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How Blending Literacy and STEM Improves Students’ Educational Experience

There’s a tendency to think of literacy and STEM as two different sides of the educational spectrum. In fact, they are intertwined. Children build literacy skills when they are able to hear and use language in relevant settings and contexts. And “thinking like a scientist” means asking questions, making comparisons and drawing conclusions, all activities with language at their core.

For young children, picture books can set the stage for exploration. Asking open-ended questions — such as “What do you notice?” and “What do you think will happen?” —  helps develop critical thinking skills. Talking about a book before, during and after reading is an effective way to define and practice key vocabulary words. And using the book as a jumping-off point for a science investigation or hands-on activity is a way to inspire natural curiosity and make meaningful connections.

For adolescents, non-fiction and informational texts take center stage. After “learning to read” in elementary school, the focus becomes “reading to learn” in middle and high school. Blending literacy and STEM remains crucial. We know that students see greater gains in science understanding when non-fiction or informational texts are paired with hands-on experiences. And the critical thinking skills developed as part of scientific inquiry help students evaluate information, determine relevance and bias, and draw conclusions – all higher-order literacy skills.

Whether you’re a parent or informal educator, here are three good starting points to find books and resources for blending literacy and STEM.

  • STEM Read Official Selections — Book lists for elementary, middle and high school students, with related videos and activities for each title
  • NSTA’s Best STEM Books – Annual awards for books that explore real-world scientific problems and solutions and that cross disciplines
  • RIF Story Samples Collection – Thematic book guides for educators and families that include hands-on and cross-curricular activities

While there’s growing recognition of how vital STEM skills are in preparing youth for the future, it’s important to remember that literacy is core to the 4Cs identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Literacy and STEM must be blended in learning, just as they are in life.

Jolene Gustafson, Director of The Connectory, National Girls Collaborative Project, [email protected]

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