STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Educators are linking the term to curriculum and learning opportunities for today’s students. This is becoming a significant focus because, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM occupations have grown (and are projected to grow) at above-average rates for the foreseeable future. As a result, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers are integral in the growth and stability of the nation’s economy.
But in the classroom, STEM learning is immediately appealing because children have an innate curiosity; they desire to explore how and why things work. Because of this, children already know how to behave like scientists. STEM learning seeks to broaden and deepen this curiosity and exploration so children grow to become active, engaged, and inquisitive learners throughout their lives, regardless of their future career paths.
While STEM learning might sound overwhelming, it can actually be simple to implement. This is because STEM activities can take place indoors or outdoors with modest materials that allow children to investigate, question, observe, and discover. Read below to find out how you can implement each letter of the STEM acronym in your learning environment.
One of the best ways to implement scientific exploration is by offering children opportunities to hone their skills in observation and prediction. Some great ways this can take place are through:
- Planting seeds and observing growth
- Experimenting with magnets to observe attraction
- Placing a variety of waterproof items in a water table to predict buoyancy
- Observing the lifecycles of living creatures, like butterflies
When students have a hands-on part in exploring these processes, they become more engaged with their own observations and predictions. Children may even want to journal the changes they see, their next predictions, and what they want to explore in the future!
The ‘T’ in STEM doesn’t just refer to electronic technology (like computers or tablets). It also has to do with exploring the tools that help people investigate the world and solve problems, like:
- Magnifying glasses, binoculars, and microscopes to view the natural world
- Measuring cups and containers to pour, scoop, and measure during experiments
- Scales and balances to compare weights of different objects
While students use these technological tools, it’s helpful to remind them that each one was designed (or engineered) by someone to help accomplish a task or make something easier to do – which is the overall goal of technology!
Engineering can be enforced by teaching children the importance of making things with different materials. This not only promotes spatial reasoning, balance, and symmetry, but also organization and creativity. Simple activities to explore engineering include:
- Creating structures with blocks of all kinds
- Designing large configurations with connectors and joints
- Constructing specialty sets using circuits, gears, or robotics
Engaging in these activities is also a great way to teach students about the importance of planning, designing, testing, and working cooperatively in order to successfully build something new.
Any activity that focuses on counting, classifying, matching, patterning, comparing, and exploring solutions reinforces mathematical thinking. These can include:
- Sorting and classifying items by different properties in bowls or trays
- Playing games with dice or dominoes
- Engaging in active play by running races with a stopwatch, measuring how far a soccer ball is kicked using a tape measure, or seeing how many jumping jacks you can complete in a minute using a sand timer
- Creating a store and using play currency to sell and purchase goods
Ask children to pay attention to other activities they’re engaged in throughout the day to see how numbers, comparing, measuring, or other mathematical concepts might show up unexpectedly.
Promoting STEM Learning
Remember, it’s not just the activities and materials that promote STEM learning, but the facilitation of educators. It’s important that adults create an environment that encourages curiosity and exploration. Also, ask children open-ended questions during STEM activities (like, “What do you think will happen next?” and “Why do you think that happened?”) to create new ideas and spark solutions to problems. This will create a dialogue about scientific inquiry that will stick with the students and flow into their future learning experiences.
There are so many ways to inject STEM learning into nearly any learning environment by adding some simple materials, asking questions, and letting children indulge in their natural curiosity. How do you incorporate STEM activities into your learning space? What do you do to encourage curiosity and discovery with your students? Let us know in the comments below!
Article submitted by: Lindsay Bayer, M.Ed.