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The "what" and "why" of STEM

Posted on June 4, 2014 by Amanda Dykes

STEMSTEM is a huge buzzword in education.  To help educators, students and parents understand STEM, here's some Q&A about the curriculum: 

What is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  Sometimes you will see STEAM, and the "A" stands for Arts. STEM is not your typical math or science class. STEM lessons and classes encompass all four subjects and are hands-on and interdisciplinary. They use real-world problems and applications that focus on solving problems and decision-making. In these lessons teachers guide the students from start to finish. The lessons are project-based or problem-based with no exact right or wrong. Failure of the creations are OK as long as other ideas come from it. It goes deeper than just doing a science experiment; it is creating that experiment, questioning why it happens, designing something new and making sure it works. Instead of learning about the eight planets, students are designing ways to land robots on other planets.

So why do we need STEM?

The future of our country relies a lot on technology. According to Moore’s Law, technology speeds double every two years. With technology changing so fast, we need people to design and build to keep up with the trends.  There is a huge need for Americans to fulfill the engineering and design jobs we have in our country. Students who can solve problems and make critical decisions are sought after in the job market. Also, building a prototype or making a circuit light up a bulb is more memorable and hits standards from every subject better than memorizing for test. Students have to be able to “do,” not just “know.”  Because the technology we have today will be obsolete before graduation, students need to be trained to use technologies as they change.

How can you use STEM in your classroom?

Many schools are adding STEM classes or clubs, others are putting Makerspaces in their libraries as places for students to tinker on their own. If your school does not have these opportunities, you can create them by adding design and PBL (problem-based learning) to math or science lessons you already teach.  In math, instead of teaching measurement and asking students to answer questions about conversion, make students modify and “cook” a non-bake recipe. Don’t just teach about the types of water pollution, ask students to research and build a water filter. Look at your lessons and see if there is a way to make them hands-on with students having a chance to design or redesign something that gets them thinking outside that box! 

If you have any resources or insight about STEM curriculum, you can comment below or tweet to me @amandacdykes.

Amanda Dykes profile

Amanda Dykes is a Science and Tech Ed/STEM teacher in Birmingham, Alabama.   She has degrees in technology integration and speaks often on being a connected educator as well as using technology and PBL in the classroom.

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