What is STEM?
First a little background on STEM. I like to think of STEM as much more than an acronym. STEM really is a philosophy. STEM is a way of thinking about how educators at all levels—including parents—should be helping students integrate knowledge across disciplines, encouraging them to think in a more connected and holistic way.
Our knowledge of how people learn has grown substantially over the last few decades. We now understand that success in learning requires the learner to be at the center of the experience, making connections across disciplines and also across contextual settings. Children need to be presented opportunities to learn the same material in different settings and through different lenses. The traditional approach of teaching topics in isolation does not support the ways that children learn best.
STEM, on the other hand, calls on parents and educators to give children chances to investigate an idea in a variety of settings, for what educators call cross-contextual learning. For example, in addition to math worksheets to help practice counting, we can take students outside to practice counting real objects that they find, such as rocks, acorns, or leaves. Their learning is strengthened when they learn the same skills, ideas, and concepts in different contexts.
We can also blend math and science to make learning interdisciplinary using a STEM approach. And the learning becomes more relevant when students go outside to explore nature. By asking the right questions, we can help stimulate investigations where students are identifying objects, making comparisons, making predictions, testing ideas, and sharing discoveries, all while observing their natural environment. Students can also explore sizes, shapes, patterns, and quantities in the process. In this way, children can learn concepts from different disciplines in different contexts, all in ways that are naturally engaging to them.
Written by: Joshua M. Sneideman