STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” The idea of a STEM education involves incorporating these four disciplines into one combined focus. Learning these subjects in a combined approach helps prepare students for career fields that tend to involve a combination of these disciplines. Blended learning of STEM subjects should begin in the elementary grades, piquing curiosity and positioning learners to pursue challenging courses of study as they advance through middle school, high school, and beyond.
The Foundation of STEM
The basis of a STEM education rests on the belief that students need a strong foundation in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to succeed in the 21st-century workforce. The ability to think critically, analyze and solve problems, research and apply evidence, and collaborate professionally on projects will be crucial for anyone seeking to succeed in virtually any industry. Thus, a STEM curriculum that focuses on these subjects will prepare students to compete in the global economy. Melding these disciplines gives students hands-on experience as they assimilate cutting-edge knowledge.
Applying STEM in the Real World
On the surface, it’s easy to see how STEM-related areas like engineering, mathematics, and computer programming integrate directly into the current workforce. People entering these careers require strong and specialized skills to position them competitively in these fields. But a number of other industries also require workers with strong STEM skills, not just the obvious ones. The transportation and construction sectors are two examples of industries that require workers with a STEM-focused education. Even those students who don’t envision a career in the traditional STEM fields of science, engineering, and technology can benefit from studying STEM subjects in high school and college.
STEM in Action
Historically, science and math curricula presented problems with known answers to students, expecting the students to learn how to arrive at these established solutions. The real world is not so well-ordered, however. Thus, these teaching methods were limited in their effectiveness because they did not adequately prepare students for real-life situations. The STEM approach is infinitely broader, incorporating problems that lack clear parameters and have a wealth of possible answers. Through authentic scenarios (also called project-based learning), students face real-life problems as they learn how to reflect, research, discover, apply, and communicate their knowledge to problem-solve. Reflection is the stage involving exploration of the problem, with students devising the questions to be answered. During the research stage, students gather information from a variety of sources. This enables them to move toward an overall grasp of the problem and all of its connected concepts. In the discovery stage, students apply their research within the parameters of the problem. Learners also gain experience collaborating with peers during the discovery stage. Moving on to the application stage, students devise a solution model, testing it against project requirements. Depending on the outcome of tests, students may need to repeat previous steps to finalize the solution. In the end, the communication stage involves presenting the problem and the solution to others. Communicating the solution is important because it cements the learning process and strengthens collaboration skills.
Effective STEM Integration
When students spend time engaged in the exploration of real-life problems, learning can be accelerated. Instead of dry and boring textbook learning, students learn while gaining skills that feel important and relevant. Thus, students are more likely to retain their knowledge because they can see how these skills will help them be successful in the future. Motivated learners tend to look for new and more challenging ways to engage their skills and abilities. Students also pursue more knowledge thanks to their expanded curiosity and imagination.