Benefits of Incorporating STEM Education Into Schools
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs are comprehensive interdisciplinary studies that students of all ages can learn. STEM fields are significant forces of innovation and development, resulting in modern technology and advances that improve our daily lives. Teaching STEM in school can encourage exploration and curiosity in kids, as well as teach them about the world around them in a fun, hands-on manner.
What Are the Benefits of STEM Education?
STEM education is important as it offers several benefits to students, from developing programs that allow for deeper learning to teaching them critical skills they can use to succeed in life. Understanding how a strong STEM program can benefit your students can help you decide if you want to incorporate STEM into your curriculum.
1. Shows Real-World Applications
The nature of STEM programs includes applying real-world scenarios to bring kids out of the classroom and show how they can use subjects in real life. This kind of lesson helps students understand the importance of the subject matter to better appreciate what they are learning and feel more invested in their education. For example, when students understand the importance of math in everyday life, they can feel more motivated to learn the concepts and pay attention in class.
Especially for middle and high school kids, connecting the subject material to something outside the classroom can keep kids engaged with learning. When they understand why learning something is important, they can maintain or discover their passion for specific subjects when many students lose interest in their education.
2. Incorporates Hands-On Learning
While many subjects rely on lecture-based lessons, STEM can provide a break in that learning style and provide hands-on activities. STEM activities and topics use many different skills, like problem-solving and critical thinking, that work better when kids can interact with the subject material themselves. They can get close and explore what interests them, whether by exploring bugs and plants on the playground or building towers out of blocks.
Hands-on learning can provide a unique way of interacting with school subjects and engage students differently, increasing their excitement about the subject. It gives them a break from regular learning and a new way to look at their education. Many teachers like STEM activities because they can interact more with students and see what they can do.
3. Promotes Equality in Education
Teaching STEM at a young age can help encourage more kids to pursue a career in STEM. While kids might not be planning their futures in elementary or middle school, introducing them to various subjects when they are younger can instill a lifelong interest and passion in subjects, encouraging them to seek degrees and jobs in that field.
STEM is an excellent subject for promoting equality in the classroom since all kids can participate in lessons and activities. Introducing STEM to younger students can help give young girls and kids of color the hands-on learning experience and opportunities to explore STEM subjects.
While women make up half of the workforce, only 27% of all STEM employees were women in 2019. Additionally, out of those, most of these women work in health or life sciences, while only 15% of women make up engineering positions.
Many girls overlook STEM education because of societal pressures to pursue more traditionally feminine fields, and some have a challenging time navigating and climbing the ladder in male-dominated fields. Introducing STEM to young girls through school programs can help introduce them to subjects they’ll love and promote more gender diversity in the field.
Additionally, STEM is a predominately white field. White employees hold around 67% of STEM jobs, compared to 13% of Asian employees, 9% of Black employees and 8% of Hispanic employees. STEM programs for minority students in school can teach young kids of color about STEM fields and encourage them to pursue those interests.
4. Develops Critical Thinking
The importance of STEM education is that it can help develop several vital skills that kids can use for the rest of their lives. STEM encourages students to think critically as they work to solve problems. While other disciplines might give students problems with only one correct answer, STEM activities require students to go through trial and error to determine what methods work best.
Students use previous lessons to help them understand and solve current problems and activities, building their knowledge gradually. For example, they might learn a complex math formula that builds on their previous studies, and then use that formula for a science activity, representing how the two subjects work together.
Critical thinking is an essential skill that students can apply to their futures. Many employers value soft skills over hard skills because soft skills are more challenging to teach. When students develop soft skills like critical thinking through STEM activities and lessons where it comes naturally, they can help gain the skills they need to set themselves apart from other applicants later when they are trying to get a job, regardless if they choose to go into STEM.
5. Fosters Creativity
Alongside natural critical thinking, STEM activities and lessons naturally encourage students to think creatively and try unique solutions. Teachers can emphasize in classes how some of the greatest inventions came from people thinking outside of the box, encouraging students to apply their most creative ideas to the problems at hand.
Creativity also reinforces the idea that many STEM problems can have multiple avenues to a solution. STEM emphasizes the process and structure of arriving at a solution with concepts such as the scientific method. Even if students don’t prove their hypothesis, they still learn valuable lessons through preparation and experimentation.
Today, creativity is ranked among the top skills businesses look for in the hiring process. Employers want employees who can offer creative solutions when facing a challenge where standard procedures and processes fail to provide help.
6. Encourages Independent Exploration of Subject Matter
While much of STEM takes place in the classroom under the guidance of teachers, many students can take STEM subjects out of lessons and continue to explore what interests them independently. Whether going to the library to find books about topics or exploring the world around them, students have many opportunities to continue interacting with STEM after lessons and activities end.
Independent exploration is an integral part of play and childhood development. When kids take the chance to follow their interests and curiosities, they can learn more about the world around them and themselves. Self-exploration teaches kids that it’s okay to ask questions and seek answers themselves.
STEM especially encourages independent exploration. Students can apply what they’ve learned to their personal lives through play. They might notice interesting cloud shapes while playing on the playground and take a minute to study and think about why they take that shape. If they loved engineering and technology classes, they might try building new structures out of their toys at home.
7. Teaches Collaboration
Teamwork and collaboration are other essential skills that kids can naturally learn from participating in STEM activities. These activities create an environment that encourages students to work in groups to find the best solution. Group activities help teach them how to communicate their ideas and talk through problems with other students. Students will also have to learn to respect the thoughts and concerns of other students, and they might even have to make compromises to come up with practical solutions for their group.
STEM activities are great opportunities for students to build their teamwork and communication skills because they are often low-stakes and fun. Students can work together to create a bottle rocket or build the tallest tower, allowing them to try different communication techniques and approaches to discover what works. They can practice in a safe environment with other students they know, helping remove any stress of talking to strangers.
Like many other soft skills that STEM teaches, collaboration and communication are essential in the workspace. Many work environments rely on employees solving problems and completing projects in teams. Employers want someone who can work well with other people and express their ideas and concerns effectively.
8. Builds Resilience
STEM is unique because it can redefine how students perceive failure. STEM subjects and activities allow students to develop a healthier relationship with failure and instead reframes it as a learning opportunity.
Because STEM is a naturally exploratory field, students can try many different options when solving problems, allowing them to build their creativity and problem-solving skills. However, when their initial solution doesn’t give them the result they want, they have the chance to keep trying. STEM teaches kids that it is okay to try again and that the best ideas might not come on the first try.
This kind of mindset helps kids build confidence and make them stronger in the face of failure or stress. STEM teaches them to be adaptable with their ideas, so they can think of alternative solutions when the one they have isn’t working. They can apply this skill to many other situations, including the workplace, making them valuable employees and great team members.
9. Sparks Interest in Future Careers
STEM learning also connects kids with different potential careers. Activities can highlight the skills and subjects that go into various projects, helping show students how many fields and jobs apply their STEM education. Activities like building toothpick bridges, launching bottle rockets and playing with gears can help introduce kids to various real-world aspects of STEM and the work that goes into them.
10. Integrates Other Disciplines
STEM can connect to many other subjects. Within itself, it can function as an interdisciplinary curriculum, where skills and lessons from one STEM subject can apply to many others. Math and science are often the basis of technology and engineering lessons and lectures, requiring students to remember and apply what they’ve learned. However, STEM subjects and skills can also apply to other courses and classes.
Many schools add art to STEM programs to create STEAM. Art relies on the same creativity and exploration that the other STEM subjects do, giving kids another chance to develop these skills in a different environment. Many STEM subjects are essential aspects of creating art as well — students can apply science to create specific hues and understand how humans perceive color, or use math to create dimensionally accurate figures and designs.
Understanding the benefits of STEAM education can help students who start careers in STEM. While technical skills are necessary for employees to thrive in their fields, many projects also rely on design and aesthetics. Art experience or skills help students stand out and bring more to their STEM projects.
While STEAM represents how interdisciplinary the subjects are, students can also connect STEM lessons to other courses. Students connect other topics to what they have learned in STEM, helping them develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the lessons.
For example, students might learn about electricity and build circuits in their science and technology classes and then learn about the discovery and invention of electricity in history lessons. This interdisciplinary connection of STEM subjects helps highlight how prevalent and relevant lessons are outside of the classroom and how students can interact with STEM in many ways.
4 Obstacles to Providing STEM Education
While STEM learning provides kids with several benefits that often have long-term effects on their education and careers, many schools and teachers experience obstacles and struggles when implementing STEM programs. Understanding these obstacles can help teachers and administrators prepare for what they might face when considering integrating STEM programs at their schools.
1. Program Consistency
Many schools struggle with the lack of consistency that comes with STEM teaching, starting with the concept of STEM itself. STEM has many variations, each adding a unique emphasis and priority, including:
- STEAM: STEAM is a STEM program with the addition of arts to highlight the importance of creativity, exploration and design. While STEAM programs don’t highlight art as a science, they argue that arts are an integral part of STEM subjects and should connect to them somehow.
- STEMC: The C in STEMC stands for computer science. While many STEM programs implement computer science courses and lessons into technology components, STEMC programs want to ensure that computer science has more weight and importance. They argue that computer science experiences a lot of growth and will teach students the skills they need as technology advances past what they learn in other technology lessons.
- STREAM: STREAM is another program that builds on STEAM but adds reading as one of the essential subjects. This take on the STEM curriculum emphasizes that STEM students still need strong reading comprehension and writing skills to survive and succeed in their fields and aim to teach them at a young age.
While each of these STEM variations aims to teach students essential skills and advocate for their success, they support the idea that the existence of STEM means teachers have to prioritize those subjects over all others. Teachers and administration should be sure to create STEM programs that don’t exist at the expense of other topics, like arts and the humanities.
2. Teacher Qualifications
Another area where schools struggle when implementing STEM programs is with teacher certification. Many teachers lack the training or experience necessary to teach more complex STEM concepts like computer science and engineering.
With a lack of training and field experience, teachers might struggle with more than just lessons. Real-world applications are an integral part of STEM lessons and activities and one significant benefit. However, teachers might not feel comfortable making connections outside of the classroom if they are less familiar with the applications themselves.
Schools that implement any variation of STEM education should prioritize their teachers’ training and preparedness to undertake complex STEM lessons. Offering training or paid trips to STEM conferences provide valuable sources of inspiration and education that teachers can use in the classroom.
3. National or State Standards
While other academic programs must meet national or state standards to ensure students receive the same primary education across the country, there are few wide-scale standards for STEM programs. Science and math curricula have specific criteria for concepts teachers have to teach students, and states usually have standardized tests to measure how well students comprehend those materials.
However, technology and engineering programs have no standards, which makes it challenging for schools and teachers trying to compile a curriculum for their students. They might be unsure where to start or the basic and crucial skills they should ensure students know by the end of the year. This can halt the progress of STEM program development, especially when teachers lack field experience or necessary training.
4. Funding and Infrastructure
The challenges of STEM programs can occur on several levels, including on school district, county or state levels. Many school districts lack the funding to support comprehensive STEM programs for students, as computers or other necessary equipment may be out of their budget.
While elementary and middle school programs can support STEM programs with more basic concepts and simple activities, high school programs might require more advanced technology to keep students engaged and expand their knowledge. Some schools might have students with increased interest in STEM who want more specified classes and programs with explorations into topics like robotics and electrical engineering.
Schools often lack the funding they need to develop these specialized STEM programs because they require expensive equipment, tools and supplies. Further, they might need to hire new teachers to teach these courses or train interested teachers in concepts to have the right qualifications.
Because STEM programs can be more expensive than other school curricula, often, wealthier counties are the only ones that can afford to provide these programs to their students. This challenge creates a disparity between the STEM education and opportunities offered to students at different schools. However, schools can apply for funding to support students’ pursuit of STEM through various programs.
How to Get Started Incorporating STEM
With several benefits and challenges, there are several tips educators can use to create vital STEM programs that serve the interests of their students, including:
- Developing a thorough curriculum: A large part of STEM programs is to introduce students to other subjects they might not discover on their own. Including a diverse selection of activities and lessons can ensure that each student will encounter a unit or lesson that intrigues them.
- Designating a specific area: You can encourage continual STEM exploration and excitement by marking specific areas for STEM. This can be a classroom corner with books and activities on STEM subjects or a room for experiments, like a lab. You can even designate a portion of your playground for STEM exploration and curiosity.
- Starting young: Kids as young as kindergarten and preschool can interact with STEM materials and gain valuable life skills from the lessons. Younger kids can learn more about the world through classes and independent exploration, taking advantage of their natural curiosity.
Contact Miracle® Recreation About Bringing STEM Education to the Playground
STEM can prepare kids for the future with valuable life skills and introduce them to something they become passionate about. However, STEM can exist beyond the classroom. Encourage students to continue exploring STEM and following interests by creating designated STEM areas on your playground.
Miracle Recreation creates fun, interactive play equipment that all kids can use to learn more about the world around them and satisfy their curiosity. The Miracle Museum collection incorporates bright colors and moving elements to encourage kids to explore equipment and discover what each component does. The Miracle Machines collection builds an interactive experience and incorporates designs inspired by real-world technology, like gears and levers.
Request a quote today and discover how you can bring STEM to your playground.