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What is STEM education?

The STEM (or STEAM, as it is sometimes called) educational methodology is a pioneering, innovative way of learning that has the potential to supplant the old subject-based education model.

STEM and STEAM education: what are they?

STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) is a curriculum that combines science, technology, engineering and maths. Sometimes the letter A (arts) is added to the acronym.

The approach is based on a combination of theoretical and applied skills. Your child covers several areas of knowledge at once and gets a chance to use information, to test facts with his or her own experience.

  • The natural sciences explain the laws of nature that we encounter every day.
  • Technology makes it possible to test scientific knowledge in practice.
  • Engineering helps you work with resources, materials, learn to experiment, and improve your environment.
  • Mathematics develops accuracy, logical thinking, the ability to follow algorithms.
  • Arts, humanities disciplines are a way to understand social and historical processes, to communicate with people.

The STEM approach was proposed by scientists of the US National Science Foundation in 2001. The methodology proved to be effective and attracted the attention of researchers from other countries.

Why is STEM education so popular?

At the beginning of this century, it became clear that the world needed scientists capable of working in the field of science, the latest technologies.

The old subject-based school curriculum no longer covers the needs of the modern student. Physics, history, biology, mathematics and other subjects do not intersect with each other, leaving scattered scraps of information in a child's head.

STEM education combats this problem by creating enduring logical connections between disciplines. This helps children to look at the world globally, to notice patterns and similarities in different spheres of activity.

Pupils struggle to solve problems that require an interdisciplinary approach. In a child's mind, subjects are clearly separated: now we do maths, and in two lessons we do history. But when the need arises to link two sources of knowledge together (for example, to describe in detail the origins of Arabic numerals), the child finds it difficult.

The gap between theory and practice is also evident. Facts from the textbook remain incomprehensible - the child does not realise how the text of the paragraph relates to real life and experience. Consequently, the material is learned many times worse, and the memory does not retain massive but useless layers of information.

The STEM approach aims to eradicate this gap. The child learns to be well-rounded, efficient and proactive. How do teachers nurture these qualities in their students?

Features of the STEM approach

The STEM methodology is based on the assertion that ordinary engineers can no longer drive science and the economy forward. A specialist who wants to be successful in today's reality must combine and constantly develop the skills of an inventor, scientist, manager and psychologist.

Children are guided by their intelligence and resourcefulness to solve specific problems.

How can we tell if a teacher is using the STEM methodology during lessons?

The work and learning process is organised as follows.

An applied task is set, for which a certain project has to be realised. The children have to work in teams: they have to allocate roles in the team, decide on primary and secondary goals, agree on responsibilities, keep records - in a word, balance their forces and use them effectively.

The theoretical judgement is instantly demonstrated through experience, experimentation. There are specially equipped classrooms, laboratories.

Ideally, the A (arts) in STEAM acronym should be practiced in the classroom on a par with the exact sciences, so that the child does not grow up in isolation from society and the processes that take place in it. Theatre, in-depth study of foreign languages, and the basics of cultural studies are weighty aspects of training. Although some schools emphasise only the natural and technical sciences.

Children are concerned with current issues which could benefit the here and now: improving the environment, etc. The teacher provides direction and the children can offer their own insights. The materials and aids used by the teacher reflect the latest research in science.

The teacher offers the children problems which require analytical thinking - these can be solved in several ways.

The level of lessons, of course, depends on the age of the pupils, but you should study carefully the programmes offered by the school to make sure they are up-to-date.

The STEM approach destroys outdated notions of "technical" and "humanitarian" mindset: team members working on a project simultaneously develop multidirectional skills. Also, the new teaching methodology is gender-sensitive, giving absolutely all children equal opportunities for development and cooperation from childhood.

Benefits of STEM education for the child

The new approach in education develops qualities in children that will be useful in building a successful career. But if a child decides to tie his or her life to a profession far from the STEM approach, this method will in any case provide a set of useful skills and abilities.

Since primary school, children are taught to be inquisitive and to strive for new knowledge. The learning process is associated with adventure, with play.

The development of analytical thinking, the ability to analyse processes, to anticipate outcomes.

Interest in the exact sciences - the traditional school curriculum rarely provides an opportunity to show children that lessons in mathematics and physics can be exciting.

Pupils get used to working not only individually, but also as part of a team with equal partners who have a vested interest in the success of the project. This teaches the children correct, polite communication, mutual assistance and healthy teamwork.

They constantly work with modern technology and new facts from different fields of knowledge - the children get used to keeping up with the times.

Pupils regularly solve practical tasks and see the result of their efforts in the end - they get a strong understanding that the situation in the world depends on what people do.

STEM education has a positive effect on a child's self-esteem and values: the child sees how the different areas of life fit together, and this gives them a feeling of security and rationality.

Cons of the STEM approach to education

Like any phenomenon, STEM education has significant disadvantages.

STEM is, first and foremost, about educating future general engineers. Pursuing the development of logical thinking, teachers forget to develop the creative skills of their students, i.e., vocal, acting, fine arts, etc., they leave them on the sidelines of the educational process. Children with potential for these activities do not develop within the school walls.

It is difficult to find truly qualified teachers who are ready to work with the new methodology: subject teachers need to upgrade their qualifications to meet the requirements of the programme.

However, the STEM approach gives a ticket to the future - afterwards, the child will be ready to devote his or her life to the latest professions.

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