STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—are highly technical, which is one reason that the education system is changing to further incorporate these subjects into the curriculum.
As more and more fields require technical knowledge, it is a good idea to equip our young learners with basic STEM skills early on. With online schools, it is invaluable to start teaching these concepts at a young age, which is why STEM curriculum is now being introduced at the elementary level.
1. Early exposure to STEM promotes digital literacy
Understanding technology is more important than ever. When children are exposed to STEM education in elementary school, they are getting a head start on being digitally literate. Children need to be well-versed in technology before they graduate from high school. For this reason, STEM education has been continuously evolving to fit current needs.
In the past, each of the STEM disciplines was considered completely separate. Now, STEM education is focused on integrating these overlapping disciplines to create a more cohesive approach that allows concepts to be taught through real-world applications starting at the elementary level. These concepts are easier to master when students are exposed to them at a young age.
Digital literacy occurs when students obtain a mastery of the basic STEM concepts, which are prerequisites to either technical career training or college courses. During these higher training opportunities, students are taught more advanced STEM concepts that pertain to the exact field or fields they want to pursue, but the skills originate from the basics that students were taught as young children.
Engaging students in the digital realm through online school gives them the opportunity to advance more quickly into digital literacy, which in turn helps individuals participate in the ever-changing society in which we all now live.
2. Students receive hands-on learning experience
When children are given the opportunity to take a more active approach to their learning, they tend to remember more of what they are being taught. In STEM programs, hands-on learning is critical to successfully retaining information.
Additionally, students find hands-on learning to be less intimidating. Being able to approach a topic by actively participating in an experiment or demonstration gives students the ability to experience STEM with all of their senses. When you apply a concept to a real-world situation instead of just memorizing facts and equations, you are better able to see the concept’s importance to the world around you.
For example, it would be nearly impossible to learn how to ride a bicycle just by reading the user manual. You need to actually sit on the bike to learn how to manipulate the brakes and pedals. When you practice riding a bike, you learn how to properly pedal and steer simultaneously. You will never be able to ride a bicycle if you never experience it first-hand. Likewise, experimenting with difficult scientific principles will provide students with the ability to more thoroughly understand how these concepts truly work.
The experience gained from hands-on learning sets students up for success in potential college courses and future careers.
3. STEM teaches problem-solving
Learning how to navigate complicated problems is crucial for young minds. Common problem-solving techniques are often used in STEM education to teach children how to complete experiments associated with the curriculum.
Hands-on learning teaches students how to solve problems as well. These education methods allow students to try and fail during the experimentation process. The ability to fail teaches students what doesn’t work and pushes them to find a new solution. Having a safe environment to fail teaches students to persevere instead of giving up. This is how we all learn to solve complicated problems.
4. Students exercise creativity through innovation
Innovation is a critical component of economic growth and maintaining a technological cutting-edge. However, creativity isn’t always the first word that comes to mind when thinking about science and technology fields. STEM education programs help children learn how to exercise creativity to achieve innovation.
Researchers at the University of California discovered that playing with concepts nurtures creativity (1). When it comes to science, playing (or experimenting) encourages students to be creative in the way that they find solutions to problems.
Over time, the problems that students learn to solve increase in complexity. As a student’s knowledge expands in a particular field, they become empowered to find unique, innovative ideas of their own, leading to breakthrough ideas and technologies.
5. Career opportunities in STEM fields are constantly growing
There are so many career options in STEM fields. Think of all of the different types of engineers alone. With these fields rapidly growing, we are going to need more people than ever to fill new positions within these industries. This means that we need to keep younger generations interested in STEM jobs.
Starting STEM education at a young age fosters interest in a way that can’t be replicated. Those students who are exposed to science, coding, and other STEM subjects before middle school are more likely to explore the subjects further along in their schooling.
When students start learning about these topics in elementary school and when that instruction continues at an advanced level in the upper grades, they are ready to take on high-tech jobs right out of high school. For those students who choose to go on to college, this education will give them a jump start on the more complex topics they will experience throughout their college courses.
1. H. Poincare, in The Creative Process: A Symposium, B. Ghiselin, Ed. (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1954).