With digital technologies having such prevalence over our day-to-day lives, impacting how we work, socialise, relax and interact with the world, there has been an increased emphasis on STEM subjects and integrating technology into the classroom. This includes teaching students more specialist skills relating to science and technology, with coding and robotics becoming interesting new additions to a lot of school curriculums and extra-curricular groups over the past few years. However, many students are finding that entering Year 7 means coming to grips with a whole new, specialised subject area that was not covered while they were at primary school. This is particularly the case for students who have entered a GATE or scholarship programme in high school. What does STEM really mean for education and what can parents do to help prepare their children for these areas of the high school curriculum?
The STEM acronym does not just refer to the subject areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, but is an educational philosophy that focuses on “an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise.” (National Science Teachers Association, https://www.invent.org/blog/trends-stem/stem-define).
Building student’s understanding of Science and Technology as cross-disciplinary
One of My Academy’s past tutors, Tiffany, is a primary teacher currently undertaking her Masters in the field of STEM education and she acknowledges that currently science and technology are largely taught as two separate subjects within the primary curriculum, but it is really beneficial for them to be integrated, and for students to also begin investigating the ways that science and technology are involved in a range of fields that may not initially cross their minds. Technology does not only refer to computers and other digital devices and science is not reserved for people in white lab coats!
“I am very passionate about STEM, as it provides the opportunity for students to learn relevant skills that they can apply to real-world applications. STEM allows students to develop their communication skills, team collaboration skills, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills, which are all necessary tools to prepare them for life and work when they leave school. I believe that teaching STEM will prepare students for future success in life and provide the opportunity for innovation to occur. Lastly, STEM facilitates an integrated curriculum which results in more engaged students learning more of the curriculum in a project-based learning environment.” – Tiffany-Kate DeMarchi
Science, Technology and Engineering are intertwined with many facets of life and learning outside of IT and the ‘hard sciences’. Students can be taught about the scientific and mathematical processes behind clothing design and production, cooking and food production, building and construction and in many other real-world applications. How technology is then used to bring these creations to life can also be explored – the machines used to mass-produce a clothing designer’s final product, farming equipment innovations to sow and harvest crops and so on. This more integrated way of learning also incorporates creative thinking and artistry (so some educators prefer the acronym STEAM to acknowledge the incorporation of Art).
Encouraging STEM at home
There are many ways parents and guardians can help prepare their children for high school, life and the changing workforce by encouraging STEM and the real-world application of knowledge at home – and it does not involve a nightly struggle over worksheets!
Here are some great ways you can continue your child’s education and understanding of STEM at home:
- Conduct science mini-experiments (such as building a volcano): there are options which take minimal resources to do but give students the chance to practise the steps involved in an experiment, including the importance of observation, documenting changes and recording results. Technology can then also be incorporated through video records of changes (perhaps even a ‘vlog style’ recording of the stages of the experiment and the final result). Understanding how to write a science experiment report (here’s one simple structure) is another area of the high school curriculum Year 6 students may be unfamiliar with, so this is a great opportunity to get a head start.
- Cooking and Food Science: By involving children in the meal preparation process of the household, you are able to instigate discussion about food production. This can involve a wide range of activities from baking bread together (a favourite past time many people discovered last year during lockdown!) to involving them in the weekly food shop and even involving them directly in the food production process by helping them to create a veggie patch or herb garden. As well as the fun practical aspects, these activities can generate discussions about what it takes to get food from the farm (or garden) to the table, and the many processes involved. An environmental aspect can be included as well – what is the difference between organic vegetables and non-organic? What are ‘free range’ eggs? What ways are farmers now working to be more sustainable in their farming practices? What are the environmental and economic benefits of producing some of your own food?
- Home Construction: Household building projects like putting together flat-pack furniture can be a frustrating chore – making it into a family activity is a great way to put a fun and educational spin on it! Your child can read you the steps in the instruction manual, work on finding the correct pieces and learn what different tools are used for. Plus, they get a sense of pride over the end result. For handy parents, more challenging building projects can be worked up to as well!
- Camping Preparation: Similar to putting together furniture, you can use your next camping trip as an opportunity to show the real-world application of engineering – going through the steps of tent set-up together. Reading and following instructions, finding creative solutions to problems that may crop up and allowing students to really feel a sense of accomplishment when they get to relax in the tent they helped to set up.
- Money Activities: Home is a great place for children to learn about currency, finances and budgeting. A good starting point to introducing money at an upper primary level is explaining the different options for paying – cash, card and internet banking. You can walk them through the processes for each, as well as how money is made (an outing to the Perth Mint is a great way for them to see this in action). Students could work to create their own budget for a weekly food shop or other shopping outings or even a personal budget for spending their pocket money – working out how to prioritise their expenses/“wants” and work towards specific financial goals.
- Educational Computer Games: We know that many parents cannot help but roll their eyes in frustration at trying to get their child to leave the computer chair and unglue themselves from games like Fortnite – but there are popular games that do get students to practise a range of important skills without them even realising it! Video games often incorporate literacy, communication, fine motor skills, curiosity (encouraging investigation and creative problem solving) and accountability (it is up to the player to apply information and knowledge to the problems and scenarios they can face within the game). Some games, like Minecraft, even have the potential for students to learn and practise coding skills. Exploring games alongside your child, having them talk you through their decision-making process or helping them build and craft within an imagined world is a great way to encourage them to hone their skills while they stay engaged in a hobby.
- Coding Activities: As well as recreational games, there are many online resources now available to help students to learn the basics of coding. If this is an unfamiliar subject area for you as well, perhaps it is a great opportunity to learn something new together – showing students that learning new skills does not end at school and that education is a life-long process. Some handy resources for this below:
There are also tools available which can be purchased, a mini-Sphero or a mini-Sphero kit which can be used to code and program using an iPad or phone.
Find some additional resources and activities here:
These are just a few ways that parents can create a strong foundation of knowledge for students to better prepare them for transitioning to high school and delving into some unfamiliar topics. Helping students to make connections between different subject areas and recognise their real-world application is the best way to prepare them for the diverse needs of the future workforce while also giving them valuable life skills. The My Academy team includes secondary tutors who specialise in a range of fields and with a wealth of knowledge to share, so they are able to help students further as they progress in their high school education.