Many teachers can tell you first hand that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education has been gaining influence in the world of academia for at least the last five years. Some parents have taken matters into their own hands and purchased a STEM box for their teens. There are plenty of different avenues professors can take to implement STEM education. Here are four popular tools aimed at facilitating STEM education in the U.S. (and many other) education systems:
1. Lego Mindstorms Education Kit
When it comes to STEM education, Legos can be used as integral building blocks for student visualization. The toys turned tools have been great for teachers aiming to help students take a more hands-on approach to class projects. In the edSurge guide, “From School to Shining School: 52 Stories from Educators Across the U.S.”, instructor Bill Church said, “I want the students to build the systems they explore. For example, in some of my labs during a unit on motion, students will build a robot, program it, and use it in a lab by the end of a class period.” Legos have added value because they can be easily assembled, but also easily adjusted, creating a plethora of additional lessons as students learn the implications variation can have in physics and engineering. In edSurge’s guide, Church said, “The most important benefit, however, is for the students themselves. The tools are easier to use so students can explore multiple ideas per project by comparing many solutions to design tasks or multiple iterations for measurement.”
Students who create their own models, alter them and improve them are more immersed in the learning experience. Active participation gives many students a more profound sense of ownership and pride.
2. BirdBrain Science
While BirdBrain Science isn’t as hands-on as the Lego Mindstorms Kit, it provides students and teachers with a different type of learning flexibility. BirdBrain Science is a compilation of research articles that teachers can distribute to students at different reading comprehension levels. The articles discuss different topics and are written at reading levels ranging from third through eighth grade.
Teachers can use BirdBrain Science to give article assignments that students can complete as homework or classwork. The friendly animation, warm narration and wide array of topics help remove some anxiety from the learning environment for students, while giving them a chance to grasp scientific concepts in a language that makes sense to them.
3. Spark Open Research
Spark Open Research is a platform created for sharing ideas between students, regardless of geographical location. It’s a virtual community focused on building and enhancing the skills needed to acquire and develop knowledge. Registered students can communicate and collaborate with other students internationally. Spark Open Research boasts initiatives such as online challenges (challenge.sparkopenresearch.com), in which students can join forces to learn about and offer solutions for some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Instructors can incorporate Spark’s resources into their curriculums and track their students’ progress through an intuitive virtual dashboard.
4. Google Made With Code
Made with Code’s mission is getting girls more interested in and involved with coding. Code is a tool users need to communicate with technology devices. It’s the language machines speak. A skilled coder can communicate ideas with a computer or a program, bringing things from a computer screen to real life.
Made with Code works to open doors for girls who might not know they have an interest in coding, primarily by showing them how it can be used regardless of the career paths they choose. A recent project from Made with Code garnered a lot of attention, as Fashion Engineer Maddy Maxey coded and partnered with designer Zac Posen to create a dress with functional, built in LED technology. The project has had significant success as more girls seem to have become more interested in computer sciences. Since its completion, more than 5 million coding projects have been attempted.
According to recent findings in a Pew Research Center report, only 29% of Americans see U.S. K-12 STEM programs as better than average. Scientists’ opinion of U.S. STEM programs were even worse. An additional survey pf American Association for the Advancement of Science members revealed a paltry 16% believe U.S. STEM programs were up to par. A whopping 46% of respondents indicated they felt these programs were actually below average. Tinker Crates are one solution to help reverse the decline; Spangler Science Club is another.
The news isn’t all disheartening. Findings show that U.S. students are now performing better on national math assessments than they have in the last 20 years. STEM education might have something to do with that upward trend. U.S. students rank in the middle compared to other nations taking the same exams, so there’s still work to be done.
STEM education needs instructor creativity and a continued, concerted effort to raise the needed support it needs in the U.S. education system.
This is a guest post from Umari Osgood who works at Bisk Education and writes on behalf of The University of Scranton online programs.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Waag Society.