Should we teach STEM?
Are some aspects more about exploration, rather than teaching?
Do we facilitate kids enough to explore the world they live in?
Can we dumb down kids by ‘overteaching’ them?
Is there even a word like ‘overteaching’?
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain]
STEM was introduced in 2001 by scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Originally SMET, it was rearranged to read STEM. Over time it became popular throughout the world. In the last few years when the importance of Art was emphasized, STEM morphed to STEAM in some part of the education world.
There rose across the country a belief that Americans were falling behind in education which would eventually lead to a fall in societal prosperity. Under-performance among students became the talk of Congress. The intersecting space between education, workforce, and prosperity in society needed innovation to unlock potential.
After much debate, STEM became a standard and the govt. decided to fund STEM focused initiatives to give education a much needed shot in the arm. Shareholders like teachers, parents, educators, policy makers etc. put on their thinking caps. Curriculum was designed and a framework was put in place.
Importance of STEM
STEM got its important place under the Sun. Definitions and modalities were debated upon, but the importance of STEM education was equally emphasized by all. So weren’t we teaching kids about science and technology through the last few decades?
We were – but the quality that had made us a great nation was no longer there. The education system needed an infusion of fresh ideas. We had to learn from other best practices. We had to make our curriculum more interesting and appealing with more activities.
Any psychology textbook about kids always emphasizes holding a child’s attention. With the proliferation of digital devices, this is one of the hardest things to do. Teachers have had to innovate and actually include a digital device in education to hold their attention. That in itself has been both a blessing and a disguise. Although it can distract, it also give teachers a medium to create immersive study material, supplemented by videos, audio clips and interactive material.
3 ways to teach without teaching
Get the kids into a habit of exploration. Get them interested in the world around. Help them see the many processes which go into keeping the world the way we know it. AskNatureNuggets are one of the best was to get younger kids to be more observant about the ecosystem we live in. Point out the innumerable ways we are all enmeshed – plants, animals, microscopic bugs, insects, rain, fires etc. This takes a child’s mind down the path of how nature solves problems, and this then becomes the foundation for problem solving ability through their lives. Learning about STEM subjects is all about problem solving in the real world.
Play is a wonderful way for kids to learn. It’s not happening just around toys or learning material. Kids learn through just living their everyday lives; with dishes, things they eat, their clothes, during physical play, carrying stuff, or just any other plain vanilla everyday activity. They explore with all their senses. It’s not uncommon to see young babies pop things into their mouths. There are also those kids who love to smell things before they decide if they want to eat it or not. Kids put out their hands to touch everything. If a kid’s climbing a tree, it learns to judge branches as it goes along; can this hold my weight or can it not? As these things are learnt, adults sometimes do not even realize that the learning is happening. We frequently miss noticing all this.
Questioning is a great tool for kids to gather information. Frequently parents and caretakers get annoyed with a child’s non-stop questions and tend to shush them. Don’t. This is how kids fill the gaps in their knowledge. E.g: They know a car takes them places, but with their questions they try to figure out how. They might not have the right questions, but they ask to fill small gaps. As they grow older, they ask deeper questions to understand better.
To wind up
Before you teach STEM, encourage your kids to explore, play and question. This in itself helps them learn the basics of science, technology, engineering and math. Observe how they learn; in fact you might not even be able to join the dots!
These are tiny ripples in their long life of learning. It’s easier to ‘teach’ the STEM subjects on a firm foundation of knowledge acquired on their own.