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STEM education is the practice of incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math into the classroom. Add Art to make STEAM education! Teachers can promote a STEM perspective anytime, even in classes where the topics are not inherently STEM, such as history or music.
We’ve heard for a long time that there won’t be enough people with the STEM skills necessary to fill the engineering and tech jobs that are believed to be developing in the next decade or so.
The solution to this potential gap between supply and demand is a greater emphasis on STEM education, starting in elementary school and reaching all the way through the graduate level.
But there are other opinions, too. Some experts say that there is actually a glut of STEM workers, that companies are laying off more STEM experts than they’re hiring, and will continue to do so in the future. Others point out that many STEM workers didn’t study STEM subjects in college anyway. And there are plenty of people who say a solid liberal arts education is exactly what is needed to produce the innovators who will shape our world.
Here at Nomad, STEM is often on our collective mind. Most of our books carry a STEM or STEAM designation on the back cover. For us, this means our books teach and encourage creative and critical thinking and problem solving. When we think of science, technology, engineering, and math, we think of discovery, persistence, and eureka moments. We think of exploration and questioning. We think of the scientific method and the engineering design process.
An education that culminates in a solid foundation of science, technology, engineering, and math is never a bad thing. The danger is when we focus on these fields to the detriment of other fields, such as language arts, history, visual arts, music, and social studies. There’s danger in assuming that because college students major in STEM subjects, they will find well-paying jobs upon graduation.
Regardless, the critical and creative thinking skills that children learn through STEM or STEAM curriculum can be applied across disciplines.
Experiential learning is built on the concept of learning by doing. But it’s not just the doing that’s important. The reflecting part of experiential learning is the key ingredient for an experience full of discovery and learning!
Reflection is when you take time to think about what you did, what happened, what the results were, and why. This is the exciting stuff that you then apply to the rest of the world! It’s one thing to go through the different steps to complete a project, but it’s an entirely different thing to examine your experience against the larger context of understanding and global need. Without reflection, you’ll never know if your project could help solve world problems, such as climate change or hunger.
Reflection is the part of experiential learning that often gets missed in classrooms, laboratories, and home schools. We did the thing! Now we’re done! But hold on! Why did we do the thing? What did we actually learn? Were we surprised? Did we make a legitimate discovery? Is the world a little bit more knowable?
Try having your students ask these Before, During, and After questions to ensure the reflection part of the experiential learning is happening in your classroom!
Check out Nomad Press Classroom Guides for more Before, During, and After questions about our books!
Kids practice science every day, whether they mean to or not. Are your students obsessed with paper airplanes? They’re learning about aerodynamics. Do they mix together their juice and milk at the lunch table? Chemistry time! They may not be writing out the steps of the scientific method and they probably aren’t recording their data, but the impulse to ask “What happens if I do this?” is what science is all about.
This can be easy to forget. We all get caught up in filling out scientific worksheets and following step-by-step instructions. We faithfully record our materials and predictable results. Curiosity, inspiration, and wonder sometimes get lost in the dust.
But there are people out there who make science a daily part of their lives all year long. And, lucky for us, they make videos about their passion for science!
Kids love watching YouTube videos, so give them something to watch that will stretch their brains and blow their minds! Encourage your students to check out these YouTube channels with a science or math focus. Maybe they’ll even get some ideas for their science fair project!
Do your math students feel like they’re being creative when they work at solving complex problems? Do your history students feel like they’re being creative as they delve into the detail about the Marshall Plan? Should they?
Most people agree that creativity is an important part of the human existence. Without it we wouldn’t have paintings, books, sculpture, or gardens. We also wouldn’t have a rover on Mars or the Hubble telescope or penicillin.
Creativity might seem like it belongs firmly in the camp of the arts, but science, math, engineering, and technology are all incredibly creative fields of study. It takes a huge stretch of imagination to think, “Hey, what if we had a teeny tiny computer that we could carry around in our pockets and use to call people and take photographs and make restaurant reservations?” Without that first spark of “What if?” the rest of the invention never happens.
Check out some fruits of creativity! See some amazing photographs of space from the hubble telescope.
Innovation, which drives the invention of products, process, and improvements that make our lives healthier and more fulfilling, is a very creative thing. It’s the combination of imagination, discovery, and the recognition of a need. Innovators see a need and then figure out a way to satisfy that need.
What does this mean for kids in the classroom? How can we allow them time and energy to explore creativity (which tends to be their natural inclination) within a system that is necessarily structured? How can we encourage creativity in the classroom?
Let them figure more stuff out for themselves. At Nomad Press, we recently made a change in the way we structure the activities in our books. Whereas before we’d offer a step-by-step process to follow, complete with a comprehensive list of supplies, we now make many of our projects completely open-ended. We trust kids to take an idea and run with it for an experience of true discovery! The same thing can apply to classroom or home activities. Instead of helping kids with their experiments, let them see what happens.
Celebrate mistakes and failures. Ask any scientist and they’ll tell you that the road to success is paved with many, many failures. They’re inevitable! And they’re good things! You have to go through lots of failure to learn what you need in order to succeed. Failing simply means that you’re trying.
Ask more questions instead of providing answers. By asking questions, you encourage kids to think beyond the problem directly in front of them and look around to find their own way to an answer.
Embrace the mess. We know there’s a lot to do in a day without also having to clean up a mess, but when people are focused more on keeping things clean and less on the actual process, they end up limited in what they can try. Whether you’re teaching science, math, or social studies in a classroom or at home, take comfort that kids are stretching their creative muscles when they turn the kitchen into a mad scientist’s laboratory or set up a film set in the corner of the classroom.
Allow for interpretive assignments. Encourage your kids to explore different media. Maybe instead of writing an essay, a student could create a podcast episode, make a video, or design an interactive webpage. We have a wealth of technology at our fingertips that many children are comfortable with-let them explore different ways of responding to academic prompts.
Set aside time for a genius hour. Tinkering and makerspaces are all the rage these days, and there’s good reason for it. The makerspace movement is all about letting your curiosity dictate the direction you travel, and by hosting a weekly hour or two for just that, you’re giving kids a wonderful chance to let their imaginations run wild. You’ll probably find that they are far more focused on traditional learning as a result of having that time to follow their brains down whatever path they choose.
For students, school means hitting the books, losing the pencils, catching up with friends, and navigating a new teacher’s expectations. It might also mean getting to tinker away in a makerspace.
Makerspaces have sprung up around the world during the last several years as places where kids and adults can go to problem-solve, hack, create, explore, and make things with their own two hands. These things include furniture, clothing, art, video games, robots, and devices of varying usefulness-if you can think of it, you can make it.
Why are makerspaces important? They’re a chance to encourage kids to think creatively and critically. No one is leaning over them saying, “You must make this device using these materials with this process.” Instead, they’re deciding what to build and why, and even how to build it. Educators and researchers agree that these are valuable skills that kids will need in the future. Here are some of the things kids learn in makerspaces.
What can you do to promote makerspace activities in your classroom or library? If you have an area that you can dedicate as a makerspace, that’s the easiest way to ensure that the supplies are kept where kids will have easy access to them. It can also help students get into a maker mindset quickly and easily. When they sit down at that makerspace table, they know exactly what’s expected of them for the next block of time.
You can also keep a set of drawers that are specifically for makerspace supplies. For a list of great makerspace supplies, check out our free ebook on how to build a makerspace. Try to have a designated makerspace time every week when the supplies can come out and kids can get creative. It might be tempting to skip this time-you’ve got a lot to accomplish in those few hours of class time! But you’ll find that kids are refreshed and re-engaged with learning after an hour or so of being encouraged to use their hands and brains together to find solutions to problems.
Some communities have public makerspaces where people can go to use equipment and tools they might not have at home or at school, such as a 3-D printer or power saw. If you have community makerspaces near you, check to see if they allow school and homeschool groups to visit.