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What Is STEM Education?

In a world with constant new and emerging technologies, as well as new educational theories and techniques, the question "What is STEM education" becomes increasingly popular. At its core, STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning that combines Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic principles into hands-on, problem-based learning. STEM education allows students to transcend past traditional classroom boundaries and helps to prepare them for a future where understanding new technologies and an adaptable mindset is not just beneficial but essential. Through STEM, learners are equipped with the tools to not only understand the world around them but also to innovate and solve the challenges of tomorrow.

What Is STEM Education and What Does It Stand For?

A young student filling a science test tube with yellow liquid as a teacher watches.
STEM education emphasizes collaborative, innovative, quantitative, and logical analysis of situations and problems.

First and foremost, the acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). While it has a heavy focus in those subject matter areas, the concepts of STEM can be seen across various subject matters. The Virginia Department of Education states, a good STEM educational foundation helps to prepare students for a future of success by, "emphasizing collaborative, innovative, quantitative, and logical analysis." This type of education recognizes the interdisciplinary nature of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

While STEM may have initially been geared only towards students on track for the STEM-specific workforce, that is no longer the case. Now, STEM education's focus is to provide all students with the knowledge and tools to be able to identify and apply the skills of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to their everyday lives.

An infographic that breaks down the meaning of each letter of the acronym STEM.
The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

How Is STEM Integrated Into Classrooms

A photo of a young group of students working on what appears to be a leggo car inside of a classroom.
STEM can be implemented into a classroom by providing students with team-driven work environments.

STEM is an integral part to students' success in their future careers and daily lives. Someone who is well-versed in the STEM field tends to be a critical thinker, problem solver, and an innovator. All of these traits are important in assisting your child to pursue their dreams and solve any issues that may come their way in life. Now that you know how relevant it is, you may be wondering how these skills are actually implemented.

In a classroom setting, these are a couple of techniques that are implemented to help foster an environment that is conductive to creating STEM literate students.

1. Team-Driven Work Environments

In a STEM classroom there should always be a physical space for teamwork to occur. In addition to having a large space for students to move around in, you always want to provide opportunities for students to interact with one another easily. Furthermore, you can use certain equipment to help engage in team work. For example, instead of having things installed in certain spaces in the classroom you can make them moveable or buildable, so that students can travel to one another or work together to build.

Allowing them to work in teams, and providing stations or sections of the room for them to do so is paramount to their success of working well with one another.

2. Provide Digital and Technological Resources

Providing access to technology is essential for integrating STEM into the classroom. Minimally, there should be computers in the classroom. If funding allows, you can add even more advanced tools such as tablets, 3D printers and AI devices. The world is constantly changing and adapting, and technology is becoming an increasingly popular tool in the career force. Exposing your child to it at a young age, and providing them with the knowledge and experience of how to master these technologies is essential to their success.

Can I Do STEM at Home?

A young boy looking at a laptop screen that is hooked up to a hand-made car.
There are various ways to incorporate STEM education into your child's home life as well.

Whether you are choosing to homeschool, or just want to incorporate some additional STEM activities and education for your child outside of the classroom, you can definitely do STEM work at home. The same rules for the classroom apply to your house, just provide your child with opportunities to critically think, problem solve, and interact with technology. You want to encourage them to use technology, engineering, science, and mathematical skills to solve these problems. Some examples of activities you could try at home are listed below.

Have Them Build A Machine

Develop an object. For example, say I want you to build a ramp that gets this ball from this side to this side, or a bridge connecting these two objects. Or a maze, or a bridge that will support this amount of weight etc. You can define your specific goals or objectives. Then provide your child with the resources to build said object, as well as some resources that may not be necessary. Some examples could include, cardboard, pipe cleaners, glue, scissors etc.

By working through this process your child will be implementing engineering practices as they begin to develop different models and build a structure that supports the objective. They could be implementing math if they need to calculate weight or length of objects as well. Furthermore, they can implement the scientific process here of creating and testing a hypothesis. Not to mention it is a great kinesthetic activity to keep both their hands and their minds engaged.

Create A Paper Airplane

A young boy sitting at a park table folding a sheet of paper to make a paper airplane.
Creating a paper airplane is an activity that can easily combine engineering, math, and science principles.

Similarly to the first example, you can set certain parameters for this exercise. Does the plane have to be able to fly? How far does it need to fly? Provide your child with different types of paper and various tools that could affect the weight of the plane as well as the speed and distance that it would travel. This activity works their engineering skills as they build a plane that meets certain parameters. They are also practicing scientific thinking with testing of their ideas and hypothesis.

Scavenger Hunts

While scavenger hunts may just seem like a fun game to play at parties, it is also a great way to incorporate STEM into your child's daily activities. Create problems they need to solve, whether it be math equations, or things they need to build before they get the next clue. Or, perhaps you can work on just giving riddles or clues, working on their literacy skills, and each clue gives them a piece that they will need to build something at the end of the scavenger hunt. If you child is really into building things, then building could be the reward at the end, and the hunt is to find all the pieces necessary. Either way, scavenger hunts require critical thinking, and problem-solving, two major components of STEM education.

Growing Plants

A bunch of seedlings in small pots and a woman's hands planting one of them.
Growing a plant from a seed is the perfect way to have your child practice the scientific process.

Growing a plant is one of the best ways to test out the scientific process. You can teach your child about the scientific process and go through it with themas you plant your seeds and watch them grow. For example:

Observation/Question: What do plants need to successfully grow?

Research Topic Area: I learned that most plants need sun, water, and good soil to grow.

Hypothesis: I think if I put the plant _____(select a space) with this soil ______ and water it _____ times a week it will grow.

Test with Experiment: (Grow your plant according to your hypothesis) and take notes. Is it working? Is it not? Did you decide to adjust anything?

Analyze data: Did your plant grow the way you thought it would? Look at your plant.

Report Conclusions: Was your hypothesis correct? What could or would you change next time?

Technology Games

Another great way to incorporate STEM at home is by providing your child with access to technology games and activities online. Today, there are so many apps and games that allow children to practice their skills in creative ways online. Below are just some examples of such apps:

  • Busy Water

    • For grades 1-5

    • Kid-friendly set of logic puzzles that allow kids to solve problems and experiment with science concepts.

  • Easy Stop Motion Studio: Introduction to Animation

    • Grades K-2

    • Introduction to digital animation for young students

  • GameMaker

    • Grades 7-12

    • Allows those who are interested in game-making a chance to practice and learn about game design

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