Science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, is driving the biggest innovations of the digital age. From artificial intelligence to advances in medicine and physics, that group of four fields has increased in importance as well as impact over the past several years. With that being the case, it is crucial to determine how to make the best use of STEM products and services in the classroom. From the earliest years to college, it seems plausible that STEM can alter how we teach, but the hows and whys of STEM incorporation are still unanswered. In this post we will discuss the potential role for STEM in teaching.
An intriguing possibility for STEM is in the application to special needs teaching. Right now, students with special needs face obstacles to traditional learning. Schools are strained in terms of budget and capacity to serve those students, especially because their needs can be varied and complex. STEM offers potential solutions. For example, imagine if a group of teachers recorded special adapted lectures and lessons for students on the autism spectrum. These would be too difficult for most schools to give on their own, but recordings stored on tablets would be inexpensive and easy to use, providing better targeting for those students over simply placing them in a slowed-down course of work. Another example is the rise in cheap, powerful webcams. Students with mobility limitations or chronic illness could tune into lectures livestreamed from their school. This would let them keep up with their work if they cannot physically attend and promote better integration with the class at large.
Another broad application of STEM items is to supplement work in the classroom. With tablets and laptops getting cheaper, it is easier to run classes on programming, coding, and software. Alternatively, teachers can use tech in other areas. A tablet can show pictures or video of animal behavior in biology class. A teacher could put up a question on a smartboard and then have each student submit an answer via tablet or smartphone app. STEM use can come in one of two ways: revolutionizing the way we teach something or making the traditional method more efficient. This will vary based on the subject and its specific needs.
It is important to consider the role of student age. On the one hand, getting early access to tech and STEM in general can help students cultivate a love of those fields as well as get a head start on learning to use these items. On the other hand, there is growing concern about the negative effects of technology and social media on mental health for teens and children. Early reliance on STEM could exacerbate those problems. Making good use of STEM in the classroom will come down to striking balances and being careful about exposing students to cyberbullying, social pressure, and other forces. Students in college will be less vulnerable and will have more time to build a good relationship with STEM products, so it might wind up being the case that STEM incorporation starts small and becomes more significant with older students. It will take a lot of research to establish safe ages for using STEM.
The bottom line is that STEM presents exciting opportunities for teaching, but so far most of them are untested. The rate of innovation means that new products and services are arriving faster than they can be tested, so there is no organized process for researching STEM and its impact on teaching. The results are bound to be transformative, but no one can be sure exactly what they will look like.