The acronym STEM is being used more and more in education, in the workplace and even by toy manufacturers. But what are STEM skills and why should we care?
The simple answer is that the acronym STEM stands for academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. So STEM skills would then be skills related to these fields, but not limited to one field. This is still a simplistic answer and there is much more to it than just knowledge of the academic subjects mentioned.
Let me explain.
All of the STEM subjects mentioned need specialized knowledge. More than that, they need people to understand concepts from the other subjects. A good engineer will not only have engineering skills, they will also need to use scientific concepts and knowledge, technology and mathematics. All of these subjects are dependent on each other.
Apart from the subject specific skills, employers also want people who are able to reason and solve problems. This is one of the focus areas of STEM education.
A broader definition of STEM skills would include the following:
Analytical skills – being able to do research on a topic, develop a project plan and be able to analyse the results to draw conclusions.
Science skills – to recognize components of a more complex system, recognize the relationships between the systems.
Mathematics skills – for measurements and calculations.
Attention to detail – be able to follow a plan or diagram accurately, write instructions clearly and record data accurately.
Technical skills – troubleshooting to find the source of a problem to be able to debug an operating system or repair a machine.
Communication and cooperation skills – to be able to work as part of a team and interact with other people involved in the project.
Creative abilities – to be able to find different ways to solve problems and develop new ideas,
Organisation skills – to keep track of different aspects of the project including parts and the involvement of other people.
STEM skills are in demand
These skills are sought after in the workplace and people with these skills are more likely to land their dream job than those that lack them.
These skills need to be encouraged and developed from a young age and this is really why there is such a lot of talk about STEM education. Over the past few years a lot more emphasis has been placed on hands-on learning as opposed to learning from a book.
It is a known fact that students learn concepts a lot easier when they can explore them and not just read about them. If they actual build a model of a machine they are more likely to understand how the different components work together. In the process of building the model they have to follow the plan (set of instructions with diagrams) and translate the pictures into the 3-D model. They will make mistakes and will have to figure out what is wrong and fix it. They will often work together with other members in the team and have to learn to discuss concepts, cooperate with each other and share information.
Many schools have recognized the need for developing STEM skills and programs have been introduced to teach these skills to students.
What can parents do?
Parents also want to help their children to develop these skills and look to educational toys to help them to bridge this gap.
Fortunately the toy manufacturers have seen the opportunity and there are many toys and sets on the market that can help both the teachers and the parents to offer these learning opportunities to children. Many of these toy sets are also being marketed as STEM toys and some manufacturers are even using the STEM acronym in the name of the product as with the Zoob STEM Challenge Set (one of my favorites).
A few examples of other toy sets would include the K’Nex Simple Machines range or the K’Nex Bridge Building set. There are many others and you will find information about these on this site.
Having these types of building sets available to your children will not only help them to understand the concepts being demonstrated, but will also help them to develop the critical thinking skills mentioned above.
Share your thoughts:
Do you think parents should provide these types of toys for their children to help them develop these skills, or should it be up to the schools to teach them these skills?