As COVID-19 continues to keep students indoors, more parents are choosing to enroll their kids in online education rather than sending them to school. As a result, distance education is getting crowded, and we’ve needed to pivot our priorities to make sure we’re catering to newly distributed populations of learners.
But how do you make sure your child isn’t lost in a sea of online students?
Homeschooling is rising in popularity to bridge the gap between strictly online only learning and classroom sessions. Parents are taking the extra steps to make sure their children are meeting their educational competencies.
This may seem like a strange opinion, but it can be an exciting time (even if it’s hard work!) because it means that education can be innovated to suit the needs of each individual student. Therefore, there are way more options to make learning exciting and meaningful, and today we’re going to go into one of our favourite curriculum designs: STEM classes.
You may have heard of STEM as a category of education: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. However, STEM classes are different and have a lot more depth to them.
In this article, we’re going to go through an in-depth analysis of what these classes are, what they can offer, and how they can benefit your children. If you’re already itching to register your learner in STEM we offer a variety of classes for students to develop skills that will be directly transferable to postsecondary institutions and align with Canada’s education outcomes.
What is STEM?
The acronym for STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The term STEM has a few uses - in college and university it refers to the degrees and programs within it and in media it’s typically used as a measure of the gender and racial diversity within science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In these contexts STEM is more of a buzzword than an area of study.
In reality, STEM classes are definitely more than just a buzzword - they’re actually a curriculum design aimed at kids who are in elementary, middle, and high school. STEM aims to reduce the ‘siloed’ effect that traditional education has on school subjects.
Think of siloed education as a polka dot wallpaper. There are many dots arranged on the wall but none of them interconnect or overlap - school subjects are incredibly similar in that the student takes out their textbook, learns about anatomy, then puts their book away to learn about writing. The applicability of writing to other subjects isn’t analyzed, and vice versa.
But what happens when kids head to university after learning through traditional teaching?
Without the building blocks encouraged by STEM or other interdisciplinary curriculum design, students may struggle through their first year as they play ‘catch-up’ and develop important critical thinking skills they may be lacking.
STEM’s curriculum teaches the 4 disciplines but they’re interdisciplinary - meaning the teachings of one subject will cross into another and are used interchangeably. STEM is also applied, meaning there’s a hands-on approach to learning, some of which include building machines or conducting experiments.
Kids learn real world problem solving by developing competencies in important concepts and strategies, and then applying them in creative problem solving rather than memorization.
To keep students engaged, STEM uses an inquiry-based framework that allows the kids and teens to lead the class based on their own interests. For example, a student may decide their interests are in medicine. Their STEM program could then be adapted to explore their passions: science could look at anatomy and physiology, the technology classes could look at a number of areas including bridging medical access for rural Canadians and making healthcare secure, and the mathematics courses could look at prescription vs weight calculations or basic coding for robotics. Finally, the engineering courses could tie it all together with a project based in biomedical engineering - building a robot arm or prosthetic, and even looking at the science of medical devices.
STEM classes are highly adaptable to what inspires the learners, and education can easily be adapted to keep children engaged.
Beyond the core course offerings, STEM develops ‘soft skills’ which we will go over in more detail below:
Communication is the skill of giving and receiving different types of information. However, being good at communication means developing skills in a variety of different areas including active listening, empathy, confidence, adaptivity, and respect.
Communication skills are highly valued in the professional and postsecondary world. A person’s ability to relay information clearly, efficiently and in a way that develops and maintains relationships is often underdeveloped by the time they reach their career jobs.
The result of poor skill development can mean project targets are missed, relationships with colleagues are difficult, and university group work becomes near impossible. STEM curricula recognises the value of communication and ensures that students engage in projects that allow them to make connections with their classmates.
Creativity isn’t just for the art world - it’s how your child (and eventual adult!) thinks about an issue or challenge. Creativity is described as the ability to consider something in a new way, and is critical for not just STEM classes, but for every field of work and study. Creative thinkers have strong organisation, analysis, open-mindedness, and problem-solving.
STEM encourages students to look at a problem at all angles, and to try things even if they fail! This means that students are encouraged to tackle problems with solutions that they develop, not following a step-by-step prescribed process. Students can gain a more comprehensive understanding of a subject if they learn why something fails, not just the solutions to the issue. Beyond that, they’ll build critical skills for university and their careers.
Inquiry is the process of problem solving. It follows a cyclical method:
Study.com states that those who use the inquiry method can foster creativity, develop critical thinking, support reasoning skills, increase responsibility and encourage independent thinking.
Students develop skills in inquiry by driving the problem-solving process. They’re responsible for developing and testing solutions to issues, analyzing the results of their experiments based on scientific inquiry and honing their original hypotheses based on their data.
Students learn to think on their feet and work towards solutions in a methodical and rational way, while looking comprehensively at different methods they can go about solving it. This skill goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking and creativity.
The Foundation for Critical Thinking developed a great definition for critical thinking (adapted here and simplified):
Critical thinking can be defined as a mode of thought that develops processes by analysing a subject, problem or content by assessing and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is purely motivated by the individual: it’s directed, disciplined, monitored and corrective. This means that the action of critical thinking is thoughtful and intentional, and strong critical thinkers look to understand their own biases and how they play a role in their actions.
Students learn critical thinking by working through complex problems and adjusting outcomes as they learn more about the functions of their proposed solutions. STEM classes foster critical thinking by letting students work through problems on their own and experience failure - with these failures they learn a lot about how the world works and can take their own thought processes into account when developing new solutions.
Collaboration is the act of working together to accomplish a common goal. Good collaborators work with each teammate’s strengths and weaknesses and will collectively assign tasks that play to the skills of each member. They’ll compromise and share the load evenly and help those who may be struggling.
STEM classes foster collaboration through the engineering portion of the curriculum. When major problem sets are tackled, students will work with their classmates to develop solutions to the issues by following the guidelines of a good collaborator.
Engineering is the subject that separates standard instruction from STEM. Engineering classes take the instructional portions of the other three classes and use them to broaden understanding by letting students solve complex problems. These problems bring together concepts from other areas and allow kids to see the interactions of different subjects in the real world.
Some examples of engineering at work are: robotics, electricity/circuits, motors, colour development, space exploration, climate change and structural design.
Why is STEM Important?
STEM teaches important skills that are transferable to any field, as degree majors become less important to hiring managers and businesses. The soft skills that STEM students develop are critical to doing well in university and in their careers. Developing these skills early gives students an advantage as they tackle their young adult life.
What is a STEM High School?
A STEM high school functions similarly to programs offered to younger children. These programs integrate the curriculum at a broader scale by getting youth involved in community-wide problems or issues and allowing them to develop and propose solutions. STEM high schools go a bit further than programs targeted to younger children as they will also work to connect their students with career opportunities or development.
STEM schools defined the essential components of their programs as the following:
Each STEM school has individual and creative offerings and connections with their communities. The core elements described here are simply a jumping-off point for schools to create unique and driven programs meant to engage their students and foster growth.
What are STEM Careers?
There are thousands of different careers in STEM. As humans innovate, more jobs open up in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There’s no shortage of job development in relation to this area, as it’s the direction that humanity is pursuing. Even something as simple as a grocery store needs STEM graduates to help orchestrate major areas of their business, from the building and maintenance of their website to the engineering of their supply chain logistics (large-scale chain stores).
As the world gets more complicated, experts are needed in engineering to help ensure problems of all sizes are solved efficiently, effectively, and safely for all those involved. Students and graduates in university STEM programs have a lot of exciting opportunities to look forward to and a degree that’s adaptable to different fields based on their interests.
Here are a few examples of careers that students can pursue based on each discipline of STEM:
Some of the many careers in science include: geneticists, doctors, pharmacologists, toxicologists, analytical chemists, aerospace, urban planning and resource extraction, biodefense and regulatory affairs.
Information Technology careers include programmers, network and database administrators, application system designers, information systems managers, and IT consultants.
Engineering careers include civil engineering, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, environmental engineering, aerospace engineering, and electrical engineering.
Careers in Mathematics include research, teaching, consulting, investment banking, and data science.
In this article, we looked at a number of different facets of STEM and the different aspects of their programs. As STEM is such a general term, we went beyond the acronym and looked at the design of the curricula and its benefits for young learners. We then went into detail on the types of soft skills that can be developed through STEM programs, including the definitions of each one and their applicability.
The importance of these programs was defined and discussed as they relate to skill building and preparation for both postsecondary and future careers. We defined a STEM high school, and how they differ from standard science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses through their connection with the community and interdisciplinary function. Finally, we went over the types of careers students of STEM can pursue and the exciting growth potential that exists in the sector.
STEM’s an exciting pathway for students, and they can start to develop their interests at any time. If you’re homeschooling due to the pandemic, doing an online/hybrid model of education or want to simply provide your teen with more support before they head to university, we offer courses to help develop important skills and competencies.
From exponents, prime factorization and radicals to stoichiometry, mole and solutions, we have a variety of courses for different learning needs to prepare students for university. We also provide several different learning opportunities, including online only, flexible (which includes instructor support) and live teaching so you can pick what’ll work best for your learner!
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