Is STEAM Teaching For Everyone? How To Make It Less Scary


Dear Lesson Plan Toolbox,

I am entering my third year of teaching second grade and my admin is really beginning to push STEAM on all of us teachers. I can’t tell you how stressful this is on top of everything else we have to do. There is simply not enough time in our day to teach all of our subjects and to be sure that we are incorporating STEAM too.

On top of all that, I have no idea where to even begin introducing STEAM to my second graders. When I did my student teaching my cooperating teacher taught one week with STEAM instruction, but that was it. I’m at a loss as to what to teach, how to teach it, and how to make it a yearlong part of our curriculum. 

Honestly, I feel like I can never get ahead. This was the first year I was feeling like I actually knew what I was doing and now it’s going to be another year of flying by the seat of my pants. Does it ever get any easier? 

Can’t wait to hear your suggestions because I’m hoping they heal some of my anxiety. 




The very first thing we want you to hear and understand is to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! There are plenty of teachers who have been teaching much longer than you that also feel this sense of overwhelm and anxiety. This is actually why Lesson Plan Toolbox was created. Our mission is to reduce stress and alleviate burnout for 1st-3rd grade teachers. Teaching is not always easy, but with some help and support it can be so rewarding.

Now, let’s jump into your main issue which is knowing how to incorporate STEAM into your curriculum. Believe it or not, you probably teach more STEAM concepts than you realize. So often we think it’s all about coding and using technology, and although that’s a piece of it it certainly isn’t all of it. We’ll provide three simple ideas for beginning to bring STEAM into your classroom and plenty of resources to help you get started.

Remember, that STEAM can and should be taught in conjunction with the rest of your curriculum. If you’re teaching science, then focus on grammar and complete sentences when students turn in their final products. Cover math components that align with your curriculum, but will also be needed for your STEAM theme. Once you start diving into this you will begin to see how it all aligns and truly isn’t more work. 


STEAM TIP #1: Student Discovery

Yes, read that right. Simply allowing students to discover and ask questions is a BIG component to STEAM instruction. A great way to do this while still maintaining classroom management is to designate a day each week as Instant Challenge Day. 

Instant Challenges are a great opportunity for students to work in groups, listening to each other, and really communicating their ideas. There are seven rounds in an instant challenge, but they can be completed in a 30-40 minute time block if needed. Here is a layout of how to run to a challenge:

(Students MAY NOT touch any materials until the building begins)

  1. Present the Task to be Completed
  2. Pass Out Needed Supplies
  3. Question Round - Students can ask you anything
  4. Design Round - Students decide how they will solve the task. Each student must have a designated role such as time keeper, coach, builder, etc.
  5. Challenge Time - Students will have 7 minutes to build and design their product. They may not ask the teacher any questions at this point. They can discuss as a group.
  6. Evaluation - Each group will present their final product to determine if they conquered the task at hand. Points can be awarded for grades. Be sure to include a teamwork component when grading and remind students of this piece.
  7. Rethink - Let students decide how they would improve their product to make it better.


Students absolutely LOVE Instant Challenge Day! You will see their engagement pique and hopefully a whole lot of collaboration. A great writing piece to follow up with is to have students journal about what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what they would do differently.


STEAM TIP #2: Storybook STEAM

This is an amazing cross curricular approach to STEAM that is quite enjoyable on a Friday. Simply find a picture book that has a building element or problem to solve. Share the story with your class on Thursday as a read aloud. On Friday, during your reading block, read the story again. This time students will have some specific task to think about as you read. You will be covering not only story elements, but also critical thinking which can be so tricky. Interestingly enough, you’ll be amazed at the thought processes students show and how creative they can be when given the time.

You’re probably thinking, “Where in the world am I going to find all those picture books from?” Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in our resource section at the end of this post. 

One more note to point out is that if you happen to interview for a new job or are wanting a new position in your current district, be sure to share with your administrators all about Storybook STEAM and the benefits of student learning that you witness.



If you don’t already follow Bonnie Kirkley from @iheartsteam you NEED to get on board right now! Bonnie is not only a certified STEM teacher, but also completed certification as a National Geographic Teacher. She has a training program that will walk you through the steps of incorporating STEAM into your classroom while answering your questions along the way.

Not only does Bonnie help you develop a path for your classroom, she even offers management strategies to implement as you dive into STEAM instruction. Between her blog posts and podcast episodes you will be sure to walk away with plenty of ideas and whole lot less fear about Steam. In fact, here is the link to Bonnie’s Back To School STEM post which can get your mind moving in the right direction.

If you are able to sign up for STEAM University, then go for it! The resources alone that are included will more than cover the cost of the class. Be sure to ask your admin if there are any professional development funds available which would allow you to be reimbursed for the course. Either way though, it is worth the money and peace of mind knowing you are implementing true 21st century teaching into your instruction.



Our passion is to provide primary teachers with the resources they need to be successful 21st century educators. Be sure to check out these tools for your Lesson Plan Toolbox:

Destination Imagination - Plenty of Instant Challenge ideas for primary students.

California Desination Imagination - Offers incredible guidelines, tips, and organizational ideas to get started with Instant Challenges. Not only that, but there are also more Instant Challenge ideas included.

Ditch That Textbook - Take STEAM instruction one step further using virtual field trips. This is a great way to “hook” your students into a lesson.

Kids’ Activities Blog - The Red Cup Challenge is an easy and fun beginning Instant Challenge for your classroom.

IheartSTEAM - Be sure to check out Bonnie Kirkley’s website for amazing blog posts and professional development opportunities to enhance your STEM instruction.

Teach Outside The Box - Brooke Brown has EVERYTHING you will need to incorporate Storybook STEM into your instruction. This is perfect for primary teachers. Be sure to check out her TPT Store for ideas such as STEM Bins and STEM Challenges. Search “Storybook STEM” in her store for some AMAZING resources.



The bottom line is that you are not alone. Part of being an educator is having that passion to continue to learn new techniques and teaching styles. STEAM isn’t going away. In fact, if anything STEAM instruction is the way of the future. Hopefully using these suggestions such as Instant Challenges, Storybook STEM, and becoming a STEAMED UP TEACHER will help you on your journey.


Please know that you can always reach out to us on Instagram (@lessonplantoolbox) or email ([email protected]) for more ideas and suggestions. We are here to serve primary teachers as best we can.


Don’t forget to grab your FREE 7 Habits to Prevent Teacher Burnout!


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like The 4 Cs of 21st Century Learning and Changing The zrecipe For 21st Century Learning Doesn’t Have To Be Scary.



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