Improving STEM education by creating transformative learning experiences

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Most children are inherently interested in learning new things and exploring the world around them. They’re like sponges, wanting to soak up new information. It is a time when an educational foundation can be created, and ideas and concepts that are shared can help set children on many interesting paths in life. Exploring new ideas and exposing children to new concepts helps foster curiosity. It teaches children to ask questions and consider how ideas are connected, and it guides them to make conclusions. Cultivating a curious mind is like planting a seed in a child’s mind with the hope that the seed will grow over time.

To help feed this curiosity, many educators, business leaders and politicians believe that promoting STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – will benefit students in many ways throughout their life. Learning about STEM can also help students decide on what career path they want to take. Statistics show that the earning power of a person in a STEM-related field is double the hourly rate of someone in a non-STEM field. Yet while the call for increased funding in STEM education continues, it’s important to understand that there are many challenges involved when promoting STEM.

We should acknowledge that the core teaching disciplines to promote STEM, namely math and science, can be very hard for many people. It’s easy for a student to shy away from math and science if it’s difficult and they continually receive poor grades. Funding to teach math and science is also hard to come by, and many schools are simply not equipped to promote technology-based learning that would help promote STEM. In fact, only one-quarter of all K-12 schools in the U.S. offer computer science and coding classes.

For girls especially, it can be disheartening that there are not many well-known female role models who can inspire girls to develop interests in STEM. iD Tech highlighted why stressing the importance of STEM for girls at a young age is critical because “introducing STEM before they have a chance to hear all about what is or isn’t ‘for girls’ while robots, math and other things are ‘for boys’ can only improve the odds of them developing a STEM interest.”

In order to promote STEM, especially with girls, it is important that teachers focus on the future benefits and career paths that are associated with STEM. In 2018, Microsoft conducted a study in collaboration with Dr. Shalini Kesar called Closing the STEM Gap. The study revealed that 31 percent of girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that number jumps up to 40%. And by the time they’re in college, 58% of girls count themselves out of these jobs.

However, when looking beyond the core aspects of math and science, it’s important to realize that diving into STEM curriculum helps children in many ways that go beyond academics including:
• Problem solving
• Collaboration
• Critical thinking
• Creativity
• Experimenting

Integrating STEM
One of the keys to promoting curriculum that can make STEM more interesting and “sticky” is to integrate it into lesson plans instead of as stand-alone lectures or isolated subjects. According to Microsoft’s education blog, “research from European Schoolnet (sponsored by Microsoft) has also emphasized the need to integrate technology into STEM teaching and learning, as a way to make the subjects more appealing, engaging and accessible to a wider range of students. Microsoft believes in taking an integrated approach to this challenge, weaving technology into STEM teaching at different levels and in different ways.”

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For example, instead of teaching each of the core subjects separately, combine them in ways that make the content fun for children:
• Make the experience hands-on
• Go on a field trip
• Hold a competition
• Use a rewards-based system
• Allow kids to work in teams

Another way to make learning about STEM more interesting is to tap into their hobbies. For instance, if a child shows an interest in baseball or softball, use the dimensions of the field to learn about angles in math. If they like gymnastics, design a lesson around how gravity works or around speed and distance.

There are multiple ways to approach teaching STEM. For instance, when many of us were growing up we learned about geometry and theorems, but we didn’t understand how what we were learning could be used in the real world. Instead of using the age-old style of lecturing students about formulas and angles, teachers can start by asking what the children would like to do when they grow up (as opposed to the common, “what would you like to be when you grow up?”). The teacher can then discuss how architects design buildings or houses using geometry. CIO Magazine discussed this issue and suggested that teachers ask questions along the lines of “What problems are they passionate about solving, and what are the skills that will enable them to achieve their goals.”

The question becomes, how can teachers create transformational learning experiences based on STEM curriculum? Fortunately, Skooler has many features that can help encourage students to focus on and enjoy STEM-based learning activities.

The beauty of OneNote is that the digital whiteboard allows teachers to write math problems that everyone can see. The teacher can easily walk through an explanation of how to tackle a math problem. A nice feature of OneNote for teaching STEM is that the teacher can hide the steps necessary to reach the answer or the answer itself.

OneNote allows the teacher to incorporate digital assets, like web pages or videos from YouTube, to strengthen the presentation. For example, the teacher can design a lesson that studies the mechanics and physics of how people swim by showing videos of Olympic swimmers. Questions and experiments could focus on how the weight of water impacts the speed of the swimmer. This type of project ties into the study of the mechanics of body movement, known as kinesiology, which might be an interesting career path.

In addition, it serves as a tool to help students collaborate and makes it easy for teachers to present information to the entire class. Plus, in the digital whiteboard, teachers can show students how to annotate maps and share audio and video files.

You can learn more about how to leverage OneNote’s digital whiteboard in our blog post How to use Microsoft OneNote as a digital whiteboard.

Most people are familiar with Microsoft Office and have used Word. One way to help students learn about the features of Word is to create a lesson that teaches children about a popular subject, like dinosaurs. For example, the lesson could focus on identifying carnivores, omnivores and herbivores and presenting the information to the class in a table which includes graphs about the length, height and weight of each dinosaur. The lesson could help the students learn how to create a bibliography which lists each of the sources used for research.

The most well-known spreadsheet in the world isn’t just for accountants. One beneficial feature in Excel is that it shows multiple formulas that can be used for many types of equations. For younger children, teachers can project Excel on the screen as a large calculator to help children understand common math symbols such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

One lesson could focus on watching an experiment, tabulating the results and charting the information in a graph. The egg drop is a common science fair project that can help students learn about math by tracking the distances covered, calculating the results in a spreadsheet and making predications about how to make sure the egg doesn’t break.

For students who are visual learners, PowerPoint can be a big help. Teachers can insert graphics and images, instead of numbers, to paint a more visual picture of math problems. Similarly, when teaching science, teachers can insert pictures or diagrams that can help when conducting experiments.

The beauty of PowerPoint is that helps students learn about how to visually present information in sequence. For example, in kindergarten the students spend a lot of time learning letters and sounds. With the help of the teacher, each student could create a presentation that has one capital letter on a page, such as A, and to show that they know the sound, they would add a picture of an apple.

We all know that children like to receive rewards and when learning about STEM-related content, it helps motivate and encourage them to learn. SkoolerKudos empowers teachers to create lessons where they can award points and give rewards for completing assignments, demonstrating understanding of STEM activities or for simply displaying good behavior.

One way to motivate students to engage in STEM is to make a game out of a lesson. Unbeknownst to the children, the game is actually a way to teach them about how to solve a problem. Using another sports metaphor, a game about hockey can help students learn about a variety of science topics. At what temperature does water freeze? What happens when ice begins to melt? How big is the rink? What angle are the four corners of the rink? The teacher can break the students up into teams, ask open-ended questions that prod the children to think about the different aspects of a hockey arena and can reward each team for answering questions.

To learn more about how SkoolerKudos can help motivate children, read our blog post The power of gamification in learning.