The Benefits of STEM and How to Incorporate it at Home or in the Classroom

The Benefits of STEM And How to Incorporate it At Home or in the Classroom

Education is always evolving with new research, techniques and best practices popping up. STEM has been one of the biggest buzzwords in education in the past decade. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s an important area of study because most of life falls into at least one of those subjects. There are many grants available and scholarships for students who want to pursue a career in one of these areas. So what exactly qualifies as STEM and how can teachers incorporate more of it into the classroom?

What is STEM?

Instead of separately teaching the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math, STEM blends them into a cohesive curriculum with real-world exploration. It is often a hands-on, problem-solving approach to learning. It shows students how to apply the scientific method to problems in everyday life. The blended approach is what separates STEM curriculum from traditional ways of teaching math and science. STEM learning isn’t reserved for high schoolers and should be part of even early childhood education. Mathematician, statistician, psychiatrist, environmental engineer, biochemist, dentist, computer analyst, software developer and actuary are just a few of the many careers in STEM.

Benefits of STEM

STEM is great for all ages. Benefits include:

  • Teaches knowledge application. STEM answers the question “when will I use this in real life” by giving kids opportunities to apply knowledge to real-world problems. 
  • Scaffolds on prior skills learned. Students apply what they’ve already learned to solve new problems and challenges. 
  • Fosters creativity. Students are encouraged to think out of the box to solve problems. 
  • Encourages kids to explore technology. Technology becomes increasingly more important in all sorts of global industries. Exploring tech now will help kids tackle new innovations without fear or anxiety.
  • Builds problem-solving skills. STEM is about solving problems through critical thinking skills. Students have opportunities to examine problems and think of ways to solve them.
  • Strengthens patience and resilience. Not every problem is easily solved and not every solution works the first time. STEM gives kids chances to fail and try again until they succeed. 
  • Teaches teamwork. Many career paths require the ability to work well as part of a team. STEM activities are perfect for breaking into parts so multiple students can collaborate.
  • Encourages risk-taking. STEM is all about experimentation and acting on “what if” questions. This is how major technological advances have happened in history. 

Development of STEM in education

Early childhood: Research from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) shows early exposure and familiarity with STEM concepts is “a key predictor of children’s school success.” Young children are natural explorers, scientists and tinkerers as they try to figure out the world and their place in it, making them natural STEM learners. STEM pairs perfectly with integrated or thematic curriculum models. Stanford offers a great resource for engaging preschoolers in STEM.

Elementary school: The focus in elementary school is introducing students to STEM subject matter, fields, and careers. This is done through standards-based learning connecting science, technology, engineering and math. The curriculum is based on real-world problem solving and showing students how to apply these concepts both in and out of school. The goal is to create an interest in STEM fields. Scholastic has a great list of STEM resources, websites and activities. 

Middle school: STEM courses become more challenging in middle school. Students start learning about the academic requirements of specific STEM-related careers. Students begin deciding if their interest is heavier in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics in order to start planning high school coursework. The 4-H STEM Lab offers instructions and videos so kids can do fun projects at home like building robots from cans. 

High school: The curriculum is challenging, rigorous, and specific. Courses lead to specific STEM fields. They prepare students for majoring in STEM at the college level. A bigger emphasis is placed on how STEM applies to life outside of school. NASA has great STEM activities, resources and videos for all age-levels. 

How to incorporate STEM into everyday activities

If your program isn’t already focused on STEM, it’s simpler than you probably think to incorporate it into your daily instruction. 

  • Switch to question-based teaching. Think about what you’re currently teaching. How can you pose it as a question and allow kids to conduct research and experiments? Where can you apply real-world situations to the subject matter? 
  • Integrate the curriculum. Work with students to chose a question such as “Why did dinosaurs become extinct?” Provide opportunities to dig into the question in all subject areas. Students can work in groups to research dinosaur extinction, then write reports, create Powerpoint presentations, and give speeches on their findings and theories, complete with calculations and graphs of data. This incorporates reading, writing, computer technology, math, science, history, and more in one project. 
  • Start small. You don’t have to rework everything you do. Just make small adjustments to incorporate more question-based, hands-on learning. Even adding in half an hour a week of STEM is a move in the right direction.
  • Look online. There are nearly endless ideas and free resources for STEM activities and lesson plans online. Start a Pinterest board for ideas. Watch some videos on YouTube. Have students help you research ideas. That’s incorporating STEM already! 
  • Keep it simple.  STEM projects don’t have to require a ton of expensive supplies. Part of the real-world application can be figuring out how to do the project or experiment with what’s available in the classroom. You can also ask students to bring in inexpensive supplies, such as a bag of marshmallows and box of spaghetti. Have students work in groups. Give each group the same number of marshmallows and dry spaghetti noodles. Challenge them to see who can build the tallest structure just using the marshmallows and spaghetti. This activity is great for all age levels and promotes higher thinking, creativity, and communication. 

What is STEAM?

STEAM is STEM with the addition of art, so it’s science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. Art naturally compliments advanced thinking, problem-solving, and experimenting. Allow students the opportunity to explore questions through roleplay, movement, music, drawing, painting, model-making, etc. Again, this can all be done with supplies you already have on hand.

Since STEM is based on inquiry, problem-solving and real-world applications it lends itself well to student-led work. Teachers facilitate the process, providing information, resources, guidance, support and assessment. STEM and STEAM concepts can be incorporated into any subject area. Giving students the power to explore real-world problems in a hands-on way often makes for more engaged students. This is a win for students, teachers, and society as a whole as we need people proficient in STEM fields for much of our daily life. 

Also Read:

The Benefits of STEM And How to Incorporate it At Home or in the Classroom

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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