7 Compelling Reasons to Involve Students in STEM
By Anne Jolly
“STEM literacy has a profound and growing impact on our day-to-day lives. It helps us make critical decisions about our health care, our finances and our retirement. It illuminates the ever more complex issues that govern the future of our democracy, and it reveals to us the beauty and power of the world we inhabit.”
I love that quote from Change the Equation. It sums up the reasons we need a society of capable and creative individuals with expertise in science, technology, engineering and advanced mathematics. STEM is our future. And our students find value and their own individual futures in STEM today.
Here are 7 Reasons to Engage Students in STEM Lessons:
- STEM lessons help students deepen their understanding of important science and mathematics concepts. In fact, this is a key driver of K-12 STEM education. Students learn in ways that more closely represent how scientists and mathematicians use science and math in the real world. (In STEM the focus in on depth, not breadth.) As they apply central science and math content during STEM lessons, students can gain a real, hands-on understanding of major concepts rather than just knowing facts.
Teaching tip: Students will probably need help at first in recognizing and identifying specific connections between math and science. Be intentional and deliberate in helping students see these interconnections.
- Students become innovative critical thinkers and can make good decisions. Students are free to make informed decisions about how to solve problems. There are no single “right” solutions. Armed with the idea that problems really do have more than one correct answer, STEM students can generate ideas freely without fear of being wrong. In fact, they don’t need to fear failure at all. Mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process.
Teaching Tip: Emphasize that many possible correct solutions exist for a particular problem. Be willing to let students make mistakes – then help them learn from these.
- Students learn a method for approaching and solving problems. Problem-solving involves finding answers to questions and solutions for undesired effects. STEM lessons revolve around the engineering design process (EDP) – an organized, open-ended approach to investigation that promotes creativity, invention, and prototype design, along with testing and analysis.
Teaching Tip: With the increasing popularity of design thinking, a number of effective design processes are being used by current education initiatives. For STEM lessons, stick with the engineering design process.
- Students develop a social conscience. STEM classes can address real social, economic, health, safety, and environmental situations in your students’ communities, both local and global. They can begin focusing on issues that make a difference for their communities and people in them and begin taking more responsibility for caring about and solving these problems. Working in teams and thinking about cost-control issues also helps students learn to make responsible trade-offs when needed.
Teaching Tip: Focus on some STEM community projects to increase the probability that your students will become caring individuals committed to solving community problems.
- Students develop good collaboration skills. Probably no personal qualities are more in demand in the workforce than the ability to collaborate and to communicate effectively with others to reach a goal or develop a product. STEM students should be working together to brainstorm, research, design, create, and develop prototypes to solve problems. STEM work requires responsible and productive teamwork and gives students ongoing opportunities and guidance to develop collaborative skills.
Teaching Tip: Encourage your colleagues to use a common form of teamwork in their subject areas and in other lessons you teach. Helping your students work together productively builds skills that will be useful in every area of their lives.
- Students become more technologically literate. In STEM, kids broaden their understanding of technology – tools used to make life easier and better. They learn to view technology as more than computers. Technology in STEM education helps students be aware of the technological world they live in; how technology, science, and math support each other; how to learn to use new technologies as they become available; and how the technological decisions we make impact our lives and the lives of others.
Teaching Tip: Use your STEM classes to help school become a place that feels up-to-date to kids, and a place where they enjoy coming.
- Students understand how their STEM work opens the door to future careers. STEM students understand that the skills they are acquiring can help them be successful as 21st-century workers. They know that through STEM coursework they may become the leaders who improve our economic growth, national security, and our future. Keep in mind that many students enter the STEM field through jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree or advanced degrees. STEM skills are for everyone!
Teaching Tip: Intentionally connect what your kids are learning to specific, real-world careers. Invite STEM professionals into your classroom. Whether or not students enter STEM careers, they will be STEM-literate and able to use the skills they learn to be successful in their chosen profession.
Anne Jolly is a STEM consultant, MiddleWeb blogger, and online community organizer for the Center for Teaching Quality. She began her career as a middle school science teacher in Mobile County Schools in Alabama and is a former Alabama State Teacher of the Year. Anne has recently co-developed nationally recognized STEM curriculum with support from the National Science Foundation. She writes for a variety of publications. Her most recent book, STEM by Design, is published by Routledge Press. Find her regularly on Twitter @ajollygal, on her blog at MiddleWeb, and on her STEM by Design website.