STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. You may also have heard of STEAM, which includes the Arts. Rather than teach them as four (or five) separate and distinct subjects, STEM is being cohesively incorporated into a school's syllabus to form part of a student's overall curriculum.
STEM is vital to the future of our economy and has a part in everything we do. How? Well...
STEM Explained in More Detail
Science is everywhere. It helps us gain a better understanding of the world in which we live. It's the study of matter and energy (physics and chemistry), the life around us (biology). It's the study of plants (botany), the universe (astrology and astronomy) and the earth (geology). From everything to the weather, to earthquakes, to the ocean's waves, to the sand at the beach, to what we eat and drink and the clothes that we wear, to the soap that we use, to the medicines that we take, to the flowers that we plant - it's all based in science.
Technology has seeped its way into everything we do in our everyday lives and effects everything we do. It has a role in how we sleep, how we play, how we study, how we work, how we travel, how we shop, how we diagnose and treat sick people. If we look around us right now, we'd be hard pressed to find something that has not been advanced by technology. We can thank technological advancements for our cars, our smart phones, our synthetic mattress, the springs in our beds, our energy-efficient light bulbs, X-ray machines, home appliances, water filters, the carpet that we walk on, the chairs we stretch out on, electric cars, solar panels, the internet, medical breakthroughs. Technology is innovation at its finest. We might not like everything about it, but it's here to stay and is advancing at a rapid rate.
Engineering is the application of scientific knowledge to solve problems in the real world through building and design. It encompasses everything from construction (houses, roads, bridges), to tackling climate change, to modes of transportation, to household appliances, and cell phones. It's the study of architecture, mechanical design, robotics, avionics, information technology, technology, engineering (civic, mechanical, electrical & chemical).
Math is the language of Science, Technology and Engineering. No matter what our job is, math is an essential part of our lives. When we think of math we often think back to the horrors of calc class. We wonder why it was so important to know how to do prime factorizations because well, let's be honest have we ever needed to do that since grade school? But math is so much more than that. It's needed for us to manage our household budgets, to shopping for groceries at the store, to understanding our taxes, to managing work budgets, to saving for a vacation. Having a good understanding of math is essential in so many careers and not just the obvious ones like stock broker, economist, accountant, and tax advisor. It also plays a significant role in graphic design, animation, photography, engineering, games design, sports commentary, a jet fighter pilot, astronomy, and more.
Why Is a STEM Education Important?
It's no longer enough to be proficient in English and math. It's no longer enough to just memorize a ton of facts. According to the National Math and Science Initiative; 15 of the 20 fastest-growing careers currently require a background in math or science.
“The innovations and creativity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will be the drivers of tomorrow’s economy,” astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, said in an interview with CNN. “If you are not a participant on that frontier you will trail behind it and possibly get left behind entirely.”
A STEM education is more than just those four specific disciplines, its benefits carry over into a whole heap of other areas. Through hands-on learning about real-world experiences, students are being taught to question, investigate, connect and reflect. A STEM education requires kids to create and innovate and build. Through the practice of critical and logical thinking, students are better able to problem solve, brainstorm new and better solutions, collaborate, communicate, and have the confidence to share their thoughts and ideas. STEM teaches kids how to engage with the world around them.
Building robots, experimenting with circuit boards, designing science experiments, coding, learning on iPads/computers, common core math, school field trips, science camps, are all great examples of STEM activities at school. But there's a lot we can do out of school too to further develop a child's STEM education. STEM activities for home can include LEGO building, baking, making your own play do'h, making a castle from cardboard boxes, even playing games on the iPad! The list is literally endless.
Wherever your child is getting his or her STEM education from, it's more important now than ever before. STEM workers will be the ones who "drive our nation's innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas and new companies" (US Department of Commerce).