The subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have been proven to enhance a student’s education across all subject areas. The skills that students learn through STEM studies support essential life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, analysis, and creativity.
With an integrated approach to STEM education, these benefits are enhanced even further. What is integrated STEM learning? How do you integrate STEM subjects into lesson plans? And what does a well-integrated STEM curriculum look like? In this article, we’ll answer each of those questions and provide practical ways you can incorporate an effective integrated approach to your STEM curriculum.
What is integrated STEM learning?
Integrated STEM education combines two or more STEM subjects into one learning experience. While each individual subject of STEM has their own focused set of skills and knowledge, all subjects share an overlapping set of skills. These shared skills create the foundation of the essential life skills that STEM studies cultivate.
Combining STEM subjects into a single lesson could involve transferring the subject matter of a book or chapter into a hands-on experience; or creating a physics lesson (science) where students are required to design their own experiment (engineering) to solve a problem.
The goal of integrated STEM learning is to encourage students to approach problems with curiosity and find applicable ways to apply their knowledge to real world situations.
The Benefits of Integrated STEM Education
While there are many benefits of integrating STEM subjects together in the classroom, these are some of the greatest benefits that we’ll be covering in this article.
1. Higher Retention Rates
Because subject matter is being taught together, students gain a deeper and more dimensional understanding of a concept. Hands-on learning is also a popular method when teaching STEM which also helps students absorb information physically and create more diverse memory connections.
2. Applicable Knowledge
By introducing them to a combined approach to learning, students are actively practicing a combined approach to problem solving as well. This allows students to be more comfortable applying their classroom knowledge to real world scenarios.
3. An Interconnected Viewpoint
Connecting subject matter for students in the educational stage allows them to find more connections in the world. The approach to integrating STEM subjects can also help them find the connections between literature and science, or music studies and mathematics.
This cross-disciplinary thinking helps students see the connections in their everyday lives, and with STEM studies specifically, it highlights how big a role science, technology, engineering, and mathematics play in our world.
Creating Integrated STEM Lesson Plans
Now that you know the benefits of an integrated approach to STEM education, let’s cover some ways you can apply this method into your classroom.
Work With What You Know
Rather than creating lesson plans from scratch, work with curricula that you already know and are familiar with within the STEM subjects. Your confidence in the material will transfer to your students and create a strong foundation for the knowledge you’re sharing.
“How Does This Apply in the Real World?”
Once you have lesson material to work with, ask yourself, “How does this apply in the real world?” The goal is to find ways to connect the subject matter to application. If you’re teaching a subject in science, how can you incorporate a hands-on activity that lets students design an experiment to test a scientific concept, or build a physical model that highlights the content of the lesson (science + engineering)? For mathematics, brainstorm ways you can use physical activities and tools like plastic blocks, or ways to incorporate computer science and technology for creating charts and formulas with mathematical data. Any application to the real world that you can give to your students will help solidify the contents of your lesson plan and increase retention.
Integrate STEM Skills Into Other Subject Matter
The wonderful thing about STEM is that it can be applied to almost anything. We use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to make sense of our world everyday which makes it easy to incorporate these skills into other school subjects. Is there an applied hands-on activity to incorporate what your students are learning in history? How about a scientific approach to how the pyramids were built? Or a trip to the outdoors to identify plants and trees and introduce the benefits trees bring to our air quality?
The more STEM subjects can be introduced to other subjects, the more diversity you can bring to students’ learning and provide a more interconnected view of the world.
Focus on Student Collaboration
STEM education is centered around applicable skills and knowledge. This kind of learning is best done with interactive activities rather than traditional lecturing or even classroom discussions.
Hands-on learning and small group discussions allow students to work together and develop their own ideas. This encourages creativity and flexible thinking as students get to hear varied perspectives and work together to solve a common problem.
Considerations for Integrated STEM Education
Effective integrated STEM education goes beyond the classroom. While educators work hard to relay ideas and concepts to their students, administrators can help support their teachers’ success.
Well-structured STEM activities help teachers feel more comfortable with the curriculum which allows them to focus on the creative and interactive aspects of the lesson. Good structure can be implemented at the administrative level, where administrators can set their educators up for success with structured and consistent programming that connects all grade levels.
Supporting Teacher Education
A lack of confidence in teachers who are presenting STEM subjects can easily be transferred to students. It is essential that teachers feel equipped and supported with the tools and resources they need to teach effective STEM education. District investment in training and professional development for teachers can help educators overcome their own anxieties in STEM subjects and pass on excitement and confidence to their students.
Building an Integrated STEM Curriculum
A cohesive integrated STEM curriculum extends beyond the classroom. When the administrators build an integrated system for STEM curriculum, teachers are relieved of the pressure of creating, supplying, and implementing every STEM lesson plan. Of course, teachers play an important role in adapting curriculum to their class’s needs, but when equipped with tools, lessons, resources, and a multi-grade curriculum, they are now relieved of the multiple-hat approach and can now focus on effective instruction.
Integrated STEM education can inspire students to pursue careers in STEM fields, apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to other subject matters, and have applicable skills to apply to their lives in the real world. These are all important objectives for the next generation to succeed in a world that relies on more technology than ever before.