How Learning STEM in the Classroom Can Help Students Succeed

By Kim Moldofsky

STEM
How Learning STEM in the Classroom Can Help Students Succeed

Hands-on STEM in the classroom means discovery in the classroom. It means problem-solving, active learning and engaged students. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, collectively known as STEM, are key 21st century skills. Integrated STEM programming combines at least two of these topics rather than instructing students in a single subject. It’s not hard to do – after all, what is engineering or physics without math?

 

WHY STEM

 

STEM topics are hot right now because there is a large demand for qualified STEM workers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that there will be 1.4 million information technology jobs in just a few years. In addition, STEM occupations tend to pay higher than other fields. That said, not all STEM jobs are created equal, the most in-demand and best paying positions are predicted to be in technology and engineering.

 

Not only do we want to give our kids a crack at the most secure future but in an information-driven culture, we also want them to be scientifically literate. They need to understand the difference between facts and fiction or opinions. For example, if students look at this sophisticated website with detailed descriptions about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, can they determine whether it’s real or fake? (Totally fake, by the way.)

 

Project-Based Learning

 

STEM topics are a natural fit for Project-Based Learning (PBL). Integrated STEM education comes alive in the classroom and students’ minds with PBL. By engaging in actual projects, students are more immersed in learning. They apply their skills to a real-life situation rather than calculate responses to a problem in a textbook. I know a teacher whose middle school class converted a car so that it could be fueled by vegetable oil, but simpler projects work well, too. PBL requires students to research, brainstorm and design solutions. PBL often involves project teams, which help build skills like project planning, communication and collaboration that are needed for a successful career in any field.

 

Genius Hour

 

Another engaging way to incorporate STEM in the classroom is with a concept called Genius Hour. Krissy Venosdale, Innovation Coordinator at Houston’s Kinkaid, describes Genius Hour as a time to “set kids free to explore their passions.” Genius Hour is not simply a time to relax and read. It’s actually an energetic time. Students start by brainstorming big questions:

 

Why are so many of my friends allergic to peanut butter?

What if we could harness the energy of lightning?

How might we get people to recycle more and throw out less?

 

Then they move on to researching the answers and creating a prototype or project that summarizes their learning, which Venosdale points out “allows students to draw strong connections to what they are learning. STEM becomes a personal exploration of the world rather than a school subject. Genius Hour provides a learning environment that motivates, engages and builds kids’ knowledge and application of STEM.”

 

At the end of the year, students often share or demonstrate their products or research summaries to the class, which helps polish speaking and presentation skills.

 

“SEE”ing is Believing

 

One Chicago Public School takes STEM learning to a new level with the Science and Entrepreneurship Exchange (SEE) program. Not only does this program touch upon many of the passion points of PBL and Genius Hour, but it also adds in a hefty dose of real-world entrepreneurial experience by culminating in a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

 

Are We There Yet?

 

If your child’s school is not quite up to speed with integrated STEM learning, the National Education Association has a few resources to get them started.

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