Child building with Legos

What is STEM and Why is it Important?

Featured photo by Kelly Sikkema

It seems likely that many parents with young-ish children have heard of STEM by now. The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The United State has an ever increasing demand for people trained in STEM fields, making education more important now than ever.

STEM education

STEM education is a style of teaching that offers students the opportunity to problem solve on their own. Multiple subjects are used together. Instead of just “teaching the facts”, kids (or adults depending on where you are at in your journey) are able to look at a problem, come up with various ideas for a solution and be able to test those theories using a basis of knowledge.

Many of us have wondered, “When am I ever going to use [insert science or math topic here] in real life?” STEM seeks to help you answer that very question while learning the material.

STEM not only seeks to EXPOSE children to these types of careers, but it also wants to make it (gasp) FUN. Do you remember learning subjects separately? Maybe you learn multiplication during a specific time of the day, attended a class just to learn to type, and then learn physics by reading a book? STEM education IS NOT THAT. Kids are encouraged to learn code, build robots, make things explode (okay, that may be a bit much) and recombine the DNA of bacteria, among many other super exciting ideas.

Why Does STEM education matter?

STEM fields are the backbone of many industries in American society. I’m not just talking about the next big tech thing (although that is a large contributor to the economy) but things like healthcare, community infrastructure, agriculture production, logistics systems, they all need problem solvers with a scientific knowledge base. Even if your kid isn’t going to end up in a STEM field, it’s always going to be helpful to encourage problem-solving and experimentation.

In addition to training better-prepared professionals, introducing STEM at a younger age, and in a consistent manner, is theorized to help more marginalized groups attain STEM careers. We (as in society) should want more women engineers. We should want more POC in Tech. The only way to solve problems that affect all of us is to have a diverse range of voices at the table coming up with inventive solutions.

child building extensive structure out of tubes

Personal Thoughts

I don’t think you’ll find it surprising that I am a tad bit biased in my love for STEM because I LOVE biology. I think the STEM experiments look so fun and I wish I had more problem based learning when I was younger. While I was always pretty good at science and math, I didn’t really get excited about it or even envision myself in a science based career, until high school. My interest in genetics was really fostered by my biology teacher. Mrs. Bray encouraged me to reach beyond what was in front of me and explore (and follow) my passion.

However, it gets me thinking sometimes: What if?

What if I had been exposed to STEM earlier? Would I still be where I am today? Would I be better at approaching problems of all kinds? Could I have pushed myself to go further in my education? In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, for me. But I will continue to advocate for it, both for my children, and for others’.

It should be made clear that STEM is not the magic bullet that will create perfectly functioning education systems and close the gender and race gaps. I think literature, art, music, history, civics and psychology are all important things we need to be exposed to as well rounded individuals. Obviously children are going to have different learning styles and (more importantly) different interests. Not everyone is going to be (or wants to be) an engineer, coder, or doctor. We will still need business owners, artists and everyone else that contributes to society. All I’m saying is that it can’t hurt.

Have you found STEM to be all it’s cracked up to be? Have you found a program or toy that really sparks your kids’ interests? Let me know and leave a comment below!

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