What is this buzz word 'STEM' that is flying around today? STEM is the big word being pushed around right now to get us moving in the direction of science, technology, engineering and math. Every science reform has been pushed by politics. Americans are behind in space travel - let's get moving in the astronomy and rocket science sphere so we can catch up. Now, we are told, America is behind everyone in the science and math fields so we need to focus more on things that matter - like tests and right answers and rote memorization. STEM is pushing testing skills and is test driven, whereas curiosity is the real basis for science. Teaching math and science is not a bad thing, but sometimes students are given facts and figures that fit neatly into a shaded bubble and are not given questions that require logical thinking or thinking outside the box.
Well, what is it that scientists do? They are curious, they observe, they ask questions. They look around and see problems and patterns and then have the internal drive to seek answers to those problems and find out how the patterns fit together. Being scientifically literate doesn't necessarily mean having all the answers, it means knowing where to go and what to do to find those answers. You don't need to have the formula for kinetic energy memorized in order to find out how much work is done in a certain amount of time. But, you do need to know where to find the formula and how energy works in order to come up with a plausible answer.
Okay, how do we facilitate scientific thinking and STEM literacy in our children? First, we can try to keep science and math fun. This gets harder to do as they climb the learning ladder, but it's not impossible. Hands-on activities can cement concepts that are hard to grasp or that you feel need more explanation. Which way is more likely to make an imprint on your child - filling in Punnett squares or making a genotype of a mouse from candy?
Find ways to bring math and science together, point out times when you use math in science (such as in formulas) and let your child see how the two compliment each other. Technology is all around us, find ways to plug into it and keep your children current (the library offers classes, so does the Microsoft store and Apple, don't forget Internet safety and typing too.) The same goes for engineering, you don't need to build a skyscraper to understand that science and technology are in use when you construct things (try building stable shapes with marshmallows and toothpicks!)
As homeschoolers we have an advantage in that we can choose to do the science that our children like, not the grade level work they are supposed to be working on. If your child is interested in learning about volcanoes, run with it. If they see an app that shows the blood cells in their hands and they start to wonder what cells do, check out some books on biology. What if the What Your 3rd Grader Needs To Knowbook says that it's time to study phases of the moon and your child is more interested in bugs and star charts? Go with what is interesting them right now, you will have inquisitive, happy learners who want to ask questions and figure them out. Follow their bunny trails and you will see curious minds start to ponder and contemplate the information you have given them.
Your job as a homeschool teacher is to create an environment that fosters this type of inquiry based learning; go with what interests your child, learn along with them and have fun doing it, these things will give you the best results. Real STEM education should be focused on questions, sometimes without easy answers, on staying curious and seeing what happens. Being STEM literate doesn't mean that your child knows everything about math, science, technology and engineering, but that they are looking at the world around them and trying to piece together the puzzles that they see; to learn, to create, to wonder, to ruminate, to ask questions and try to find the solutions to them.
*This article was partly based on a Science lunch bag lecture given by Christine Meek of C THE World Academy. She offers homeschool science camps, science birthday parties and science lectures for homeschool teachers throughout the year, you can find more information here: http://www.ctheworldacademy.com/