When I was growing up, we never spent time in the classroom working on a STEM project. In fact, really the only time we referred to “stem” in school was in regard to our study of plants.
However, as I got closer to earning my degree and credential, the term STEM was beginning to become a hot topic.
And now, the term STEM – and most recently the term STEAM – are becoming increasing popular AND powerful in classrooms across the country.
So, what exactly is it?
STEM (which we started seeing in the early 2000s), stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. And in recent years, there has been a big push to include an A in this acronym – intended to incorporate art and design – creating what educators refer to as STEAM.
You may ask, “If teachers are already teaching science, math, technology, etc as subjects in the classroom, why is there such a push for STEM/STEAM?”
The goal of a STEAM approach is to create a learning environment where students integrate science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics to solve real problems. STEM/STEAM challenges often ask students to work together to ask relevant questions, brainstorm solutions, communicate about potential problems, seek out information, and apply this information to create a solution.
Does it need to incorporate all of the listed disciples to be a STEM activity? No! Remember, the goal of STEM/STEAM is to encourage students to be innovative problem solvers through a variety of opportunities.
Who would benefit from STEM/STEAM activities?
In a word, EVERYONE!
Whether you’re teaching in a traditional classroom, homeschooling kids at home, or working with kids through tutoring, camps, or other programs, every child can benefit from STEM.
And one of the things that I absolutely love about STEM/STEAM is that it appeals to different learning styles and natural abilities. A student that might struggle in reading, may be the one who is able to come up with 3 different solutions for a STEM challenge.
Obviously, what I would present to a kindergartner would be much different than what I would present to a 5th grader, but the sooner we can teach kids to think creatively, the better!
The bottom line is, STEM and STEAM activities encourage students to be creative problem solvers – and why wouldn’t we want to develop this in our kids?
Why is STEM/STEAM important?
25 years ago, the thought of people literally being able to carry a computer around in their pocket and be able to connect with other around the world seemed unfathomable. Even when I was in high school and technology was starting to change rapidly, I had no idea just how quickly the advancements would come!
Suffice it to say, our modern world is highly driven by the components of STEAM, and we need to develop learners that keep asking hard questions, developing creative solutions, formulating plans, doing research, and applying it to real world problems. STEAM not only exposes children to these learning experiences, but it helps them to develop an innovative mindset that we hope they will carry with them into adulthood.
Since we’re working with acronyms, I’m going to use that sane acronym to give you my top 5 reasons for including STEM/STEAM learning opportunities in your classroom.
Students Love It!
STEM/STEAM is FUN! Kids are naturally curious, and STEM activities are definitely driven by that! It encourages students to question, explore, and wonder about the world around them – and it’s hands-on! As a teacher and a mom, I have seen my kids fall in love with STEAM activities!
Teaches Cooperative Learning
The majority of STEM/STEAM projects involve students working together in pairs or teams to come up with a solution to a problem. Not only does this foster an environment where kids learn to work together, it also teaches them the value of listening to and learning from the ideas of others. Watching students work together (and celebrate together) is such a delight.
Encourages innovative problem solving
One of the most valuable components of a STEAM challenge (in my opinion) is that it encourages students to come up with creative solutions for problems. Furthermore, there’s not just one way to solve the problem. Different solutions can be suggested, developed, and tested. Students may come up with multiple viable solutions. All the while they are engaged in the learning process and learning from each other.
Allows Us to Focus on the Learning Process
I’m definitely a “recovering-perfectionist.” And looking back, I think that during my school aged years, I definitely placed way too much focus on the outcome (the test score, the grade, the award), rather than the learning process. How I wish I would have understood how much more valuable that process is! I love that STEM is all about the learning process. Yes, the hope is to be able to create a solution to a problem, but the end goal is not what it’s all about! We’re much more concerned with the questioning, innovation, and critical thinking that’s involved in the learning process!
Multiple Learning Styles and Abilities are Celebrated
As I alluded to above, STEM/STEAM activities focus on an integrated approach to learning, and often tap into students’ strengths, experiences, and even learning styles that may not otherwise be shared. I have seen students that tend to be reserved or hesitant in other subject areas absolutely “shine” during STEAM time.
Looking for some FREE STEM Activities for your little learners who are obsessed with dinosaurs? Be sure to grab these FREE Dinosaur pattern block templates and STEM Challenge Cards below!