other,” “We let everyone share their ideas,” “We encourage each other,” or “Everyone helps to clean up.”

2. Team-building exercises – Prepare students for just about every situation they’ll ever encounter in their professional and personal lives!

Before getting students to embark on in-depth, full-length engineering investigations, it can be helpful to have them take part in shorter, low-stakes team-building exercises. In the Twig Science mini-modules, we suggest various icebreaker activities, storytelling games, and classroom discussions. These get students engaging in civil discourse, deliberating, debating, building consensus, compromising, communicating effectively, and giving presentations. These are incredibly valuable skills that not only prepare students for the longform storyline investigations that make up the main Twig Science modules—they prepare them for just about every situation they’ll ever encounter in their professional and personal lives!

3. Reflection points – Students review and discuss their work as a form of self-assessment.

Involving students every step of the way in thinking about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they could do it better helps to embed the skills that they are developing. We made sure to put frequent reflection points in Twig Science to give students a chance to discuss how teams are working together and whether everyone is getting their chance to take part. The important thing about reflection is that it’s a form of self-assessment. You’re not grading the students, and there are no correct or incorrect responses. The purpose of the discussion is for students to think about the investigation processes and to share and reflect on different ideas. What have they enjoyed? What was easy and what was challenging? How do their experiences in their teams connect to experiences outside the classroom?

4. Real-world connections –  Get students acting out behaviors that they’ll be able to use again and again throughout their lives.

A big part of Twig Science collaborative investigations is how they connect to the way real-life scientists and engineers work in teams. Giving students this real-world connection adds meaning and purpose to what they’re doing. As they take on the roles of scientists and engineers, they’re acting out behaviors that they’ll be able to use again and again throughout their lives. They’ll understand that scientists, too, have team roles. They listen to each other. They’re respectful when they disagree. They build on each other’s ideas. Students will associate these attitudes with success as they act them out and become used to recognizing them in the world around them.

5. Language routines – Communication is a fundamental component of teamwork.

How students use language is an important indicator of their levels of understanding and respect. Communication is a fundamental component of teamwork, which involves a careful balance of being able to express ideas and opinions and also listen to those of others. It’s directly connected to our social and emotional development, because language is our primary method of expressing what we feel about ourselves and each other and describing what we agree and disagree about. Twig Science includes a number of repeated language routines (e.g. Turn and Talk, Collect and Display) that structure the way students use language in investigations. They’re encouraged to use the words they feel comfortable using—without the need for formal “perfection”—while given the support to connect these to scientific vocabulary when they’re ready. The language routines support English Learners—and other students who lack confidence—to take part fully in discussions. Communicating in an inclusive, encouraging, understanding environment leads to confidence, and confident communication increases students’ ability to work well as team members in the classroom and as successful and respectful citizens.

We hope you find these ideas useful—we’d love to hear what you think!

What is SEL and why is it important?

Growing up in the 21st century is hard work. Children and adolescents today face a unique set of challenges that have never been seen before. The advent of the digital age and popularity of social media coupled with globalisation and the current economic climate have brought their own share of issues that have a drastic effect on the youth today. Ninety percent of school leaders have reported an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety or stress over the last five years. One way of dealing with this is to implement social and emotional learning (SEL) in school.

 

Why would social and emotional learning benefit young people?

Our everyday lives consist of hundreds of interactions on both personal and social levels. This means that it is essential for us to understand and manage individual emotions so that we can understand the emotions of others. Social and emotional skills are fundamental in shaping future citizens and workforce as they help prevent and reduce behaviours such as bullying and violence.

 

Social and emotional learning refers to skills that allow individuals to understand and manage emotions with respect to themselves and others. They are then able to forge positive relationships, develop empathy for others and learn responsibility. CASEL, the organisation behind this framework, define five primary skills that they would like to see develop in young people:

 

Self-awareness: The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset”.

Self-management: The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in different situations – effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself.

Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathise with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and the ability to understand social and ethical norms for behaviour.

Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups, and the ability to cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure and seek and offer help when needed.

Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms.

 

Why should social and emotional learning be implemented in school?

Students in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries spend a huge amount of time in school – an average of 7,750 hours in school over the course of their primary and lower secondary education. Schools also bring children from various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds together via the common goal of learning. Should this learning be limited to academia? Absolutely not – never has an emphasis on social and emotional learning SEL been more important than now. Young people today are under relentless scrutiny, both academically and socially, making it crucial to provide them with an environment they can deem safe and inclusive. Schools are an obvious choice – not just because of the sheer amount of time that is spent there, but also because it already has the essential infrastructure for any sort of learning.

 

If implemented properly, social and emotional learning can have a far-reaching impact, and play a vital role in how future generations treat both one another and the planet.