For our new column, Ask an Educator, we turn to educators, whether teachers, tutors, or principals, to answer frequently asked questions from parents. To send in your question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, our question is:
“What is STEM / STEAM, and why is it important?”
Answering for us is Gerard Clyne, previously a Computational Astrophysicist, now the Headmaster and co-founder of Hyde Academy.
What is STEM / STEAM?
STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It represents an educational approach that integrates concepts that are usually taught as separate subjects and places a strong emphasis on applying these concepts to solving real-world problems.
Another related acronym is STEAM with the ‘A’ representing art and design. It is increasingly recognized that creativity is an essential part of innovation and elements of art and design can be found in model building, to simulate situations under investigation, or even in the packaging and presentation of new technologies.
STEM/STEAM concepts can be incorporated into almost every subject and grade level. Starting implementation in early elementary gives students an opportunity to quickly become familiar with the basic ideas in science, technology, engineering and math at the start of their educational career and also begins to introduce them to STEM occupations. It is possible to show students that knowledge of STEM subjects can be found in a huge variety of jobs. As students move into middle school and eventually high school the content delivered becomes more rigorous, and the application of the material becomes more challenging. As their knowledge increases, so too does their ability to apply these concepts to a larger class of real-world challenges.
As an example let’s examine the theme of water and see how it can be threaded through several subject areas.
Science: Understanding the processes and vocabulary associated with the water cycle. Exploring the basic chemistry of water.
Technology: Understanding how water is filtered and cleaned.
Engineering: Understanding how water pumps or hydro-electric plants work and the problems they solve.
Art: Students can create posters to illustrate the water cycle or make 3D models.
Mathematics: Understanding capacity, measurement of rainfall at school, recording data, representing the data graphically and calculating statistics.
Social Studies: Understanding water use around the world and the need for conservation.
Geography: Understanding how water can shape coastlines or how glaciers shaped the landscape during the ice age.
From the above it can be seen that it is possible to thread scientific ideas across multiple subjects in a thematic way and build real understanding and explore ideas in depth.
Why is it important?
Today’s scientists and engineers have to be effective communicators as well as deeply knowledgeable scholars in their respective subject areas. They also need to have an understanding and appreciation of how their work impacts multiple disciplines and be aware that solving real-world problems often requires drawing from a diverse knowledge base. This all points towards a need to blend the sciences together and incorporate it into many other areas such as language arts, social studies, history, geography and public speaking classes.
Studies are continually showing that there will be an increased need for STEM trained workers in the future. Exposure to these areas early in a child’s academic career gives them a better appreciation and understanding of the connections and relevance between different subject areas, and teaches them valuable computational and critical thinking skills. No matter what career your child chooses in the future, these are valuable skills that should be fostered.
STEM classes allow for inquiry-based learning, where children can explore important science concepts in an investigative manner. They are given opportunities to apply their knowledge to solve stimulating problems, allowing them a sense of accomplishment, creating independent learners, and raising their confidence as they learn to understand more about the world around them.
Photo: courtesy of Gerard Clyne