What Does STEM Education Look Like?

We have all taken a science or math course at some point in our lives. One of the challenges of understanding how education has changed, is changing, and will change, is that most of us have not taken a STEM course. If you thought about what STEM education looks like, you might think it is some math, some science, some computers to satisfy the technology part, and then some engineering and design.

We are all designers in one way or another. We design meals. We design our wardrobe. We find ways to get from here to there and choose “the best” way given a set of assumptions and parameters. STEM education involves design using science and math. STEM education looks like students using math, science, and things to make something better – that is, to get from here to there in “the best” way. For example, the “here” might be having a plastic container and “there” might be a thermos.

This is the case in an activity that challenges students to design a thermos as part of the K12 Physical Science course for high school students. Many of K12’s virtual lab experiences are STEM-related. They involve science and math, but the student solves a design problem in working through the lab. In an electric motor lab, for example, students do the lab and make a real electric motor, a virtual electric motor, or both. In each case, several challenges are explored.

Along with design, STEM education should incorporate problem solving . For example:

  • K12’s Algebra 1 course and the new Integrated Math series of courses use a game called K12 xSpark. The game is a review experience in which students ultimately design and build items needed for survival in a hostile landscape.
  • A Web Design is centered on creating a web site that meets a need or solves a problem.
  • In Forensic Science, students have the opportunity to do true, STEM work – they do not solve a crime, but they use math and science to solve a problem of some type, adding to the information needed to solve a crime.

In all of these cases, math and science use and improve technology to get us from “here” to “there,” even if “here” and “there” are figurative.

Parents might notice their children using STEM as they solve problems at home or, with an understanding of how STEM works, encourage the practice. Its value is clear, but we could do a better job of teaching our children what it looks like and why it matters.

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