It can be confusing to know what STEM is with education. By itself the acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. But STEM education is a little more than just that. Let’s have our own little Stem Academy and work out what it is.
WHAT IS STEM EDUCATION?
As I stated above, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Quite often they are taught separately in individual subjects, but with STEM they are taught in an interdisciplinary and applied manner. That means, they don’t stand alone as Science, as Technology, etc. but are taught in conjunction with each other. There is a correlation as to how they work together. STEM is important because these subjects, together, are part of our everyday life. Science is everywhere in the world around us, in our environment, in many of the things we do each day. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. Think about computers, the internet, phones, etc. So many changes over the years. I think about when I was a kid and computers first came out.
My girls have never known a world without computers, the internet and the ability to stream television and movies. Engineering is the basic design of roads and bridges, but also looks at the challenges of global climate changes and things we can do to be more environmentally-friendly in our home. Mathematics is in everything we do in our lives. (Now, I have often heard people say “Another day passed and I didn’t use algebra once!” I beg to differ. We use algebra everyday! It is finding the unknown – do I have enough milk for the recipe? Can I fit the last bit of juice in my glass? Algebra! Now, we might not use trigonometry or logarithms every day, but algebra, yes!)
WHY IS STEM IMPORTANT?
I think that the main word to sum up why STEM is important in school is “innovation”. Those new ideas, new methods, new products, etc. We need children to be innovative and a STEM education can help prepare them for that. Some of the skills our children will gain through STEM are problem solving and critical thinking (some of my favourite things to teach children), creativity and curiosity (again, things I highly value). Then there is the development of leadership and entrepreneurship. And let’s not forget the ability to accept failure.
I value the importance of innovation. Without it my daughters would not be here. Then there are things like prosthetics, robotic surgeries, medicine, alternative fuels…..so many things that make life better for us. Someone, one day, had the idea and was willing to go for it, making a thousand failed attempts along the way. You have to admire the tenacity in that!
Are there any STEM curriculums in use in schools? Yes, there are. For any school that is offering STEM as the package, then a curriculum is in use. It is not just going to Science, to Math, etc. Most of the time it looks like a topic that can be applied in different ways – think, for example of younger children and learning about animals. You can study different farm animals and look at what they are used for – working, eating, etc. How do they affect the ecosystem? How has technology assisted in making farming with animals easier or obsolete? Technology has certainly helped with milking, but tractors etc have removed the need for horses, oxen, etc to pull carts and plows.
I love thematic learning – many subjects based around one topic, so STEM, as a teacher, appeals to me. To see how science, math, technology and engineering can work together makes for more cohesive learning in my mind. I love to do this with language, history, social studies (geography) and art – often throwing science in there too. It brings such a richness to skills based learning and retention.
What are some fun STEM activities you can do at home? Because, of course, STEM does not have to be limited to school.
- All those lovely hands-on science experiments like Mentos in Coke, or making your own volcano
- Get a robotic kit and make it as a family
- Play games like “Ticket to Ride” or “Settlers of Catan” or “Rush Hour”
- Create art projects from recycled materials
- Create a small garden and install a watering system
- Try to sink a bottle without filling it with water
- Make marshmallow catapults
- Do an egg drop (where you try not to crack or break the egg)
- Build vehicles or houses with LEGO or DUPLO
- Learn coding (there are some great websites for that)
STEM TOYS FOR GIRLS or STEM TOYS FOR BOYS
I do actually find it interesting that people will search for STEM toys specifically for girls and for boys. Why the difference? Why not the same? I get that there is a greater encouragement to try and get more girls interested in STEM, and I understand that traditionally we tend to do more science, math and technology type activities with boys when they are younger, but I personally feel that if we are separating it like that then we are taking away from the truth and rich beauty that is STEM.
But here is a list of some good STEM toys regardless of gender:
- LEGO and DUPLO (I would even include plain blocks for younger children)
- Science kits like “Scientific Explorer: My First Mind Blowing Science Kids Science Experiment Kit”
- Magnetic blocks
- Robot kits (Like Giggleway Electric Motor Robotic Science Kits, DIY STEM Toys for kids, Building Science Experiment Kits for Boys and Girls)
- Model kits (houses, cars, planes, etc)
- Crystal kits
The list can go on. There are so many ways we can get our children involved with STEM learning in such a fun and practical way.
STEM MIDDLE SCHOOL
What is the best age for starting our children off with STEM learning? They are never too young really (though some toy parts might be). There is a greater emphasis in schools in middle school, where STEM can easily be integrated into the curriculum. But it is included from elementary through highschool. And even if your child’s school does not offer a STEM curriculum, you can help foster their interest at home.
WHAT IS STEM EDUCATION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
So, let’s come back to this to finish off. Do I believe that STEM education is important? Yes, absolutely. Do I think that we need it in schools? Again, absolutely. I love to see how subjects work together and these subjects work so well when not in isolation, and show how they are integrated in so many circumstances.