education can be described as an inquiry-based,
interdisciplinary approach where students apply
content knowledge, collaborate, communicate, create, and use
critical thinking to solve real-world problems. They also learn
about careers in the areas of science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics. You may even see the acronym STEAM, which
adds the arts, or STREAM, which adds reading. No matter the
acronym, it is not the content from each discipline that makes
a challenge or an activity STEM. STEM is a way of thinking.
STEM challenges should be student-centered, hands-on, and
an open-ended application of learning that results in a solution
to a problem, such as an artifact or a process.
While it will take some effort, you can implement STEM practices.
Your students and their future teachers and employers will thank
you for it. Your efforts will impact students’ lives—the choices
they make, the jobs they seek and get, and their attitudes toward
learning and failing in your classroom and beyond.
As a teacher, you naturally find ways to build knowledge in
individual disciplines and make connections between those
disciplines. You find ways to make content relevant to students.
You modify lessons to meet the needs of each learner in your
classroom. You design lessons, combining knowledge and
practice, based on the interests of your students. Being a STEM
teacher is not that different. Our hope is that this book will help
you integrate STEM into your classroom.
As educators, our desire is to create experiences that encourage
students to learn and explore while gaining knowledge that
can be applied further. We work to prepare students to be
successful in life and the careers they choose; to think critically;
and to be able to solve problems at personal, local, national, and
even international levels.
Many schools have STEM programs, but often STEM practices
are not fully integrated into the school day or learning. In order
to nurture STEM skills and attitudes, we must begin as early as
preschool to make STEM practices the norm. Excluding these
STEM practices in classrooms is a disservice to the developing
minds of our young people (Hanson, 2014).
In a report on emerging technologies, the Institute for the
Future concluded from input gathered from experts in various
technological fields that “around 85% of the jobs that today’s
learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet”
(2017 , p. 14). The ability to apply science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics knowledge will be essential to preparing
students for jobs of the future, but it will not be enough.
"A workforce prepared for the twenty-first century must be
proficient in skills that include oral and written communication,
critical thinking and problem-solving, professionalism and work
ethic, teamwork and collaboration, working in diverse teams,
applying technology, and leadership and project management”
(Vasquez, Comer, & Villegas, 2017, p. xiii). We know that these
skills do not come naturally—they can and should be taught and
practiced so that our students can adapt to our ever-changing
global and technology-driven workforce. With this in mind, we
have woven throughout this resource the 21st century skill-
building recommendations and pedagogical practices identified
as critical to preparing students for new and emerging careers
(NEA, n.d.). These skills when integrated into curricular plans
foster students’ ability to think critically and creatively problem
solve while providing opportunities for working collaboratively
and practicing communication skills—all of which are critical to
engaging in success in STEM and problem- or project-based
learning (PBL).
STEM Awareness and Exploration
© 2019 Region 4 Education Service CenterSTEMulating Design Challenges in Science, Grades K–2
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