Here at Millersville, the university offers a minor for early childhood education majors called the Integrative STEM Education Methods minor. As a freshman, I was curious as to what integrative STEM education could be. I knew that it would make me more appealing as I search for jobs in the future, so I signed my name on the Minor Request form and kept moving through my school life, not thinking too much about the commitment I made. Little did I know that this minor would make a serious positive impact in my life, reshaping what I thought about teaching and molding me into a better teacher.
Over the span of five different courses revolving around integrative STEM (iSTEM for short), I learned so much. The first thing I learned is exactly what iSTEM is. Integrative STEM is recognizing that science, technology, engineering, and math blend together in the real world. In order to practically and authentically teach STEM, the subjects should intertwine with one another so that students can see how the subjects work together. STEM shouldn’t be treated as a special pull-out class where students create a project that is heavily guided by direct instructions and the only time STEM is mentioned is during these special times. STEM should be a constant presence in your classroom.
The most important thing I personally learned was that the word ‘fail’ really should stand for “First Attempt In Learning”. We have been forced to believe that failing a task means we are not good at it or we should give up. Instead, my iSTEM education has taught me that when something goes wrong, instead of shutting down, we should look at what happened and think “How can I problem solve to fix this?” I have found that this is an idea that can translate well into all aspects of life. My lesson that I taught in my placement didn’t go well? That’s okay, as long as I can identify what I should change and how I should change it to improve. Problem solving is an incredibly useful skill to have and iSTEM education has taught me how to problem solve.
A major part of iSTEM education is to reflect. This ties in to the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes. After every activity or lesson, students need to be given the opportunity to reflect on what they did, their process, and how they would make changes if they could. This metacognition (thinking about your thinking) is a vital skill for students to learn. I’ve found that because of my classes, I’ve begun reflecting on a lot of things in life, not just my education. After I teach a lesson or run a Her Campus meeting, I think, “How did it go? What could I change for next time?” This reflection piece of iSTEM education has allowed me to grow and I hope to see my students grow in this way as well.
Integrative STEM education has also reinforced the importance of hands-on, engaging lessons and activities that allow students to think deeply and learn without necessarily realizing that they learned something. All of the most memorable lessons that I can remember from elementary school were exciting in some way. This is such a great way to show students that learning IS fun. I hope that I can raise my students’ spirits about learning through these hands-on lessons. These hands-on lessons should be student driven, the teacher acting as the facilitator. While students may need guiding directions, it’s important to let students explore on their own and experiment. For example, if students are building boats to float in water, don’t tell them right away that some materials may absorb water. Have students test things out themselves and come to their own conclusions. When students are doing iSTEM projects, not every project should look the same exact way at the end. It is not crafts.
To me, iSTEM education is a way to show young girls and students of minority races that they CAN be scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. The STEM fields are oftentimes populated with white men. A lot of the minority groups are not represented in these fields. Integrative STEM education, especially in elementary schools, can show these students that they are able to do these jobs, despite society’s message. It’s so inspiring to think about the fact that I can teach my students that they can be all these things and more if they desire it.
Integrative STEM education provides the opportunity to teach skills that are quickly becoming skills that employers are looking for, also known as 21st Century Skills. The first four skills are commonly referred to as the 4 C’s. These c’s stand for critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. These skills, and the other 21st Century Skills, are skills that are needed for students to get jobs. Not only that, but these skills can also be applied to many aspects of life. For example, students will need strong collaboration skills whether they are working in groups on a project, living with roommates in college, or working on a project in their workplace. So, not only are students learning about science, technology, engineering, and math, but if done correctly, students will also be learning very important life skills.
STEM has become a hot topic in the education world recently. Several STEM-related books, toys, and activities for children are being sold and Pinterest is exploding with pins on STEM lessons and activities. However, before you decide to implement an activity from the internet, look closely at the “i” of integrative STEM. I suggest asking yourself the following questions:
- How is science being represented?
- How is technology being represented?
- How is engineering being represented?
- How is math being represented?
- Do the four subjects fit together or does it feel very segmented?
These questions can hopefully guide you into reflecting about the resources available online and teaching true integrative STEM.
Integrative STEM education is something that has become very important to me. I have gotten several jobs related to iSTEM education and my passion for it has driven my teaching and education outside of the minor. I know deep down in my heart that integrative STEM education will be a focal point in my future classroom. I cannot wait for that day to come.
HCXO, Hannah N
*All gifs courtesy of giphy.com