boy playing with electronics

What Does STEM Stand For?

Rebecca Gray Education

STEM can be an intimidating topic for parents.  What does STEM stand for?  The easy answer to that question is to label each letter of the acronym.  So let’s do that:  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. See? Easy. Done.  We can end this blog post. Mic drop.

*insert screeching brake sounds**

We know what you’re thinking – “Yeah but, what is STEM?  What does the STEM acronym look like?” The STEM definition is actually more complex than a simple acronym.  STEM represents a holistic approach to how those STEM-related concepts interconnect and work together. It’s about integrating and implementing those topics into real-world challenges and situations.  It looks like teachers, parents, and communities working together. It looks like equipping young learners with the 21st-century skills to create and innovate in a growing global economy.  It’s an entire problem-solving mindset.  It’s more than just four letters.

It’s easy for parents to ignore STEM. Parents who have zero technical literacy often think to themselves, “The school has this handled, right?  My kids have science and math classes.  I don’t need to worry about this.”

Maybe they’re right – but not every school is a STEM school.  They don’t all have a dedicated STEAM lab or a Makerspace. Upon graduation, high school students don’t feel confident enough to pursue a career in a STEM-related field.

Parents don’t realize that they have the power to change their student’s confidence in STEM subjects, and possibly their future careers.  We’re here to tell you how you can, and why it’s important that you do – as soon as possible.

This image is a word cloud of STEM-related words including STEM kits, engineering, STEM toys, simple machines, variables, homeschool, power, math, climate, analyze, energy and many others.

STEM vs STEAM – What’s the difference?

There is a little STEM vs. STEAM debate going on in education. No, it’s not as heated as this year’s presidential debate, but it does present two great approaches to learning that differ slightly.  There is a push for STEAM, meaning Art in conjunction with the other disciplines.

Supporters of the arts decry the STEM definition alone, noting that skills in the arts can also be a pathway to personal fulfillment and professional success.  What kind of “art” does STEAM education include? Think design, sculpting, visual art, drama, music, and literature.  It makes sense. Consider the aerodynamic design of the latest sports car or the sleek thin laptop that slides easily into your backpack.  Think about the digital synchronization rampant in today’s music scene.  The arts are present in most of today’s technology development.

Why does STEM learning matter at all?

A comprehensive STEM curriculum provides students with more than good SAT scores and impressive science projects. STEM education is about so much more than blue ribbons at the regional science fair. It’s about preparing students to be professionals.  It’s about preparing students to think critically about the world around them.  It’s about fostering a desire to solve problems that affect more than themselves. The people who are working to make our lives better, easier, and more efficient are the kind of people that can recognize a problem and design a solution.  Those abilities become natural when hands-on STEM is a constant presence in young people’s lives.

STEM learning isn’t just important in middle and high school.  It’s an issue in higher education as well. That learning could spark an interest in your child that fuels their passion in different fields of science. This could set them on a path towards a lucrative career someday. (Three-cheers for our kids not living in our basements!)

Job stability is a major priority for college students in STEM and non-STEM fields.  Thankfully, STEM jobs are exploding, not just in the United States but globally.  It’s why President Obama’s policy makers put such heavy stress on promoting STEM disciplines in our education system.  The Obama administration realized that making great American companies competitive in high-tech industry needed to be a presidential priority of the federal government. Initiatives through the U.S. Department of Education have been developed, and long term plans are in place.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the official fact-finding agency of the U.S. Department of Labor. According to their research, the employment rate in computer and information technology sectors is projected to grow 11% from 2019-2029. This is a significantly faster growth than all other occupations. Computer and information technology occupations are projected to add over 500,000 new jobs. The problem the United States is facing is that we don’t have the college degree holders to fill those jobs. Those stateside vacancies mean we fall behind in the race for global innovation.

The U.S. National Science Foundation is investing over $8 billion dollars in 2020 in STEM research, grants, and programs in an attempt to advance the United States as the brightest international students in STEM related-fields.  It’s THAT important.

This is a quote made by <mark>President Obama</mark> during the Fifth White House Science Fair. It says, "It's more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world, and to share this accumulated knowledge. It's a mindset that says we that can use reason and logic and honest inquiry to reach new conclusions and solve big problems.
Image by Mike Brice from Pixabay

The median income for many STEM fields exceeds income levels of other occupations, even at entry-level.  According to a 2019 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, STEM career opportunities are projected to exceed the entry-level salary of other bachelor’s degrees.  Entry-level engineering degree holders, for example, are projected to reach over $69,000, a 4% increase from 2018’s data.

It’s clear based on data from recent years that STEM learning is key to lucrative career paths.  What’s also clear, is that STEM learning cannot begin in college.  It must start early.

How early should I start introducing STEM?

Old man holds child to blackboard with math formulas

No stage in a child’s life is too early to start introducing basic STEM skills.  There are STEM toys and STEM kits for kids from preschool to high-school.  Finding activities that allow children to play and learn at the same time has never been easier. There is a ton of research to support early exposure to STEM learning – but what does that look like?

For very young children, STEM education doesn’t have to look like traditional science experiments and book work.  It can look like integrating basic problem solving into their play.  It can sound like asking them questions that promote critical thinking.  It can feel like guiding them towards self-discovered solutions.  Allowing them to fail and try again in a different way is hard but beneficial.

STEM for kids doesn’t need to be complicated.  But know that the earlier you start introducing science, technology, engineering, and math activities into their lives, the more comfortable and confident they feel in those areas moving forward.  Informal STEM activities that don’t have a grade attached are a great way to increase exposure without added pressure.  You can accomplish this by getting a membership to a local science center and visiting frequently.  Find fun experiments online and complete them together.  Find out why things work the way they do, and talk about it.  Do these things outside of school.  It makes STEM fun and that love of learning is more meaningful than you can imagine.

What does it mean for a school to be a STEM school?

teacher working on STEM projects with kids in a classroom

Being a STEM school used to mean celebrating Earth day and holding a science fair and offering a few extra science and math classes.  Things look a lot different as technology zooms forward.  There are now charter schools of interactive study, serving K-12 students.  These schools offer more than basic English classes, social studies, and a few natural sciences.  They build their entire curriculum on inquiry-based learning models and real-world applications.  The cornerstone of their philosophy is the STEM acronym.

High Tech High in California is serving future generations of all demographics through a zip-code based lottery system.  They promote student-centered instruction and incorporate inquiry with an interdisciplinary approach.  Collaborative design and authentic work are tenets of their philosophy.  They are truly a school built with STEM education at their core.

The harsh reality is that average public schools don’t have this curriculum set-up.  Their funding and resources are limited.  Not every building has a STEAM lab or Makerspace that looks like the incredible iLab at Nueva School in California.  If you’re really lucky, your school has a dedicated room for STEM exploration, or maybe afterschool STEM programs.

What do I do if my child’s school doesn’t have a strong STEM program?

couple of parents talk to teacher in classroom

Thousands of parents of U.S. students face this conundrum.  Most public schools don’t have funding to provide extensive STEM programming, and grant money eventually fizzles out.  If this is your situation, shed that stress – because you have plenty of options:

  • Take matters into your own hands by engaging your school administration in a discussion of STEM-related programs that could be offered during or after school.

  • Provide your child with STEM literature.  (No we don’t mean a science textbook.) There are great books that will provide them with useful information in different STEM areas, both fiction (more popular with kids) and non-fiction.

  • Visit museums and science centers around your city.  Check out membership deals.  They have excellent hands-on exhibits and programs.

  • Tap into your child’s competitive side and arrange for them to voluntarily compete in a regional science fair if their school does not participate.

  • Home experiments that have no grade attached can provide enjoyable learning opportunities with no pressure.

  • The iD Tech Program has been offering STEM-focused summer camps at over 150 colleges nation-wide.  They even have girls-only camps available for young women interested in STEM. Check out local universities and colleges that may offer iD Tech STEM-centered summer camps, or similar programs.

  • STEM Education can begin at home with STEM kits delivered right to your door! Thimble STEM kits cover a multitude of core concepts including coding, robotics, engineering, collaboration, and problem-solving.  The best part?  Kids as young as 10 can enjoy these kits – so you can get them started early.

What if I don’t have a STEM background?

dad helping his kids do homework

Today’s parents didn’t have an education that overemphasized STEM learning.  We were still playing Oregon Trail for goodness sakes!  And we all died of dysentery. We’re lucky to be surviving smart-phones and virtual learning today!

This explains, in part, why there’s a giant hole in the job sector where high-tech jobs are concerned.  It’s why those jobs are mainly filled by new college graduates who were introduced to coding and technology early in life.

But you know what’s great?  None of the solutions we’ve listed above require you to have STEM degrees.  The key is to rely on professionals who do have a STEM background and are willing to impart their knowledge and skills.  Employees at science centers, authors with STEM backgrounds, and the experts at eLearning companies like Thimble, stand at the ready.  They understand the gravity of the situation, and they are doing everything in their power to make it easy for you to provide STEM learning to your child through STEM kits, STEM programs, and STEM lessons.

So what does STEM stand for?  Thimble also offers an entire STEM-focused curriculum that can show you just what it looks like.  Check out how you can bring quality STEM learning right to your front door.  Our experts participate in live online classes with your child right in the comfort of your living room.  No expertise is required on your part – though you might need to make sure the doorbell is working! Subscribe today!