If you’ve got school-aged children or follow educational news, you’ve probably heard about STEM. But what IS STEM, exactly? And why is it suddenly so important? Read on for answers to some of your most pressing STEM questions and ideas for simple STEM activities you can do at home with your kids this STEM-tember.
What IS STEM?
STEM is an American educational curriculum implemented in 2009 by President Obama, emphasizing Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering in public schools. Rather than teaching these subjects individually, STEM is a blended approach that integrates the subjects into single lessons in an attempt to teach real-world, scientific, problem solving and strategic thinking skills.
Why is STEM important?
America grew to be a global super power based, in part, on our superior science and engineering skills. The role STEM careers will play in our country’s continued success is growing exponentially. However, the number of students interested in and qualified to pursue these fields has diminished drastically over the years. By the year 2018, the U.S. will need 8.65 million workers trained in STEM fields*, but currently, according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16% of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. As a result, there is a push to increase the number of teachers trained in STEM instruction and to encourage students’ interest in pursuing STEM careers, in hopes of enabling America to continue to compete in the future global marketplace. This effort is so important to the U.S. government that the President’s 2015 Fiscal Year Budget Proposal included $170 million in new funding just to support the STEM initiative.
What can I do to reinforce STEM learning at home?
There are tons of fun ways you can support STEM learning at home, with FUN being the key word. Introducing the STEM subjects in playful, real-world ways increases the chance that your kids will want to continue to study them through school and beyond. Think scavenger hunt—not flash cards! Below are 10 ideas to get you started:
- Block play—Building with blocks is a great way to introduce key STEM principles. How many bricks will you use? Why did the tower topple? How can you build a bridge? An arch?
- Baking—Whipping up a sweet treat isn’t just together-time fun—it’s also an easy way to slip in a yummy lesson on measurement. How much is a tablespoon? A cup? What units do we use to measure liquids? Solids?
- Kitchen chemistry—Kids love to measure, pour, mix, and add some more. Explore the basic principles of chemistry with a kit designed just for little ones, like the GeoSafari® Jr. Jungle Crew Lab Set including 10 hands-on activity cards.
- Active math—Make math fun with movement! Take turns counting your steps or hula hoop spins and timing your races. Subtract to see who wins and by how much.
- Nature collections—Take a walk and collect natural fall objects, like leaves, grass, nuts, and seeds. Discuss where they came from, why they look the way they do, and what purpose they serve. Google any unanswered questions when you get home.
- Board games—Card games are a great way to hone strategic thinking skills. Koala Capers is a fun strategy game for younger kids; Crowded Waters develops problem solving skills and teaches older kids to think a few steps ahead.
- Coding games—Introduce the basic concepts of coding with fun on-line games designed just for kids. Websites like Code.org feature games with familiar characters like Anna and Elsa and tutorials starring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Angry Birds, and Plants vs. Zombies to lure in older kids.
- Upcycled art—Engineering meets art! Provide a pile of recycled materials and let your kids go crazy building upcycled structures. Be sure to include a variety of materials, from egg cartons and empty milk containers to paper scraps.
- Stargazing—An evening of stargazing is a wonderful way to introduce astronomy. Start simple, by locating the moon through an easy-to-use telescope like Nancy B’s Moonscope, then move on to constellations and planets. Click for 7 Simple Tips for a Night of Stellar Stargazing.
- Marble Runs—Put your kids’ math, engineering, and scientific know-how to the test by building your own marble run! Follow our step-by-step instructions to learn how.