Most schools today have some form of STEM education in the classroom. If you’re a parent, you may have seen some of the STEM schools in your district that place even more emphasis on STEM education than your local school. STEM and STEAM is definitely trendy in education right now, but the real question is, “why is STEM important?”
But before we get into why STEM is important for kids, we also need to understand what STEM education actually is.
What is STEM? What is STEAM?
STEM education is a form of educational structure that focuses on using science, technology, engineering, and math together in one cohesive unit to solve problems. You can think of STEM education as a holistic approach to education where instead of piecing out education subject by subject, everything a child has learned is used together at once to solve problems.
In some schools, you’ll see the acronym STEAM used instead of STEM (and here at STEAMsational, too). Adding the A into the acronym means that there is also importance placed on design and the arts in addition to the sciences.
Most STEM projects require an engineering and design element, so for the most part, STEM and STEAM are interchangeable acronyms.
If you want even more in-depth research on STEM education, the US Department of Education has a bunch of STEM resources for parents.
Why is STEM Education Important?
You may be surprised to read this, given that our site is entirely STEM projects, but for me, STEM education isn’t so much about *what* children learn as *how* they learn it.
STEM education boosts learning
Research shows that hands-on learning is the best way for kids to retain information weeks, months, and years later. In 2015, a study published in the journal Psychological Science found that when students were engaged in physical experiences they learned better.
Many other studies have also found a benefit of hands-on education. In general, what the research shows is that when a child does something with their hands, areas of the brain are activated that are not when a child just listens or reads to facts. The process of doing enhances learning.
STEM education is all about hands-on learning. Children are able to dive into the lessons and complete investigations with little or no help from a teacher.
STEM education promotes problem-solving
Hands-on learning is not the only other benefit to STEM education. Because of the structure of STEM projects and challenges, children are able to learn how to approach a problem using logic and open-ended problem-solving.
There isn’t a “right” answer to a STEM problem. This means that children are no longer limited by the fear of failure, and are allowed to embrace the process and come to different solutions based on their individual research, tests, and data.
The STEM classroom eliminates a lot of the damaging ideas that arise out of traditional grading systems and allows children to maximize their individual potential.
STEM education prepares children for the future
We can’t ignore the fact that technology is more and more a part of our daily world. Many of the jobs that people do today, from delivering packages to building roads, will be done by robots soon. This makes more of our role as humans one of facilitation, rather than direct hands-on labor.
We also used technology in areas never-used before, like art, writing, and music.
A firm understanding of the technology and design behind these inventions will help children find a place in the future, rather than feeling at odds with the development of the world.
STEM education encourages creativity and innovation
One of my favorite benefits of STEM education is that STEM education encourages creativity.
“How can a subject that focuses on math and science be creative,” you ask?
The STEM classroom is all about open-ended solutions. There are no wrong answers, only things that behave like you expect and things that behave unlike you expect.
In the STEM classroom, there is the ability to explore, test, and try things that have no limits. This sets up the stage for teen girls who figure out how to use water to harness electricity. Engineering and STEM challenges help children see that you can solve a problem at any age from anywhere.
This gives children the freedom to innovate and create in a way that is much more inspirational than the traditional classroom experiences.
Why Else is STEM Education Important?
Another interesting stat about STEM fields is that most current professionals in STEM careers are white men. Women tend to make up less than 30% of the people with STEM jobs. Minorities are often even less involved in STEM careers, with an average rate of about 10% in the United States.
Why does this matter?
There are a *bunch* of reasons why it matters that people of color and women are part of STEM careers, but there are two big reasons that are of personal importance to me.
First, if the future jobs market is mainly made up of STEM careers, this means that women and minorities are automatically at a disadvantage in career training and experience. This could further widen the pay gap between these people groups.
Second, researchers choose to study things that interest them. If you are fascinated by plants, then you’ll study plants. But if just one group of people makes all future technology decisions, then we end up with weird gaps in research and technology, like the recent problem of having no space suits for female astronauts.
We need diversity in our technology and innovations so that all people can benefit from the research.
What Can Teachers Do to Encourage STEM Learning?
If you’re a teacher, there is a lot you can do to encourage STEM education in your school.
You can request that more STEM programs get added to the curriculum. You can start a robotics club or science club after school. You can encourage all students to take an interest in STEM topics regardless of gender or racial identity.
Even if you don’t work in science or STEM, children pick up a lot from the attitudes of their teachers. Celebrating scientific discoveries and technological advancements and adopting a general excitement for STEM topics can benefit kids even in English class.
What Can Parents Do to Encourage STEM Learning?
If you’re a parent, there is a lot you can do to encourage a love of STEM topics in your kiddos. We like to start with STEM activities for kids.
You can also support an interest in STEM by talking about scientific discoveries, what’s happening in the scientific community, and encouraging your kids to investigate things that interest them.
After all, STEM kids are the next innovators, problem-solvers, and critical thinkers.