STEM: It’s All About the HOW

As an educator, there are many different trends and words that seem to make the rounds through our world of education.  The same seems to be true of “STEM” which has definitely been quite the buzz for the last 5 years or so, but is it just a trend?  

I’m here to say, it most definitely is NOT!

The emphasis on STEM education first began as a way to prepare our students to compete in an innovation-driven economy. We’ve all heard that saying “We’re preparing our students for jobs that don’t even yet exist.” While that may be true, we do know the best way to prepare our students for these jobs is to teach them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.  

STEM has several variations of acronyms commonly used. Whether we’re talking about STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) or STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts & Mathematics); STREAM (adding in Reading & Math) or STEMM (adding Music), the point is truly not what we’re calling it; it’s the how.  How are we teaching and how are students learning?

Essentially, STEM is all about the integration of subjects and the exploration of these subjects in a real-world collaborative way. It’s about giving students opportunities to explore and utilize critical thinking skills, creativity, and problem-solving. Instead of teaching subjects in isolation (because real life doesn’t work that way), subjects are explored in an interdisciplinary approach. These connections allow for richer and deeper learning.

“STEM is important because it pervades every part of our lives. Science is everywhere in the world around us. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. Engineering is the basic design of roads and bridges but also tackles the challenges of changing global weather and environmentally-friendly changes to our home. Mathematics is in every occupation, every activity we do in our lives.” (“Why Is STEM Education So Important” by Engineering for Kids)

Our Indiana DOE recognizes the importance of STEM education: “STEM will equip students with 21st-century skills, preparing future generations of Hoosiers to thrive in STEM-related businesses and industries”. INDOE has also published a 6 year STEM Strategic Plan for schools in Indiana to help guide the process in moving towards problem/project-based learning and inquiry-based instruction. Three main goals/objectives have been set:

  1. Improve STEM Instruction: 100% of Indiana K-12 teachers will be trained in problem/project/inquiry-based approaches to learning by 2025.
  2. Scale Evidence-based STEM Curriculum in Classrooms: 100%  of Indiana K-12 schools will implement an integrated, evidence-based STEM curriculum by 2025.
  3. Foster Early STEM Career Exposure: 100% of Indiana’s K-12 schools will create and sustain robust STEM-related business and industry partnerships in order to inform curriculum, instruction, and student experiences to foster college and career readiness.

While this may sound like a bit of a challenge, it means our Indiana educators have a tremendous opportunity over the next six years to participate in professional development to further their skills and knowledge in implementing STEM curriculum in their classrooms.   

Our INDOE also offers a wealth of resources on their STEM page to help schools in this STEM journey, as well as the steps to become a STEM certified school, a list of STEM certified schools in our state, and upcoming grant opportunities.  Making the transition to full STEM implementation takes time, trust, and teamwork, but our students and their learning are worth the effort!

Written by Sherry Gick