What is STEM? What is the difference between STEM and STEAM? Perhaps you’ve seen the terms before, or maybe STEM is brand new to you. STEM is actually not new, but it is gaining a lot of attention in recent years as educators look for more effective and meaningful ways to connect with and engage students.
At Stanmore we have been embracing this approach over the last couple of years, with intensive training for the teaching staff and the purchase of new resources, including more flexible furniture to allow students to work in different ways.
What is STEM?
At its most basic, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Alternatively, STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. But STEM education is far more than just sticking those subject titles together. It’s a philosophy of education that embraces teaching skills and subjects in a way that resembles real life.
Why is STEM Education Important?
The key component of STEM and STEAM is integration. Instead of teaching disciplines in independent subject silos, lessons are well rounded, project and inquiry based, with a focus on interdisciplinary learning. STEM and STEAM align with the way we work and problem solve in our daily lives, making it an exceptional way of instructing and learning. With STEM, we are teaching skills the way they will be used in the workforce and the real world. Rarely does a job require only one skill set like mathematics. Architects, for example, use science, mathematics, engineering and technology to do their jobs. The subjects do not work on their own, instead they are woven together in practical and seamless ways allowing the architect to design complex buildings.
STEM and STEAM are not new, they are simply ways of understanding and applying an integrated form of learning that resembles real life. Instead of teaching mathematics as separate from science, they can be taught together in a way that shows how the knowledge from those two fields compliment and support each other.
Why add the A in STEM?
The addition of Arts to STEM to create STEAM is about incorporating creative thinking and applied arts in real situations. Art isn’t just about working in a studio. Art is about discovering and creating ingenious ways of problem solving, integrating principles or presenting information. Picture an architect, they use engineering, mathematics, technology, science and arts to create stunning buildings and structures. Many people feel that adding the A is unnecessary and that the application of creativity and arts is a natural part of STEM, but others like to highlight it. For primary school children, in particular, including the A ensures that facet of learning is built into our lessons. Whether you prefer STEM or STEAM the underlying principles and practices are very much the same, it’s about integration of the pillars: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.
How Will STEM Improve Student Learning?
Simply put, STEM reflects real life.
Jobs in the real world are interdisciplinary. We need to educate children in how subjects integrate and work together. They need to develop diverse skills sets and a passion for exploration and growth. We don’t need children to memorise random facts anymore. We have so many facts at our finger tips now. When I’m having a debate with someone, I can pull out my phone and in seconds have all the facts. Education is no longer about memorising facts. Instead it is about learning how to think critically and evaluate information. How to apply knowledge, research and skills to problem solve. Skills need to be taught in an applied way, as part of a greater whole, rather than the traditional approach of individual subject silos.
STEM embraces the 4Cs identified as key in 21st Century education: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication.
Most importantly, by incorporating inquiry based principles and a highly adaptable framework to suit students of various needs, STEM helps to foster a love of learning. And the most important gift an education should give a student is a love of learning.
What Are the Challenges With STEM Education?
One of the greatest challenges with STEM education is the provision of resources. Funding for the newest technology, training in how to use the new technology, plus the knowledge of how to use it effectively as a learning tool, are all areas that need to be addressed.
The focus of this approach needs to be on innovation, creativity, critical thinking skills and problem solving skills and these are not easily boxed up and assessed.