Can you imagine society without science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)? These fields form the foundation for many aspects of human civilization, so it’s hard to fathom humanity without STEM. Even if we just consider a specific area of STEM – like energy, or infrastructure – it’s difficult to imagine society working without it. Electrical engineers, solar technicians, surveyors, geologists, and structural engineers, for example (just to name a handful of roles specific to energy or infrastructure) are constantly working to ensure that people can light and heat their homes and get safely from one place to another. STEM professionals help keep civilization functioning and moving forward.
Innovation will drive the world’s future, with STEM-related breakthroughs, advancement, and expertise becoming increasingly important in every aspect of society. Educators are working to prepare for that future now, by giving students the skills for a tech-driven world where most jobs will benefit from a STEM education. Endlessly essential, STEM learning continues to stand at the forefront of contemporary educational discourse, with educators everywhere proactively seeking to better incorporate STEM into their classrooms so they can teach the inventors, engineers, scientists, and STEM leaders of tomorrow.
What is STEM?
Designed to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM prioritizes skills like critical thinking, inquiry, and collaboration. On a local or individual scale, success looks like providing a rich, useful, valuable education for STEM students that launches them into a meaningful, important, or otherwise fulfilling career. On a larger scale, goals include fostering innovation, promoting progress, bolstering economic prosperity, building a more advanced culture, and creating a more harmonious future.
It’s never too soon to start encouraging students to consider STEM career paths and learn more about their options, and never too soon to start teaching students STEM basics and giving them a strong foundation for STEM studies. Encompassing subjects including the sub-categories shown below, STEM careers cover a vast set of possibilities; the lists below are far from exhaustive, with many areas overlapping. In these ever-evolving industries, demand for qualified workers is unlikely to wane, so starting to pursue studies in these fields can be a wise choice for students at any grade level.
Connecting academic lessons to real-life applications, STEM education tends to be less focused on memorizing facts and more focused on applying skills, asking helpful questions, and utilizing design thinking. STEM can also be viewed as a teaching philosophy, integrating all four STEM disciplines into a cross-disciplinary approach delivering instruction that’s relevant in practical situations.
A true STEM program promotes collaboration, innovation, and the pursuit of real-world solutions through the mastery of technical, academic, and social-emotional skills. Ideally, educators make STEM classes enjoyable, so kids will be interested in acquiring the skills they’ll need to use. A healthy STEM learning environment includes encouraging constant inquiry, enabling independent thinking, and using difficulties, challenges, or perceived failures to empower students to problem-solve, overcome hurdles, and forge new paths.
Why is STEM education important?
In a larger and long-term sense, getting students interested in science, engineering, technology, and math matters to the future of our planet and our civilization. In a more immediate and personal sense, students who can master STEM subjects today may hold an advantage in the job market of the future, and schools and educational leaders providing an excellent STEM education tend to stand out as exemplary.
STEM education encourages students to develop scientific and mathematical skills, to evaluate and analyze complex issues, and ultimately to contribute to a tech-driven world. STEM lessons should hold the same importance as reading in early education, with both receiving ample instructional time and resources.
STEM Career Trends:
- Millions of new jobs created over the next decade
- High starting salaries and highly transferable skills
- New doors always opening in ever-changing fields
- Opportunities to truly make a difference
Why are STEM careers useful?
From software to spacecraft, everything needs to be made by somebody. Those people are STEM professionals. In high demand and with no end in sight, STEM jobs often pay high starting salaries to new graduates. From AI programmers and robot designers to civil engineers and economists, from biochemists and architects to doctors and geologists, STEM careers are amazing, and they all begin with STEM education. Educators and school leaders can remind students that pursuing a STEM education is also one of the best ways to land a great job right out of college. (For inspiration or answers to more questions about STEM fields, educators can reference this list of STEM majors maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)
A STEM education delivers lessons that students will apply in their future careers, enabling the leaders of tomorrow to handle the world’s problems. Careers in STEM fields tend to require strong critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities. Educators can encourage students to strengthen these skills and motivate them to start building career paths toward jobs in STEM fields by reminding them of two major areas where STEM careers stand above the rest:
- STEM fields of study tend to be interesting, challenging, fun, meaningful, and ever-changing, so students will have a fulfilling and engaging career ahead of them, often including the chance to travel or work overseas, make real change, be part of important innovation, and even lead exciting projects or pursue fascinating adventures.
- STEM careers tend to pay high salaries, offer strong job security, and build skills that remain relevant and sought-after across a vast range of occupations, giving students a positive vision of their own futures and practical reasons to choose a career path in STEM.
Prepare Students for STEM Careers
The U.S. Department of Education has gone on the record saying that all young people should “have the chance to become the innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world, both today and tomorrow. But, right now, not enough of our youth have access to quality STEM learning opportunities and too few students see these disciplines as springboards for their careers.”
4 practical tips for getting kids excited about studying STEM:
- Encourage students to investigate questions about their everyday world as scientists and mathematicians do. Provide frequent opportunities for students to design and conduct empirical investigations and explain their observations. Start early: it’s never too soon to get kids thinking about STEM.
- Provide real-world examples of the ideas under study wherever you can. Utilize props, books, videos, games, field trips, equipment, or anything else you can find to support the connections.
- Show students that seemingly dry subjects like math can actually become fascinating when delved into more deeply and applied to solving everyday challenges.
- Remind students of the opportunities that will become available to them once they’ve learned these skills. Share information about STEM careers, and camps or scholarships that require STEM, giving students inspiring goals to pursue.
STEM professionals are changing the world all the time. They’re working with other creative STEM-educated people to invent, design, build, and implement solutions that matter. STEM educators are helping the next generation of STEM professionals prepare for the great work they’ll do when it’s their turn to change the world.