STEM is becoming a buzz
word acronym in the education world. I’m sure you’ve had numerous meetings, programs, and trainings just around this topic. Because the topic is thrown around so much, it’s no surprise that you would be confused about STEM education. In this article, we’re going to talk about STEM, what it is, why it matters, and a few simple tricks to incorporate it into your classroom.
What is STEM Education?
As I’m sure you’re aware, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Some schools use the “STEAM” acronym, which also includes creativity in the Arts. The goal of STEM education is to expose students to real-world problems in a fun and interdisciplinary way.
Why does STEM Education matter?
The main driver of STEM education is the increasing demand for STEM-related jobs. Did you know that employment in STEM occupations grew much faster than employment in non-STEM jobs over the last decade? So, no, “STEM” isn’t just a gimmick. It’s a legitimate movement to grow talent in science-related fields.
There are also numerous findings regarding STEM Education and STEM Careers. According to the US Department of Commerce, employment in STEM occupations grew 24.4% versus 4% employment in non-STEM fields, over the last decade. People with careers in STEM have higher wages of up to 29% more than non-STEM counterparts. Furthermore, STEM workers have at least a college degree versus one-third of non-STEM workers. Therefore, STEM degree holders earn higher wages regardless of whether they work directly in STEM careers or not.
All in all, STEM Education matters because STEM careers are becoming more desirable for future generation workforces. I mean, who wouldn’t want to earn more money and have greater odds of growing a successful career?
Now, with all that said, this sounds great and all, but teaching STEM can be tricky. This brings up my next point: problems with STEM education.
Problems with STEM Education Today
There are a few very distinct problems with STEM education today. A lot of times when I’m at teaching seminars or conducting professional trainings, teachers mention these problems. You’ve probably experienced one or all of them, so let’s talk about ways to overcome these problems and have better STEM classes.
Problem #1: Teaching “real-world” applications that aren’t so “real-world” to you
Like I mentioned, the basis of STEM is to encourage students to pursue STEM-related careers. Therefore, lessons are based around “real-world” industry applications. This sounds great, but the reality of it is, most teachers have not experienced or been in industry.
Which leads me to this question: Are you an engineer?
If you answered yes to this question, then feel free to skip to point #2. For the rest of you, I completely get it. I fortunately have had the experience being an engineer in a Manufacturing environment (both high volume and low volume factories). So, I’ve been around the “imagine working in a factory” scenario, and can personally visualize this.
But, for those of you who haven’t lived the engineering life, how can you take these real-world applications and make them meaningful (as if it was real-life)?
My first recommendation is to watch some videos. Here are a couple that I recommend:
These videos align nicely with my experiences in industry, so it’ll give you a real feel for what it’s like. Granted, nothing beats real-life experience, so if you have the opportunity to visit a manufacturing or engineering workplace, definitely make the time to visit.
TIP: Bookmark this page, and share these videos with your students! Could be a great way to kill 10-15 minutes of time while weaving in some STEM! 🙂
Now, let’s talk about resources. You’ve gotten over the whole “I’ve never been in industry” thing, but now you don’t have the materials needed to actually teach tech.
Problem #2: Having resources readily available to deploy STEM lessons
News flash, STEM can be expensive. Did you know that most “STEM” kits are $200 to $500 a piece? That can add up when you have a class of 30 students. Working in pairs is no longer practical because then you’d need at least 16 kits. So, unless you have an extra $3,200 lying around, it’s pretty tough to have the shiny new tech toys at your disposal.
Rather than having students work in pairs, I recommend trying groups of 3 or 4. Another idea is to buy one or two STEM kits and have students rotate in stations. That way everyone has exposure to the tech, without slamming your (non-existent) budget.
If you’re looking for my pick on an all-around STEM kit, I recommend checking out Cubit. They have a variety of kits that range from basic sensors for prototyping to STEAM projects to full-blown robot vehicles. They’re pretty versatile, and most schools see a return within the first year!
Furthermore, resources might also be limited when it comes to training and professional development. There’s always that one district that thinks they can become STEM certified overnight. I feel your pain.
If that’s the case, we’re here to help. In case you haven’t heard, we’ve recently launched our Downloadable Lesson Plans. If you’re not sure what to teach or need some inspiration, you can go to our store, pick out a lesson, and use it in your class. Lessons are released regularly, so be on the lookout for updates to our growing repository!
Lesson bundles include instructor guides, PowerPoint slides, Essential Questions, worksheets, activities, projects, grading rubrics, and alignment to National & Local Standards. Spend less time worrying, and allow us to work our tech magic!
Problem #3: Weaving in STEM content to core lesson plans
Lastly, there’s always the lessons you HAVE to do, but don’t necessarily feel like they’re the greatest. I’m sure you can picture that one monster lesson that could really use some revitalizing. This is where a little bit of creativity comes into play.
Pick a lesson that could use some improvement and dissect it. Cross examine the current lesson plans and projects. Find ways to replace old methods with modern tech.
Another example is for Earth Science classes. Rather than hack together a shake table with tennis balls, you could invest in a kit that teaches programming, electronics, and fundamentals of earthquakes.
Should you teach STEM?
STEM is becoming a catch-phrase in the modern education system. While I think it’s important that students are exposed to STEM, it’s also not for everyone. Just because there are many opportunities for growth in STEM doesn’t mean that everyone should go into those fields. On the other hand, STEM is a great excuse for educators to rethink how their courses are taught and provide opportunities for students to be hands-on with real tech.
Even if you’re not a “STEM” teacher, I think it’s important that you consider ways to include tech in your lessons. If five-year olds have iPhones, it’s time that we bring those resources into the classroom. Screens won’t be going away anytime soon, so we might as well take advantage of any and all resources moving forward.
And while I’m not a huge fan of how cliché STEM sounds, I am a huge fan of how cool tech actually is. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the “Eureka!” moment when a student figures out how to code, or gets their robot to move.
If you have any questions about STEM, how to teach it, or need additional resources, leave a comment below or contact me. Happy to guide you in the right direction!