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The STEM Classroom: Is there a formula for success?

When teaching STEM, don’t forget the “soft” sciences.

PPC_image2The need to overhaul America’s approach to teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics has launched an ambitious initiative to reverse our nation’s decline in these areas. Not surprisingly, thought leaders in education indicate the most important ingredient to success is the willingness to change. They agree that it is pointless to continue pursuing methods that haven’t been working and to change the teaching style to fit the learning styles of today’s students and to better prepare them for solving tomorrow’s challenges. 

More specifically, educators and academicians at the forefront of improving America’s performance in STEM subjects have approached their task in a way that’s just as logical, practical and evidence-based as the subjects themselves. You can drill down ten pages deep into a search of “STEM,” “successful STEM,” or “STEM classroom” and what you’ll find is study after study that evaluates and recommends pedagogies and teacher qualifications. While adapting those two areas has to be the two most important factors in the success of a STEM program in any school, other adaptations are called for, as well.

Consider the effects the classroom environment will have on the learning process.

To cement a school’s commitment to project-based learning or collaborative learning or cooperative learning, its classroom environments must also change – and change quickly. Environments should be able to be reconfigured “on the fly” throughout the day. This change is necessary to support any new teaching method being instituted.

What are the key environmental elements to be changed?

Make sure the furnishings in the room contribute to student engagement with the subject. One fundamental way of doing this is assuring the furniture and classroom layout are compatible with the method of STEM teaching your school has adopted. If your school has adopted collaborative learning or other active inquiry-based method, be sure you have the appropriate desks and chairs – ones that lend themselves to working in small groups. Chairs, desks and all other furnishings in a successful STEM environment must be:

• Adaptable
• Flexible
• Mobile
• Ergonomic

Desks and Tables

03082InterchangeGroup6In project-based learning, students work in groups. To accommodate this, student desks or tables must be capable of being arranged into compact pods to accommodate six to eight students. Here, flexibility and the ability to rearrange the desks for uses in multiple ways is key. So look for desktops that taper from back to front, approximating a piece of pie. When gathered, this shape allows a tight circle to be formed, which encourages participation on the parts of all students in the group. The desks can also be arranged in smaller groups or totally separated for individual work or testing.

04137MediaTVMOUNTAnother option to consider is our new Multi-Media Table. It handles six students and its shape allows all six unobstructed visual access to a monitor. The table can be used at 34” high – and the students can sit on stools (or stand) or it can be at standard sit-down height. Other Smith System Tables can be combined in creative ways for a STEM environment. For example, you can start with a 60” Half-Round Table and add 30” x 60” (or 30” x 72”) Rectangle Tables, which adds flexibility and reconfigurability to the STEM classroom.



Because STEM classes make great use of technology, students need the ability to connect with data and other resources. Optimized STEM classrooms allow students to have power for their computers or tablet devices as well as WiFi. To this end, the Smith System I~O Post™ has been very well received, and now several options are available to allow you to tailor the connectivity to your classrooms’ needs.

Science Tables

Smith System Science TableIf your science classroom or lab will be using chemicals and heat, be certain that the work surfaces can stand up by choosing a Smith System Science Table with a TRESPA TopLab Plus work surface. Moreover, Smith System Science Tables provide the large work surfaces, strength and stability needed to support heavy materials. They can be fitted with optional casters for the greatest flexibility. Another option is to create some height in the lab with stand-up height tables at 34” high, available in the Planner™ and Interchange™ lines. These pair perfectly with 24” Fixed-Height Stools in either the Plato or Flavors lines.

Art Tables

25590 42 Deep PlannerFor STEAM programs, Smith System offers tables expressly made to stand up to the needs of an art studio. Their large work surfaces offer added durability and their frames, extra strength to provide stability and add support for projects using heavy media like clay, here, casters are key for adding mobility and flexibility.


smith_chairDesignConcept_v1Can seating really make a difference in a collaborative learning environment? We believe so. Students in an environment like this need to be able to interact with students all around them and any chair that doesn’t help them do this becomes a hindrance on the learning process. To facilitate learning in STEM classrooms, Smith System seating lines offer a range of movement and a range of seating positions. See video here.


cascadeProject-based classrooms need a means for organizing project materials. That is the reason Smith System Cascade Storage exists. Educators cab organize, store, manage and distribute project materials, or 3D manipulatives from the Cascade Unit to the student’s desk or to the teacher’s desk. The individual units are available in nine sizes and offer an incredible degree of customization, so the school can tailor the capacity and functionality to their own needs. They also can be outfitted with casters to provide easy mobility.


Even in project-based STEM classrooms, teachers need to present information to the entire class. Increasingly, these presentations are augmented by visual and audio-visual materials. Smith System offers many options of presentation carts in our Cascade™ line. These mobile units house projectors and computers and have lecterns to help teachers make more effective presentations.


In addition to performing a function in the classroom, furnishings also contribute to the learning environment by adding color to the room. Smith System seating is available in 19 colors. This same palate can be applied to our desks and tables as accent colors in edge bands. Whether you select a color to create a mood for a room, to carry a design theme or element into the classroom, or to spread the school colors, no manufacturer offers more options than Smith System.

Contact Us to learn more about STEM Furniture for your Classroom.

We’re here to help you get started! Collaborate with us to plan and design for your school’s furniture needs. We’ve helped countless classrooms make the leap into the future. Fill out the form below, email us at or call 1-800-994-1219.

This page has a lot of information! Download the STEM guide to print or take the info on the go.