Teachers can bring STEM education into their classrooms by integrating technology for holistic problem-solving.
The term STEM can be daunting. Historically, teachers are trained to teach single subjects rather than simultaneously teaching a combination of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Technology and engineering design teachers guide students through the engineering design process, which begins with defining or stating the problem and proceeds through a series of steps to include brainstorming possible solutions, selecting a solution, creating a model or prototype, testing the solution, evaluating the results, refining and improving, creating or making a product, and communicating the results. Essentially, the engineering design process is a systematic problem-solving method that can be utilized in a variety of situations.
Teachers encourage students to work in groups, and collaborative reasoning takes place. As student groups systematically solve problems, they utilize computational thinking skills: the use of technology to formulate and analyze problems and solutions, to reason abstractly, and to automate procedures through algorithmic thinking.
The mention of algorithms sometimes conjures up notions of complex programming that instructs computers to solve problems which include calculations, reasoning, and data processing. Put simply, a programming algorithm is a computer procedure that tells the computer what steps to take to solve a problem or meet a goal. The ability to write logical step-by-step instructions to solve a problem is, in itself, an algorithm, a procedure for solving problems much like the engineering design process and computational thinking. Students engage in writing algorithms when they write directions, communicate processes taken to reach goals, and present results of their efforts.
21st century skills
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified a set of 12 categories of 21st century skills that students need in order to succeed in the information age, divided into three different types: learning skills, literacy skills, and life skills.
Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication are known as the “four Cs” of learning skills, while reading, writing, and arithmetic are considered the “three Rs” of life skills.
As students engage in classroom problem-solving activities, they are honing 21st century skills and their future success. Combine these abilities with readily available digital learning tools and visual learning tools, and students will be armed with necessary skills for the workplace, lifelong learning, and living.
Digital learning is any type of learning that uses technology, and includes using smartphones, computers, online games and simulations, social media, Google Docs, Google Classroom, email, and blogs. Visual learning tools includes the use of technology to create concept maps, graphs, charts, slideshow presentations, and images for analyzing and communicating information.
The use of technology coupled with systematic problem solving allows students to synthesize large amounts of information into a manageable format and communicate the information clearly: more 21st century skills. Their ability to analyze, access, manage, synthesize, evaluate, and create information in a variety of media is essential in the 21st century.
The use of systematic problem solving in the sciences is natural, much like the engineering design process used in the engineering world; add processes or step-by-step algorithms, and math abounds. The use of technology to assist in gathering, managing, evaluating, and creating information, models, and solutions brings STEM to life.