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What is STEM Education and Why Is It Important?

A young student works with his classmates building a robot.STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM education involves teaching students these subjects, giving them skills that can bolster their academic performance and prepare them for the modern workforce.

Teachers play a big role in getting young students interested in STEM early in their academic careers. Understanding how to use tools such as Makerspace and earning a STEM Teaching Certificate prepare teachers for success in this important area of education.

Why Is a STEM Education Important?

Learning STEM skills is important for students to help them navigate an increasingly complex tech-driven world complex. It teaches students skills that can lead to innovations the world needs to sustain the modern economy. Science literacy also can help students in a variety of areas both now and in their adult lives.

STEM education helps students:

  • Thrive in a tech-driven world that is changing how students learn, connect and interact
  • Develop and practice critical thinking skills
  • Get more interested and excited about learning
  • Practice skills valued in a knowledge-based economy

STEM education also brings together people of different genders, races and ethnic backgrounds. That’s a welcome change for some areas of STEM that have historically lacked diversity.

Preparing Students for Adult Life

Starting early developing STEM skills can also prepare students for success as adults. The demand for STEM skills is high. According to the Western Australia Department of Education, 75% of jobs in the fastest-growing industries require STEM skills.

Also, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that 80% of jobs will require technical skills in 20 years. The growth in STEM-related occupations is about 70% higher than the rate for all occupations.

STEM also helps kids develop non-technical skills, known as soft skills. These skills include:

  • Creativity
  • Inquiry skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Initiative
  • Communication
  • Digital literacy
  • Problem-solving

STEM Activities for Kids

Teachers can use various free and structured play and activities to teach students about STEM concepts, allowing them to practice STEM skills. These activities work best when child-led, helping children learn practical applications of STEM concepts in the real world.

Some ideas for STEM activities include the following:

Cloud in a Jar

This activity involves using a few simple items—a jar with a lid, hot water, hairspray and ice—to show how nature forms clouds. Hot water is poured into the jar. Then, kids place the upside-down lid filled with ice on top for about 20 seconds. They then remove the lid, spray in some hairspray, replace it and watch the cloud form in the jar.

Oil Spill

In Oil Spill, children learn the impact of oil spills on the environment. Kids fill a pan that has a mixture of water and oil. They then place different items in the mixture, including feathers, sponges and cotton balls. Teachers give them materials to clean them—allowing students to learn firsthand how difficult that is—while teaching them how environmental and chemical engineers approach solving this problem.

Sticky Note Number Match

In this activity for younger kids, teachers place groupings of items in different numbers on a wall or draw them on a whiteboard. These items can be groups of anything—dots, lines, apples, bears. Teachers then give the students sticky notes with numbers on them, and students place the sticky note over the grouping that matches the number.

Coding a Lego Maze

This activity teaches young children the basic idea behind coding using mazes and instruction cards. The kids guide their character through a maze by placing instructions such as “Go Forward” or “Turn Left” at the proper places, “coding” the maze to guide them in the right direction.

Crystal Sun Catchers

This classic science experiment for kids involves dissolving Epsom salts in hot water in a jar. This is then poured into plastic lids placed in the sun. After a few hours, the sun evaporates the water, leaving the salt in beautiful crystal formations.

Fresno Pacific University’s STEM Teaching Certificate

The STEM Teaching Certificate that educators can earn online through Fresno Pacific University offers K-14 educators the opportunity to learn new methods for engaging students with STEM experiences. The focus is on coupling STEM concepts with how they are applied in real-world situations.

Teachers can earn professional development credit while discovering new strategies for introducing STEM concepts to students, getting them excited about the possibilities of using STEM skills. With the importance of STEM in the modern world, having these skills provides teachers a way to impact their students’ futures positively.