You planned this amazing STEM lesson; it ties in multiple academic standards between math, writing, literacy, and science, and then chaos breaks out. Your students, with all the best intentions CANNOT handle the challenge and begin to argue, throw things, storm off, [insert negative behavior here], etc. How do you begin handling conflict during STEM?

My time spent in Kindergarten showed me that these behaviors were all too common. Students don’t know how to communicate when they are feeling frustrated, disappointed, or angry. It is our job as their teacher to help them through this process and give them the tools they need to navigate these challenging feelings. If you need to increase the communication skills in your class, I suggest incorporating Morning Meeting into your daily routine. You should check Amber’s,  from Learn Grow Blossom blog post here to learn what it’s all about!

In this post, I am going to provide you with a few ways to handle the negative behavior and increase your students ability to successfully finish a STEM project without major disruptions.


What should I do before starting my next STEM project?

Review the rules for STEM to avoid conflict during STEM: See my previous post How to Communicate During STEM

  • stress the importance of everyone’s strengths and how each student can make a group stronger because of what they can bring to the table
  • practice sharing ideas and being a good listener
  • practice discussing ideas in small groups before starting the STEM lesson

Introduction to STEM.png

What should I do when students are disagreeing on their next steps?

Walk over to this group and facilitate a discussion between all members. Have each student put down what they are working on. Ask Student 1 what their idea is. The rest of the group should be looking towards #1 and listening to what they have to say. Then Student 2 can share their idea.

As the teacher, you can lead them towards the correct answer. You need to praise both students for contributing to the group and help the group decide which direction to go. You can have students vote, have other students explain why they think one idea may work better than another.

In my experience if a student feels listened to they are less likely to get upset when their idea is not used. In a perfect world, they’d be able to try each idea and see if they worked but let’s face it, we have time constraints so this isn’t always a possibility.

After modeling this behavior multiple times during STEM, your students should be able to do this in small groups (very rarely after 2-3 times during the year do I need to step back in). You can also call the entire class over during the first few times to watch how a group solves a problem. Yes I know, this is going to take time away from the activity but it will save you so much time and your sanity when they can do this on their own!

toddler with red adidas sweat shirt

Photo by mohamed Abdelgaffar on

What do I do when tension has escalated and things are being thrown?

Well, I’m sorry you’re here but let’s talk what you need to do in this instance. I’ve had a few students who just can’t handle the stress that STEM brings. Stop this child and remove them from the area. If you have a calm center, put them there while they cool off. If you don’t, pull them into the hallway so they can get a break to settle. When the student is calm, I want you to go over the rules again.

After you see a student “lose it” like this, you need to put up safeguards for the next time you try a STEM activity. Before each lesson, I prep this student with what I want to see from them, I go over rules whole group but also pull this student aside 1-1 to have them explain the rules to me before beginning.

During the lesson, I frequently visit this group and touch base with progress and watch for frustration. When I see that the student is reaching their boiling point, I pull them aside and have them repeat the rules. I let them decompress before I send them back to try again.

Handling Conflict During STEM RECAP

  • Go over rules before each STEM activity
  • Check in with students you know who struggle to communicate frequently
  • Provide assistance when dealing with differing ideas
  • Give student a calm area to gather themselves back together before joining the group when things have become “too much”

If you need a resource to help you- I have my Intro to STEM available for your class. Even if you’ve done STEM before, it’s never too late to introduce the rules!

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