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Actionable Ways for Middle School Students to Build Social Emotional Learning

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” — Aristotle

Middle school is a fascinating period in a student’s life. The transitional period from elementary to middle school often requires a difficult academic set-up that becomes more structured. It is important to make this transition as smooth as possible and ensure the student’s natural gifts and talents are supported. This is where Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) activities for middle school students come into action and should be implemented in the student’s curriculum.

We are all human beings before we’re students or working professionals in the world. Oftentimes, the educational system can become focused only on the academic side of a student’s educational experience and forget the importance of developing students as human beings too. This is where STEM activities are excellent motivators to get students to think outside the box and maximize their abilities. It is essential to get the most out of students in this age to make their transition into high school that much easier. It is often easy to forget these details in the regular curriculum and that is why it is important to separate these activities and organize them in a structured manner.

Middle school is also an important time in a child’s life when what and how they think matters most. Being able to process how they feel is important to their emotional health and encouraged in the classrooms among their classmates and friends.

STEM Activities that Inspire Social and Emotional Learning

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) ideally is more than a curriculum—it’s a set of thoughtful strategies embedded into everyday classroom activities and norms. In the best-case scenario, students should be given multiple opportunities throughout the school day for practicing self-awareness and self-management, increasing social awareness, building relationship skills, and making responsible decisions. SEL is a concept that is ideally interwoven into classroom practices such that it would be hard to tell SEL activities apart from other routines.

So, where do you begin with your students as an educator? It’s beginning with having your students explore the ability to understand their thoughts, emotions, and values, as well as knowing how those factors influence their behavior. It’s also them having the capacity to open-mindedly and realistically assess their strengths and weaknesses while maintaining their confidence, drive, and desire to grow.

Children can become aware younger than you might think. Typically, after the age of five, they’ll begin identifying their emotions. Until then, they don’t understand what they’re feeling, or that other people have feelings separate from their own. Recognizing their emotions and the emotions of others is the first step of becoming self-aware.

According to Positive Action, to be self-aware, your students must be able to:

  • Identify their emotions. Your students need to be able to identify their feelings. Learning the difference between frustration and anger will help students navigate their emotions. By recognizing the link between their feelings, thoughts, and actions, they can then address these feelings and react to them appropriately.

  • See themselves honestly. Teaching your students to look at themselves honestly can help them respond to compliments, feedback, and criticism openly and earnestly. This sense of self will teach them to see and acknowledge both the positive and negative things in their nature.

  • Recognize their strengths and weaknesses. Your students’ ability to see themselves, acknowledge their shortcomings, and embrace their strengths is a great confidence booster. Knowing that it’s okay to admit they’re wrong or don’t understand something sets them up for growth. Acknowledging aptitude also builds confidence.

  • Work toward growth. All of these skills lead students to self-efficacy. They understand that self-work and growth are positive activities that result in healthy, happy people with a drive to achieve.

Check out the Design for Change (DFC) full library of STEM and social-emotional learning activities available on the free platform.

Join the largest coalition of children, who are transforming their own communities in big and small ways. Before even beginning implementation with students, it is also important to ensure that the adults working with these students have an accurate self-perception of themselves so as to better build these skills with students. When implementation begins with our own self-awareness, we can begin to help students recognize breakdowns in their social emotional skills. This strategy allows educators to better match relevant skill-building activities and strategies with student’s current abilities.


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