STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is an acronym that was developed decades ago to express how these areas are connected to each other. Science is all about asking questions, and technology really means a set of tools. Engineering seeks to solve problems, and mathematics is the language that flows through them all.
While public schools have always taught science and math and used the tools available to them, adding the problem-solving element of engineering is relatively new, as is the acknowledgement that all of these things are better taught and learned in an active, integrated way. Orange County Schools (OCS) is working to implement more STEM offerings in the school system. “I think the most exciting aspect of STEM is the opportunity it provides students to use their own creativity to build something from scratch,” said Ms. Kristie Mabry, science teacher at A.L. Stanback middle school.
“I think students love to tinker with items to see if they can make an idea work,” said Ms. Mabry. The challenges presented by STEM provides students with opportunities to take more risks, to show more initiative to be successful, and to demonstrate leadership by assisting other students who may be struggling. “It gives them the opportunity to feed off the creativity of others in order to become a different type of thinker,” added Ms. Mabry.
STEM creates a platform for students to engage in project-based learning. Project-based learning presents students with a problem that is rooted in the academic curriculum standards. In order to try to solve the problem, students must acquire and apply the concepts and knowledge from the standards. “Hands-on problem solving in a context rich setting builds confidence and language skills,” offered Ms. Erin Deniston, the STEM coordinator for OCS. “Students have better mastery over language acquired in this kind of setting because it is tied to deeper thinking and real experiences,” continued Ms. Deniston.
Additionally, our high school students can take courses specifically in engineering and design and other areas with targeted project-based learning. Adding project-based learning to the curriculum creates highly engaging experiences for our students at all levels.