Chances are that you’ve already heard of STEM. It’s the buzziest of buzz words when it comes to education, and it’s something that your child’s school is now counting as essential. So, what is it, why does your child need it and how can you make STEM fun and exciting?
Let’s start at the beginning. STEM isn’t the thing that holds up a flower. Okay, technically it is. But, it also stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. STEM skills are inquiry-based (focusing on open-ended questions and exploration) and have practical applications for the 21st century learner.
Not only are STEM skill areas part of your child’s school curriculum, they include concepts that she may just use in her future career. Why do we (as humans living on Earth) need to start science, technology, engineering and maths education early? According to the Australian Government’s Office of the Chief Scientist, STEM addresses the challenges that we face living in an ever-changing environment, managing food/water, keeping the population safe and healthy and growing economically. On a more kid-friendly level, STEM engages your child in creative thought, promotes critical-thinking and helps her to better understand the world around her.
STEM seems serious. It seems academics driven. It seems stuffy, boring and kind of clinical. Right? Maybe the science or math classes in your day were all of the above. But, today’s STEM is action-packed and exciting. How can you add some energy to your at-home STEM activities?
Start with your child’s interests. No one likes having learning forced down their throats – especially children. Pick a STEM activity that resonates with your child’s natural ‘likes’. Is she totally into bugs? Go outside and explore creepy crawlies with a magnifying class. Take notes or draw pictures of the nature observations or snap photos that your child edits on your laptop or tablet.
Get creative. Rote memorization and listening to lectures isn’t exactly an engaging way to get your child into STEM. Make activities into adventures by kicking them up a creative notch. Add an art project, get moving and make the activity physical (e.g., your child can make over-sized math equations and jump from number to number), turn an experiment into a movie that your child films with your phone’s camera or set up a pretend play scene (such as an imaginary science lab that’s filled with potions).
Combine activities. Whipping up a batch of slime is super-exciting when it comes to your child’s science favorites. Now add a few ingredients to make it heat-sensitive or magnetic (combining states of matter with energy or magnetism). You can also combine the different STEM areas. Use math and a computer program to engineer a skyscraper model or measure plant growth (combining science and math).
Use technology. It’s already part of the STEM equation, so why not add it in? Grab the tablet, use your smart phone or open the laptop. Load a few learning apps that are interactive and educational. Feature mathematics lessons (counting, equations, geometry or statistics), do virtual science projects or solve computer-based engineering questions.
Ask questions. STEM becomes much more fun when you stop telling your child the answers. Begin each activity with an open-ended question. These include questions that call for some critical-thinking and can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
Step up your STEM game with creative activities that engage your child’s mind and make her want to giggle with learning-filled glee. Let her explore, make discoveries and experiment to her heart’s content. Whether you’re getting technical with an app or computer program, building well-engineered super-structures, hopping from equation to equation, exploring the flora and fauna of your yard or combining all of the areas into one — taking STEM out of the classroom, putting it into the real world (or at least your world) and making it fun turns education into excitement!
Australian Government, Office of Chief Scientist http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/STEMstrategy290713FINALweb.pdf