STEM is an educational approach where learning happens across disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Here’s an explanation of STEM meaning, STEM education, and STEM activities for kids.
What is STEM?
STEM is an educational approach where learning happens across disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Students are given opportunities to explore various concepts with concrete materials in several different settings. Rather than teaching topics separately, the activities and projects naturally invite learners to make connections across subject areas.
Through science, students learn to ask questions, make predictions, observe, experiment, analyze information, and draw conclusions. Through technology, learners use tools to test the possible solutions.
Through engineering, students design solutions and use a variety of materials to bring their ideas to life, often using 3D models. Through mathematics, students measure, calculate and find patterns to solve the problem.
By combining the subject areas and working through hands-on activities, students build a greater understanding of the concepts thereby increasing the chance of retention.
Why is STEM education important?
Different from the traditional model of teacher-centered instruction, children engaged with STEM gain in-depth knowledge in the disciplines, but also acquire life skills as they work to solve real world problems. Children learn perseverance, cooperation, communication, and how to work well within a community.
The goal of a STEM-focused education is to help build a generation of individuals who can problem solve, think critically, and collaborate with others with the hope of one day bringing these skills to the workforce.
STEM vs. STEAM
STEAM is defined as STEM + Art. The STEAM approach takes in all of the elements of STEM with the addition of art and design in the curriculum. Art provides students with the opportunity to explore concepts innovatively through visual creations as well as through performing arts such as dance and drama, and also through music.
While there is an ongoing debate between science and art professionals about the need for art in STEM (since art naturally translates into engineering and technology), many schools are beginning to embrace art in their STEM projects intentionally.
STEAM is not necessarily taught differently from STEM but is a mindset in planning with a focus on including the arts.
The true implementation of either STEM or STEAM incorporates each of the disciplines rather equally, without a greater focus on one over another. For instance, a project that mostly focuses on technology and technical skills is not considered to encompass a STEM approach if math, engineering, and science are only included in passing.
Careers in STEM
The STEM approach is intended to better prepare students for jobs in the 21st century.
STEM opens up a large spectrum of career possibilities for learners. Among them are managerial or sales positions in architecture, engineering, and sciences. There are jobs in education training in growing areas such as agricultural sciences, environmental studies, and forestry.
Students can also aspire to work in computer and mathematics fields as programmers, developers, and technicians. In the area of architecture and engineering, learners will be open to positions in exceptional careers such as aerospace engineering, health, and safety inspection, and nuclear and petroleum engineers! More familiarly, students may choose careers in animal sciences such as zoology or wildlife biology. And, naturally, the entire medical field is open to students inspired through STEM education!
Careers in STEM are equally rewarding and demanding. Many of these jobs require a great amount of knowledge in the disciplines. Employers are beginning to fill the gap between new skills required in many positions today and those of the employees they hire(d) by providing on-the-job training.
Ways to Engage Kids in STEM Learning
Incorporating the STEM philosophy in your child’s education requires that you are in tune with your child’s curiosities. What questions do they raise?
It’s very likely that the central questions may branch out from one of the core disciplines. Is it more science-based? More technology-based? More engineering-based? More math-based? More art-based? Allow the project to develop from this main discipline, and find ways to incorporate the other subjects to make it a complete STEM approach – always keeping your child’s inquiries at the forefront.
Here are two easy STEM activities you can tackle using items you already have in your home.
STEM for a younger child
Real-World Problem: Your child is wondering about the plant that died in the garden. What caused this plant to dry out? Why did nearby plants survive? How can we help a plant live forever?
Science: Read about the plant kingdom and the water cycle. Experiment with plants found in the yard by watering one, not watering another, and adding vinegar and water to another. Ask your child what they notice and what they think might happen if you add spices to the water. What happens if you place one plant in a box?
Technology: Technology for younger learners is simply teaching children to build eye-hand coordination and refine their fine motor skills using tools. Have your child design/draw a mini-greenhouse to store the test plants using plain paper and drawing tools. Note that this activity also includes an art element to support STEAM learning.
Engineering: Create a mini-greenhouse using the drawing as a guide. Provide potting soil, plastic containers (from recycling bin) seedlings (from the yard) or seeds, transparent plastic bags or other materials from recycling that your child might find intriguing.
Math: Measure the height of seedlings before and after using blocks as the measuring tool. Let your child keep a record of the pattern of plant growth over time by drawing the plant and the number of blocks beside it.
STEM for an older child
Real-World Problem: Your child is inquiring about the airplane flying overhead. How does an airplane stay in the air? Why do some crash? How can we make an airplane crash-proof? Is it even possible?
Science: Read about aviation and how planes fly. Test various designs with a variety of paper airplanes.
Technology: Design the ideal aircraft using a Draw program. Label parts with materials to use to make it indestructible.
Engineering: Using the design, create a model of a crash-proof airplane using office supplies and items from recycling.
Math: Add labels and true-to-life measurements to the designs. Measure and record the results of several flight tests in a chart using time in flight, length of flight, and weight of airplane.
You find that one question will lead to another and before long your child will be touching on all aspects of the STEM approach – and beyond!
STEM in the community
STEM education can sometimes be daunting to plan and prepare for – especially at first. Fortunately, many public institutions are increasingly offering partnerships with schools and homeschoolers using STEM curriculum-related activities. Most provide professional development for teachers/parents, materials, curriculum support, and field trips. Some offer camp-style programs either after-school, on weekends, or over the summer break.
Some of your local science-based institutions to look out for are: museums, science centers, planetariums, zoos, nature centers, and aquariums. Check with your local library as well.
No matter how you approach STEM, remember that you always want to foster a love of learning. Don’t get lost in the “how-to’s” and inadvertently disregard the “why” of STEM education.
About the All-Star Blogger
Gabriella Volpe is a homeschooling mom of a child with special needs, a certified teacher and the homeschool consultant for families of children with special needs. She knows first-hand what it means to struggle with educational planning for a child who does not fit the system and is limited by resources and products intended for children without disabilities. She helps parents find ways to adapt and modify the curriculum so they don’t have to spend hours figuring it out on their own. She also helps after-schooling families of children with special needs navigate their way around the homework hours. You can find her at www.GabriellaVolpe.com