What is STEM Education?
The world is ever-changing. This fact, ironically, is unchanging.
Our world constantly invents and reinvents itself, and one’s reluctance to keep up with an increasingly complex world is an injurious tendency. The only way to not be left behind is to have an understanding of how today’s world works and how it would work in the future.
To ensure that our youth is able to keep pace with the constant changes, a good grasp of the disciplines that drive progress is important. Those disciplines are: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — often abbreviated as STEM. The way we can instil and develop their interest in these areas is also crucial because,
How can one excel at anything they’re indifferent toward?
Now, let’s look into what STEM education is, how it can be taught effectively, and why they are important!
STEM Education. What Is It?
Many parents seem to have got bitten by the “STEM” bug now that a lot of them are either talking about it, seriously considering it, or have already enrolled their children in schools that offer the program. Really though,
What is STEM education? How does it differ from the regular, conventional way of teaching the subjects? Why are more and more parents making STEM a priority in their children’s education?
STEM education is a program that teaches students in the aforementioned disciplines in a holistic, practical manner. In other words, it is an interdisciplinary approach that focuses on hands-on learning and critical problem-solving skills.
STEM education is often a collaborative endeavour between school teachers and parents/guardians. After all, children are only going to spend so much time in school, so it is imperative that parents/guardians take on the role of education facilitators as well.
How Does STEM Education Differ from Regular Science & Math Class?
Traditionally, the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are taught separately with little emphasis on how these four areas are interconnected. STEM education can be seen as the reformed version of the conventional teaching methodology where it integrates all four in a single academic program.
Again, STEM programs often put a heavier emphasis on developing the ability to find solutions for real-world problems so that the students are equipped with practical skills that are applicable to, well, real-life situations.
A lot of schools that offer STEM programs conduct their Science and Mathematics classes in a collaborative manner, with small projects that encourage critical thinking to solve problems.
Examples of STEM Projects
Some examples of STEM-oriented projects:
– Paper Aeroplane (Designing, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Creativity)
A properly designed and made paper aeroplane is going to fall much slower to the ground than a balled-up piece of paper. Students are encouraged to test the laws of aerodynamics by designing paper aeroplanes that are able to travel the furthest and fall the slowest. This project integrates Science (Physics) and Engineering.
– Static Electricity with Plastic Comb (Critical Thinking, Problem Solving)
This experiment tests the occurrence of static electricity using two daily items such as a plastic comb and a piece of paper. The other thing that you’d need is a head full of hair. A plastic comb is not going to draw torn bits of paper to itself unless an action that generates static electricity is done to it. To draw the paper bits in a “magnetic” fashion, one would need to comb one’s hair repeatedly and bring the comb close to the paper bits. Now watch the comb “attract” the paper bits in amazement.
– LegoⓇ Bricks Coding (Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Creativity)
This project teaches students the principles of coding — an important computer programming that is very in demand now that is only going to grow in popularity. To participate in the project, teachers would need to design a LegoⓇ maze with an “entrance” and an “exit”, print out some coding commands, and prepare tokens (small figurines) as points of reference. Students are encouraged to collaborate to give directional commands to get the tokens to “exit” the maze. Plenty of fun and very engaging.
There are countless fun-filled STEM activities that would engage students and at the same time, instil interests in the discipline and further develop their passion. Most of these STEM projects can also be done in the comfort of your home. For more ideas on STEM-oriented activities, you can visit the links here and here.
How To Get Students To Commit to STEM Education
All children at their cores are pure, inquisitive beings. They are naturally curious and are eager to explore things that are unknown to them, so it really falls on responsible adults to nurture, hone, and direct them to things that would satisfy their unique needs.
A few ways to get them excited for STEM:
Be Thoroughly Prepared
You can’t possibly conduct an effective learning session as an unprepared facilitator. The quality of knowledge of whatever you are about to impart to your children wholly depends on your own understanding of the subject.
Set aside time and energy to research the experiments and projects in which you are about to involve your children, and understand how any or more of the four disciplines of STEM is a part of said projects.
After all, a good student is only as good as their teachers, and good teachers are the ones who come prepared.
Make Learning Exciting
Learning can only be effective when it is fun and relatable. If it does not strike a chord, is boring, or is too serious that it quickly exhausts your children’s mental bandwidth, then you will lose their engagement. A disengaged learner is a lost one.
Practical projects are inherently exciting because of their engaging nature and they fuel fun through creativity. Aside from the activity examples previously provided, facilitators need to understand each learner’s unique inclination and curate the appropriate curriculum/program that would best serve their disposition.
For example, a child who has shown an aptitude for discovery and puzzles may be inclined to enjoy activities such as LegoⓇ Bricks Coding whereas those who have shown a strong interest in aeroplanes in the sky may be better served with the paper aeroplane experiment.
Give Examples of Successful People in STEM (Fictional or Real)
For the learners to be excited about something, you may want to provide examples of individuals that are successful in the fields that they’re about to learn.
These individuals can be fictional or real, and whom to introduce to your children largely depends on their existing knowledge of the figures or the aspects of the disciplines that you are about to impart.
Children who are into superheroes may respond very well if you began the inception to learning by talking about STEM-oriented superheroes such as the tech-savvy Tony Stark from Marvel’s Ironman and gadget reliant Bruce Wayne from Batman from DC.
Involve Their Parents/Guardians
As previously mentioned, students are only going to spend a fraction of their productive time in academic institutions. Most of their successes rest on the time that they would spend outside of school – at home.
A research done by National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education has shown that regardless of a student’s socio-economic background, the ones with hands-on parents/guardians tend to perform better in terms of test scores, discipline, behaviour, and exhibit desirable social behaviour.
To ensure an optimal and holistic learning experience, parents and teachers must collaborate in figuring out each child’s unique needs and interests, and coming up with tailored solutions that would best serve them. The activity examples given in the previous section can easily be done at home under parental supervision.
Facilitators may also want to use positive reinforcement, give good comments, ask open-ended questions, and be animated in their teaching. There are many methods that are considered teaching best practices. Click on this link to understand what is considered the most effective way to teach.
The most important thing to note when it comes to teaching your students is to have a firm grasp on the learning structure, and to be patient and kind.
Why STEM education?
The common benefits of STEM Education are:
– Critical Thinking
– Problem Solving
– Effective Communication
Those benefits also happen to be the kind of qualities that many industries look for in a professional.
The Demand for STEM Professionals
The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of professionals to fill their STEM-related job vacancies as reported here and here. By 2025, the US will need to fill about 3.5 million jobs, and STEM-savvy professionals will make an overwhelmingly huge chunk of that demand.
Globally, the issue isn’t that much better. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that by 2030, there will be a worrying lack of global professionals to fill the 85 million tech-related job vacancies, based on the data provided by Korn Ferry management consulting firm. That figure suggests that STEM-related industries are going to grow at an exponential rate and the schools are not producing enough STEM talents to appropriately satisfy the demand.
STEM-related professions also pay relatively higher than their non-STEM counterparts as indicated here. In many cases, the salary for STEM professions can be as much as twice the salary of jobs in other industries.
STEM is Good for Other Industries and Disciplines
A person educated in STEM does not always have to work for STEM-related industries or go to specific countries to make full use of their skills.
Being a great problem solver, creative thinker, and effective communicator are qualities that are attractive in any field of work, no matter which industry. For instance, there is a demand in the legal industry for STEM graduates and professionals with STEM-related qualities.
Some examples of individuals trained in STEM that work for non-STEM industries:
– Angela Merkel, the former chancellor of Germany, is a physics and chemistry major who got into politics and went on to lead the country’s government.
– Mayim Bialik, a Doctor of Neuroscience who chose to work in the entertainment industry and made it big with the show The Big Bang Theory – she was hired partly due to her expertise in neuroscience to play a neuroscientist in the show where she got to help the showrunners write for her character. Mayim was paid $425,000 per episode for her work in the show.
There are limitless opportunities for those who are trained in the STEM disciplines. Getting your children educated early in STEM is only going to serve them well in the future when they finally enter their productive, working age.
Who Can Do STEM?
Everyone. Everyone can do and excel in STEM.
Often parents and educators espouse the notion that learners that seem to have more dominant “left brains” are best suited for STEM majors and subsequently careers, whereas “right-brained” students are steered towards other pursuits.
The left-brain/right-brain principle is a myth and has been debunked by notable scientific scholars. A group of neuroscience experts in Utah, US, did a study that involved putting 1,000 people on brain scans while they were performing activities such as lying flat and reading. The result of the brain scans reading did not produce evidence of any hemispherical dominance when doing those tasks.
The following TED-Talk would serve as a very good explanation of why any child of any aptitude and disposition can and should be trained in STEM disciplines.
When To Start STEM Education?
Opinions vary as to when to start introducing aspects of STEM discipline to a child, but one suggests that toddlers as young as two-year-old.
The first spurt in a child’s brain development happens at around two years of age and slows down and concludes when they reach the age of seven (eight in some cases). During this critical period, one could say that a child’s brain is like a sponge – ready to soak up any information, stimulus, and knowledge that their environment is going to give them.
STEM education can be employed in many different forms depending on how old a learner is and at which stage of learning development they are. For examples of age-appropriate STEM games and educational materials, visit this link.
What if your children are over the age of the “critical period”?
Worry not, as human brains continue to develop up to the age of 25. Nothing is too late, but the younger you start endearing your loved ones with STEM disciplines, the better off they will be.
Here at Timedoor, we provide coding classes (very STEM-y!) that are appropriate for children 8 and up with small class sizes so that each child will receive the optimal attention and focus from our facilitators.
For more information about Timedoor Coding Academy, please visit this link. We can’t wait to have your children join our fun-filled classes that will surely inculcate early interest in coding and possibly, other STEM-related disciplines.
Remember, STEM principles translate well into other disciplines so you could expect the benefits of your children’s extracurricular coding classes with Timedoor Coding Academy to reflect on their academic performance.