What Is STEM Education?

You may have heard of the STEM Education Coalition in the United States and wonder how it differs from a typical curriculum. While STEM Education Coalition subjects have been part of many curriculums for decades, the focus and methods of teaching STEM are shifting based on trends in the 21st century job market.

We’re going to dive into STEM education and see why STEM matters, and how it’s done.

STEM education is a hands-on system of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics to students of all ages. Most jobs require some form of STEM education, and it teaches practical life skills as well as curriculum and job-based ones.

 

What Is Stem Education and Why Is It Important?

What does STEM education mean? Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM education. 

The STEM Education Coalition strives to improve STEM programs in the United States, and for good reason.

Science and math have been taught for decades, with tech and engineering creeping in as the world advances. What makes STEM education so special?

Well, the STEM Education Coalition teaches the four as a bulk group; it’s a project-based approach allowing students to tackle real-world problems for a cohesive learning experience.

The reasoning behind the approach is that STEM education is already a part of everyday life. Look at all the technology in your home, the science of cooking, the engineering of assembling a new toy. 

Another reason the STEM Education Coalition program operates as this bundled group is to help add a spark to dull subjects like math and science. 

The goal of the STEM Education Coalition is to not only teach students real-world skills. It’s to hopefully get them intrigued about a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related fields.

Kids doing chemistry

 

When Did STEM Education Begin?

The US National Science Foundation introduced STEM in 2001. It replaced “SMET,” an acronym of the same meaning.

Since then, there’s been an argument over the importance of STEM, and whether it’s good or bad. We’re taking the stand that STEM is a vital part of life, and STEM related subjects shouldn’t be ignored. STEM careers aren’t only the first things that come to mind, such as computer science, chemistry, advanced research or nuclear physics jobs. STEM occupations can be almost anything.

But for the sake of fairness, we should also explore:

Why STEM Is Bad

Some arguments against the STEM Education Coalition claim that education should aid students’ development as people, rather than create workers. This is a fantastic argument—but why can’t it be both? You need an income to survive, and a STEM career will give you a fantastic one if you rise high enough in your field.

The argument also claims that using education technology in schools inhibits learning ability, lowers test scores in a variety of subjects and may light a spark for addiction while damaging students’ long-term memory.

This is a far better argument that holds true in some areas; only if STEM education isn’t done right. STEM isn’t about forcing students to rely on technology, it’s about educators teaching them to use, understand and master it.

While STEM has its downsides, STEM education needs to find a balance between the STEM subjects and ensuring students’ best interests remain a priority. Split time equally between using technology and using practical methods to learn the other three subjects of STEM.

STEM remains a vital part of life, and so it must be taught, while keeping its negatives in mind. The STEM Coalition isn’t saying you need to replace books with tablets. The STEM Coalition merely states the importance of STEM education programs in school.

How Important Is STEM Education?

Think back to your own time in school. Did you have a miniature computer in your pocket? Was the world under irreversible stress from catastrophes like global warming? Were independent space companies planning a near-future trip to Mars?

Modern children are growing up in a world that needs more people in STEM fields to meet the demands of the world’s dependence on technology, as well as help solve emergent world issues and tackle futuristic missions.

It’s not just these obvious jobs like tech manufacturers, environmental scientists and astrophysicists that require STEM Education Coalition skills. These days everyone from psychologists to dentists needs STEM education skills.

The list of careers requiring STEM-educated workers can only grow as technology advances in various fields. While engineers develop technology to make work more efficient, it also demands smarter workers who know their way around some robotics.

Importance for the Individual

Work aside, STEM education can aid children in developing some vital life skills they can apply in any situation.

  • Problem-solving: As kids are faced with a project to complete, they have to figure it out on their own and learn to solve their own problems.
  • Creativity: They find a creative solution to issues that come up.
  • Critical analysis: They study the issue or the goal, analyzing it to break it down into manageable tasks.
  • Teamwork: While it’s favorable to work alone without distractions, tackling a group project lets children learn to work together which is beneficial in working and social relationships.
  • Independent thinking: On the other hand, if the child is forced to work alone, it lets them think independently and prepares them for life in general.
  • Initiative: Giving kids a project to create or a problem to solve with a desirable end goal incentivizes them to get started/finished faster, a habit that will stick.
  • Communication: It’s easy to assume everyone is on the same page; teamwork on STEM projects nurtures communication skills, which are applicable everywhere.
  • Digital literacy: Everything is online these days, from job applications to buying groceries, so kids need to be digital experts by the time they reach adulthood—the T in STEM promises they will be.

Do You Need Special Skills to Be a STEM Educator?

You may be worried that the current teaching workforce aren’t qualified to become STEM teachers. In some cases—with coding and advanced engineering—this is true.

The rest of the time, all you need to teach the curriculum of the STEM Education Coalition is some basic skills and the ability to learn yourself. You can implement STEM Education Coalition methods into all your lesson plans.

When Should Kids Start STEM Learning?

The STEM Education Coalition states that it should start as early as possible, from toddlerhood to high school students and beyond. 

Look at those toddler toys where you slot shapes through the appropriate gap in a box—it is, at its core, a most basic form of engineering.

Games like these are vital in developing problem-solving skills—especially at that age. If you set these helpful patterns and a love for learning earlier, you’re setting your child up for a productive school life in the future.

Furthermore, research shows that when school starts, children already have reasoning skills and divergent thinking, including in relation to STEM Education Coalition topics.

This leads to kids having an interest in tech and similar subjects by the time they’re around eight. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lead to innovation; it peaks at interest and will rarely lead to a career in a STEM related field.

One reason the innovation mindset doesn’t develop is the way kids learn. It’s all focused on memorizing facts and scoring well on tests when research demonstrates kids learn better if you incorporate creativity or the arts.

Speaking of the arts—this research is also a huge pro in the STEAM vs STEM education debate, but that’s an argument for another article.

STEM education is creative in itself, thanks to its practical nature. This powers kids on and possibly leads to a higher chance of them wanting to do more than just enjoy tech as a viewer; maybe it’ll get them into wanting to enjoy science, technology, engineering and mathematics as a creator, too.

 Adult and child engaging in fun but educational activities

Can You Learn STEM At Home?

Since we’re talking about learning STEM in toddlerhood, you may wonder if there’s anything you can do at home to encourage STEM education. The answer: absolutely, at any age, right up to high school.

At toddler age, it’s simple. Teach them the basics of counting, teach them to assemble STEM toys and puzzles and play with those shapes going through holes. Don’t let them be a stranger to a tablet or phone, but limit screen time accordingly—after all, bad habits can start young.

With older kids, there are plenty of STEM Education Coalition approved activities you can do as a family. Buy a kids science kit, or encourage them to play coding games. Even teaching them to cook a complex recipe with you is a form of STEM learning, then let them off to play on their own.

Playing may seem like an enormous waste of time when there are more productive things to do, but certain forms of play are rooted in STEM education. Look at those complex LEGO kits—that’s engineering.

Conclusion

The STEM Education Coalition and the US Department of Education have a goal to promote STEM learning—from elementary school to middle school and high schools to higher education. The need for STEM educated elementary and high school students has never been higher.

STEM education is an essential part of life. Although the presence of STEM areas in your daily routine isn’t overt, you can never escape science, technology, engineering and mathematics—from knowing how fast to go as you drive around a corner with a full vehicle, to figuring out what intervals to start individual pots boiling.

As more and more kids gain an interest in STEM education and the accompanying careers, it not only advances the world, but their lives too. For more information on the STEM Education Coalition, check out their website.

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