The geographical location of a school does not have to be a determining factor in the quality of its STEM education. Multiple factors, including recent developments in technology, provide greater access to STEM learning than ever before.
The rise of STEM and STEM education seems to be everywhere. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in STEM occupations grew by 10.5 percent, (over 800,000 jobs) between May 2009 and May 2015. This can be compared to the 5.2 percent net growth in non-STEM occupations.
There are also a rapidly-growing number of “non-STEM” jobs in fields such as health, manufacturing, and agriculture, all which nevertheless require both STEM skills and knowledge.
Clearly, the importance of a strong and comprehensive STEM education in schools cannot be stressed enough. Yet some schools may seemingly be at a disadvantage when providing this sort of instruction, rural schools in particular.
The Carnegie Science Center recently released a report concluding that students are better equipped with STEM skills by engaging in science and math projects that are collaborative, hands-on, and based on solving problems.
There are plenty of online services (such as our own Because Learning Lessons) through which teachers can get access to lesson plans and experiments that are easily conducted outside of an expensive laboratory.
For example, this experiment aims to teach students about thermal insulators. All you need for this is Because Learning’s sensor kit, some cans of sodas, and a few easily-obtained items such as duct tape or foam packaging.
Providing students with access to hands-on experiments allows them to truly interact and understand the concepts being taught in class. It also provides them with the opportunity to work with other students and talk about what they are learning, which is a key factor in students’ retention as well as comprehension.
There are a variety of websites that provide students with opportunities to learn a wide variety of STEM topics, oftentimes in the form of a fun and interactive game.
Sites such as NASA Kids’ Club is geared toward grades K-2, while Engineering Interact is intended for grades 3-5. All of these sites offer games that students can have fun playing while also learning about different science and technology subjects. Bonus points to Engineering Interact, which also includes ever-important real-world applications.
The best part about these websites is all one needs in order to access them is a computer – something now available in most schools.
And the Internet has more than just fun games. There are also myriad websites that provide lessons in the form of virtual environments, simulations, and videos in order to make STEM concepts accessible to students.
Here’s a video example of a lesson kids can do online right in their classroom:
At first, it may seem that a school’s rural placement – far away from the tech startups and high-tech laboratories of more industrial locations – means that there are no opportunities for relevant field trips.
However, teachers simply have to find less obvious learning opportunities. Even something as simple and fun as rubberbanding a watermelon becomes a perfect science lesson when you measure the force:
The point of STEM education is to teach students to solve real-world problems through direct learning experiences. And with today’s access to technology as well as a little thinking outside the box, all schools – even rural ones – are better equipped than ever to provide their students with excellent STEM education.