STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Sometimes, people also refer to STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. But what is it? It's an educational philosophy that emphasizes teaching subjects and accompanying skills in a real-world manner that equips students with resources to solve problems and use technology. Another new acronym is STREAM. The "r" in STREAM stands for reading and writing, and STREAM emphasizes the importance of communication skills in STEM curriculums. STREAM also allows for more inclusion of art and design elements into the STEM curriculum. For students who are more inclined towards writing or art, it provides STEM to align with their personal passions and allows them to use their strengths to learn more about the classic STEM subjects.
The most significant part of STEM education is the way it integrates all of its subjects. Instead of students learning math skills, computer programming, and science separately, all the skills come together through inquiry-based projects that require students to use knowledge and skills from all disciplines. After all, that's how people operate in the real world, and that's how students will need to think and process when they join the working world. Teaching the subjects together and showing how they relate to the real world also gives students a broader framework and more in-depth understanding of the subject matter.
How does STEM improve student learning? It encourages students to develop in-demand skill sets. It also allows students to learn what makes them passionate and encourages them to learn more about things that interest them independently. Good STEM education also helps students to learn independently by teaching them how to learn, and the critical thinking skills needed to find helpful resources. STEM also is more in line with the realities of 21st-century life. Most people have small computers (cell phones) in their pockets, which allow them to access all commonly known information with a few keystrokes. Therefore, memorizing large chunks of trivia isn't as crucial for today's children as it was in generations past. What is essential is equipping them with the research and critical thinking skills that will prepare them to quickly find, evaluate, and analyze information as they need it. Problem-solving skills are more highly prized than memorization skills in today's world, and children must be educated to develop strong problem-solving abilities. The critical components in the education of 21st children have been identified as Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication. STEM heavily embraces these components as key elements of how children should be educated. Perhaps best of all, providing students with an adaptable framework that allows teachers to provide appropriate scaffolding to meet each student where they are and by using inquiry-based strategies to design student-led projects, STEM helps children learn to fall in love with learning.
Luckily, there are a variety of STEM resources available online. Students who aren't in districts who have embraced STEM, or who are districts where even education in individual subjects are lacking, have a wide variety of websites, experiments, and games to use as enrichment activities to help them master STEM-related skills and concepts. Games are a particularly good way for students to practice STEM-related skills. Why? Games help give academic skills a real-world application, which can help kids understand why specific skills are essential. Students who don't enjoy learning about fractions are incentivize to figure out the difference between a numerator and a denominator if that knowledge helps them win a game they enjoy.
The abundance of online resources means it's easy for families to incorporate STEM learning into their child's life before they even begin school! Many researchers say birth-age 5 is the most crucial time in child development. Toys and everyday objects can help children discover STEM when they are very young. Later, when they are old enough to use a computer, their parents can introduce them to more involved activities, experiments, and games.