kids doing STEM and soldering

The Importance of STEM Education

Rebecca Gray Education

What is STEM Education and why is it important?

STEM Education is a term that teachers and administrators like to throw around. A LOT.  Even our local preschool touts a monthly STEM focus with their four-year-old class.  What exactly is everyone talking about? What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym.  It refers to the different subjects that are most utilized in STEM fields.  It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. If you’re a parent reading this, Engineering probably wasn’t even on the radar when you were in grade school. Schools continue to reinvent their curriculum to adjust to today’s growing industry needs. As a parent, you need to figure out how to keep your kids shifting with that curriculum, even if you don’t really know how to do this crazy ‘new 21st-century math’ or ‘coding’. Wait, what’s coding? (We’ll get to that.)

There is a huge push in Education, and even the government, to streamline these four topics into one overlapping mindset.  Keeping our country’s economy competitive in innovation for the long haul requires a solid population of STEM literate students.  You may be asking yourself, “How do I make sure my kid is going to be STEM literate?”. Hint: They need to start long before college.

Young students learn new concepts and STEM subjects more completely when it’s integrated early.  That early solid knowledge base in math and science allow students in higher grade levels to get into more technical skills, such as coding, electronics, and robotics.

Thimble CEO helping student learn to solder
Thimble’s CEO, Oscar Pedroso, teaches student to solder through National Grid’s STEM education and outreach program.

STEM Education – A Federal Priority

Is all this talk about STEM just another gimmick? The notion that STEM is a major factor in the success of kids goes much higher than our local school administrators.

In December of 2018, the United States Federal Government published a 5-year comprehensive STEM Plan.  It’s basically outlining all the things they’d like to see happening to increase the quality of STEM Education in America.  This STEM Education Strategic Plan stresses how important STEM is.  To compete with foreign nations in the race for innovation, we need critical thinkers to fill STEM careers.   Increasing the number of available STEM degree holders is a national priority!  Yes, folks!  It’s that important.

Why is STEM Important?

“Why STEM?” Some parents wonder.  What’s the big deal?  If you step back and think about it, everything you used today that made your life easier was designed and built by innovators or engineers.  From the Keurig this morning, to your car on your way to work.  You know that weather report you got from Alexa this morning?  That was STEM actively making your life better.  Inventors and engineers make the world go ‘round.

STEM classes and robotics clubs are everywhere. Makerspaces are popping up in high schools everywhere.  What’s a Makerspace, you ask?  It’s a cool little lab where kids gather to build bridges and make robots and get their hands dirty – and learn!  It’s getting them ready to use those skills after graduation in jobs that create all those neat things that make our lives so much easier.

STEM-related jobs are in demand, but kids need to grow up wanting (and ready!) to fill them.  This means starting earlier than high school.

girl at Makerspace
Young lady works on a project at her local makerspace.

Enriching STEM Education Outside of Our Schools

The cool thing about STEM is all of the different ways it can be taught. So what’s the problem? Well, the unfortunate thing about STEM is that some schools don’t have the resources to do it right.  There is a significant number of teachers who aren’t confident with STEM. Creating and maintaining an active “Makerspace” and staffing it with educators who know how to run a STEM program is an obstacle.  Students need to be able to DO STEM, not just read about it. Critical thinking and problem-solving are two of the most basic STEM skills high school students are mastering in these Makerspaces.

This leaves parents everywhere looking for ways outside to help their kids with STEM learning when they don’t know how to do it themselves!

“I want to help my child learn STEM skills, but I don’t know how!”

Lucky for parents, the toy market has been engaging kids in STEM activities for years.  From yesterday’s chemistry and erector sets to today’s Bloxels and Toaster Pets, toys have accidentally been creating critical thinkers for decades.  Learning material through rote memorization in a textbook is entirely different from the problem-solving skills a child develops as they learn through play.  Experience-based learning is hard to integrate into an education system that prioritizes it’s time for preparing students for performing on standardized testing.  While the basic understanding of math and science can be measured with a standardized test, young people need to actively participate in the learning process in order to feel confident that they CAN solve real-world problems.  Today’s toy industry is capitalizing on this hole in education.  (Thank goodness!)  STEM-based learning toys are becoming more popular with kids and parents alike.

But here’s the difference: isn’t just ‘selling toys’.  It’s an online academy. Though specifically geared towards students in middle school, the curriculum has even served to teach an adult a thing or two in the past. You have the option to choose just one kit or an extensive 18-month curriculum. We offer live online classes and a spiraling curriculum that builds upon itself as children master more difficult skill sets. These STEM skills can be taught in bits and pieces at after school programs or summer camps, but imagine being able to provide this to your child from the comfort of your own home!

When your child finishes their first kit and asks for the next (and they will!) – you’ll know that you’ve helped set them on a path to STEM discovery.  Here at Thimble, we can teach them these skills with hands-on learning, and meet them at their level with live online classes. You’ll be helping them create a Makerspace in your own home. We’re here to help your kids play their way through STEM skills from coding basics to virtual reality.  Yikes.  There’s that coding word again.

WiFi-controlled robot

What is Coding?

Coding refers to the language we use to communicate with a computer to tell it what to do.  Each “line” of code typed up gives the computer a direction.  Coding runs apps and games, and even the website you’re reading right now!  There are multiple coding “languages”, and like any other foreign language, it takes a little practice.  Likewise, the earlier you start, the more natural it becomes.

Why is Coding Important?

Coding is the basic building blocks of almost all digital technology.  Without it, your computer would just be a giant paperweight.  It needs a programmer to give explicit directions, or else it listens like a teenager with Air Pods in.  Cell phones, video games, and Google maps would be useless without code telling them how to function.  This leaves every industry searching for people fluent in these coding languages to design and develop their products.

We already know that early exposure and hands-on learning make learning this ‘foreign’ language easier.  Knowing how to code opens up a plethora of great paying STEM jobs for graduating college students.  Give your growing student a leg up for jobs of the future.  Let help expose your children to those elusive STEM skills everyone keeps talking about, one interactive build at a time!