STEM Curricula Don’t Have to Be Gee-Whiz to Be Effective
By Brent Broaddus, Florida 4-H
More and more, schools are tasked with incorporating more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into the classroom. The reason? To make sure students are ready for higher education and are prepared to join today’s workforce.
This due to a fundamental shift in how employers view potential employees. Employers are less interested in potential employees with
specific degrees and qualifications. Instead, they look for people who are competent in a variety of areas and use this to solve problems and create new ideas. STEM exposes students to a range of disciplines and helps them develop the versatility and entrepreneurial edge employers now seek.
However, educators sometimes view STEM too narrowly. The stereotype of STEM is robots, circuit boards and rocketry; however, this version of STEM may not be practical or feasible for many schools and teachers.
Here are some tips for breaking out of the STEM stereotype while still providing STEM opportunities for teachers and students:
Select curricula that tie into careers
Participating in STEM gives students a chance to see themselves in future careers. Help students make the connection by explaining how people in various professions us the skills and concepts they are learning. For example, a pinewood derby car project is a chance to talk about careers in mechanical engineering. Likewise, a lesson on animal biology can lead to a conversation about jobs in healthcare.
Understand the financial investment
Oftentimes, the STEM activities that look “cool” can also come with a hefty price tag. However, less expensive activities can have just as much educational value.
Teach STEM in unconventional ways
Many lessons and activities already have STEM built in. Cooking and baking teach math and chemistry. A field trip to a nature preserve can turn into a lesson on environmental science. Even painting, with its concepts of balance, shading, blending and depth, is STEM.
Make STEMS hands-on
Students learn STEM best when they directly experience it—whether that’s by starting a club to pick up litter, using the color wheel to paint a portrait, or raising a chicken from an egg. Hands-on learning is generally more memorable and long-lasting than other forms of curriculum delivery.
Use STEM to teach soft skills
In addition to STEM, employers are also looking for employees with “soft skills”—social and communication abilities that help people work with colleagues and clients. STEM projects are an opportunity for students to work in teams and practice communicating with those outside their group.
Invite those in STEM into the classroom
Hearing from adults in STEM careers show students that real people use STEM everyday in their jobs. However, don’t fall into STEM stereotypes. For example, if you invite a computer programmer, also invite a graphic designer who uses computer technology in their work; if you invite a chemical engineer, also invite a veterinary technician.
Florida 4-H is the youth development program of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. With a focus on leadership, community service, STEM and healthy living, 4-H uses a learn-by-doing approach to help nearly 200,000 Florida youth ages 5-18 gain the knowledge and skills they need to be responsible, productive citizens. To learn more, visit florida4h.org.