Tuesday, May 10, 2016
STEM Education: What should STEM be in the Elementary Classroom?
Author: Kimberly Scott
It seems everywhere we go we hear about STEM. Activities and summer camps are all being labeled as STEM. Even my church is labeling the 3rd-6th Grade Vacation Bible school as being taught by STEM educators. What exactly does that mean? What is STEM? Is it good for elementary science education? I am not so sure. Somehow the meaning and purpose of STEM is getting lost.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It is the integration of these 4 areas. Instead of teaching them as separate subjects the goal is to integrate them together. The initiative started because students were not prepared in college for these fields. They would then decide on another major instead of a STEM related field. We now have a shortage of people in STEM related careers. These careers are vital for our economy. The STEM Initiative first started as a way to promote science related careers. It's main goal is to prepare students so that more will choose a STEM career. It is not a curriculum, but a way to teach and expose students in a positive way to STEM subjects. Much of this method is already taught in science classrooms.
I love teaching science to elementary kids. I don't do it in the hopes that they will go into a STEM field. If they do that is wonderful. I teach science to inspire kids about the world around them. Science is a great way to get kids excited about learning in general. Everyone needs to know science. It is all around them. Science is in baking, lawn care, bikes, television, computers, cars, going to the doctors, and so much more. We all need to be more literate in science, technology, engineering, and math. It will help us make educated decisions about our health and well being. Critical thinking and problem solving is needed in everything. It will make us all better citizens and leaders.
The STEM initiative is getting it right in creating more excitement about science. Science, math, art, and social studies got lost when "No Child Left Behind" began. They have become the subjects you complete if there is time in the elementary school day. This has created kids that are not ready for middle school. Therefore they get more frustrated and begin to dislike science. STEM is helping to bring back the focus. STEM helps to create a blended learning environment which helps create a positive learning experience. It integrates subjects together. This gives real world examples for using math. Students focus on problem solving, testing ideas, and collaborating with others. It is important to make sure we remember to start science in the elementary schools. This will increase their belief that they can learn science and students will be proficient when they enter college. The key is not to forget to teach science. STEM is helping students become aware of the careers available. STEM is also helping to create teacher training. Many elementary teachers just don't have the background to teach science effectively. They themselves had negative experiences in science class and shy away from the hands-on. From my experience it doesn't have to be much hands-on to really create an impact with students. Just adding 4 STEM experiences a year, along with a good science curriculum, will expand their learning.
Why am I getting frustrated with STEM? The goal of STEM is great, but now it seems everyone wants to get on the bandwagon. The term is being used by companies and programs as a way to make money. Businesses are claiming to offer STEM programs, but what they are doing is not what STEM initially wanted. School districts are getting grants to open what they call STEM schools. At the elementary level I find that dangerous. One problem with "No Child Left Behind Act" was that it took away from a balanced elementary curriculum. The same could be said about STEM. Elementary students need to learn about all subjects. Art, music, reading, writing, physical education, and social studies are also just as important. Not everyone will go into a STEM field. Students at the elementary level need to be exposed to all. Science education should not just be focused on careers, but having a science literate society. A balanced education will give students more choices. We can't just teach the STEM method. It needs to be integrated into the curriculum. The goal is to inspire students to love learning. Providing a balanced and hands-on education will cause more to go into STEM fields and more will be willing to dream big in whatever career they want.
I found several articles that discuss STEM. I picked a mix of pros and cons. It is important to understand all of it. I am for STEM, but I am not for forgetting about other subjects. I believe when STEM is done correctly it helps build critical thinking, higher order thinking skills, and a love for learning about the world around you. These are essential to a good science curriculum.
"What's Wrong with STEM?" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vinay-trivedi/stem-education_b_5101816.html
This article discusses access to STEM education. It talks about demographics, teacher training, and accessibility.
"Carol Craig: STEM is not a Four Letter Word" http://www.floridatoday.com/story/money/small-business/entrepreneurship/2015/07/19/carol-craig-stem-four-letter-word/30388715/
She discusses the role of women in science. She also lists organizations that are doing it right and not getting into the business of STEM.
STEM Education Coalition: http://www.stemedcoalition.org/
This is the site you need to understand all about STEM. This is where you get the true meaning of STEM in creating policies to promote careers.
"Six Characteristics of a Great STEM Lesson" http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/06/17/ctq_jolly_stem.html
What actually makes a STEM lesson? This is a great article. If you are looking to truly create something and label it STEM then make sure it contains these parts. It creates great links to help you create Great STEM Lessons.
Departments of Educations Website: http://www.ed.gov/stem