Implementing and integrating STEM education in schools involve various strategies. It largely depends on whether you treat STEM education as a separate special academic track or not.
On a more bigger scale, the implementation and integration of STEM education in schools is determined by the policy directions of the national or federal education department (cabinet level), the state or regional levels, and the local government levels. This may vary from country to country, depending on whether the local government levels have some autonomy in terms of education policies and programs.
There are also significant differences between public schools and private schools. The same is true between science-oriented schools and general curriculum schools. The specific strategies that schools use are largely determined by three things:
- Qualifications of faculty
- Quality of facilities
- Students’ abilities or aptitude
What is integrated STEM education?
Integrated STEM education simply means treating two or more subjects not as separate and specialized subjects, but as interdependent subjects.
For example, when teaching physics, math subjects like algebra, analytic geometry, and calculus are not taught as separate subjects, but as tools for understanding concepts in physics. Math subjects are applied to specific problems in physics, such as acceleration and rotational motions.
Similarly, when studying biology, the practical applications of engineering can be included. Case in point: the efficient flight of insects can be mechanically mimicked in the design of small drones. Many biological designs, such as the way air is circulated inside a termite mound for example, have insightful applications in engineering and architecture.
Integrated STEM education teaches the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation, and also emphasizes the significance of looking at problems from multiple perspectives.
Implementation of STEM education in schools
The direct implementation and integration of STEM education in schools is, of course, the responsibility of the individual learning institution. This is then echoed by the teachers inside the classrooms. Nonetheless, the teachers should have the flexibility of choosing the methods of teaching that will best suit the classes they are handling.
The following factors should be considered when implementing and integrating STEM education in the classroom:
1. Flexible layouts
The classroom must be conducive to learning, cooperation, and creativity. A STEM classroom typically isn’t a traditional classroom with columns and rows of desks arranged in regimented manner. STEM classroom layouts should be flexible. For example, you could combine a conference table arrangement with a wide floor space for doing projects.
If you are teaching elementary classes, it’s generally more conducive for learning STEM subjects if there are gadgets and toys that your students can play with, and learn through hands-on experience.
The flexible layout design of your classroom does not necessarily mean that it should be disorganized or cluttered. You still need to be organized in terms of placing things in your classroom. There should be racks, cabinets, and shelves for this purpose.
It’s also important that certain areas of the classroom have specific purposes. One area could serve as the reading area, another could serve as the computer area, another one could serve as the laboratory area, etc.
3. Team-driven work environments
A team-driven work environment, either in a classroom or in the laboratory, should alway allow for smooth interactions between students. This might require a large space for students to move around in.
It may also include equipment that requires multiple students to assemble and operate. For example, instead of having pre-installed laboratory equipment like a distillation apparatus, you might want to get students to assemble their own apparatus in a group.
In some cases, limiting the available equipment can also be helpful in terms of developing teamwork, even among separate groups. Division of tasks can be encouraged with specialized work stations that depend on other workstations.
4. Digital/technological resources
Hands-on gadgets and interactive kits should be included in a STEM-integrated classroom. You should at least have computers or laptops, and tablets, 3D printers, and electronic-mechanical kits are also very helpful. If your school has sufficient funding, you might also want to have AI, IoT, or virtual reality devices. These are great ways for students to reinforce their learning and creativity while learning about technology that will be the future norm.
What strategies can you use to engage students in STEM learning?
If you’re a STEM teacher, whether in elementary, middle school, or high school, there are various strategies that you can use to engage students in STEM learning. They can be a combination of one or more strategies, such as hands-on activities, audiovisual presentations, team projects, and lectures, and you might also include online and asynchronous learning options for students.
One good strategy that you can use is to build a cohort of support and collaboration. This can extend the STEM learning experience well beyond the classroom. It involves breaking down a large class into smaller groups, with students supporting each other in terms of studying lessons and building projects.
Are you an educator looking for STEM resources for middle school, high school or university? Take a look at Arduino Education kits and how they can support your hands-on STEM lessons.