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Integrative STEM Education—Developing Innovators, Educating Creative Learners

by Bill Havice, Ph.D.

Integrative STEM Education—Developing Innovators, Educating Creative LearnersThe ability of PK-12 schools to foster student interest and learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is critical to the long-term economic health of the United States. The job market in the U.S. continues to demand greater numbers of employees with training and/or postsecondary degrees in STEM-related fields.

“The STEM Lab can be an amazing environment for learning and innovation that combines the design process with math and science (and even the arts) to help students create and solve problems as they design and build just about anything.” Patrick Forrester

Schools and universities in the U.S. continue to be challenged to generate the student interest and achievement levels, as well as the necessary number of postsecondary credential holders, to meet workforce demands. For this and other reasons, STEM education continues to obtain momentum, and U.S. STEM education has rapidly become an emphasized part of the PK-12 school experience.

Children who are coming through PK-12 learning environments now expect real-world connections to what they are learning or else they disengage. As a means of learning, action-oriented, hands-on technology and engineering education can bring relevance into the classroom.

Children’s lives are being enriched by the active study of STEM content, thus promoting the natural curiosity and innovation of students, who learn best by doing. Additionally, academically underprepared students can thrive through enriched, problem- and or project-based learning experiences and challenges.

“In all of our STEM challenges, students use principles that professional engineers use. It's awesome to watch their excitement as they struggle to figure it all out.”Barbara J. Nesbitt

Learners benefit from action- based, hands-on-activity learning that is core to integrative STEM education. Project-based learning is a dynamic and activity-based approach to teaching that allows learners to explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small, collaborative groups.

Together, we can educate our students to be lifelong, creative learners who can thrive in today’s competitive global economy. We can introduce them to technology and engineering skills and concepts that fuel innovation.

We must provide opportunities for our learners to identify problems, design solutions, do testing, and improve the designs. We can help learners apply their math, science, and technology knowledge to solve problems, while making use of English, art, history, and social sciences. STEM education gives shape and meaning to our human-made world and can open doors for all kinds of learners.

“This year has been an amazing journey for me as a teacher. As I think back, I keep thinking about all the experiences that my kindergarten students will have under their belts by the time they are in sixth grade”Melida Reeves

The articles linked below more fully explore topics involving integrative STEM education, including STEM/engineering labs and design challenges/competitions.

William Dugger makes a case for how STEM can better educate students and help motivate them to stay in school through graduation. He also presents concerns and opportunities for incorporating STEM into all of our schools (PK-12).

Barbara Nesbitt presents how teachers in South Carolina are finding success with at-risk students by engaging those students in STEM challenges.

Melida Reeves shares how the elementary school in which she teaches has created an engineering/ STEM lab where all students can become creative learners and problem solvers.

Mark Sanders presents a definition for integrative STEM education.

Next, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut Pat Forrester shares his experiences this past year working with students, teachers, administrators, and business/industry leaders in promoting integrative STEM education.

Finally, Steven Barbato, International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) Executive Director/CEO, shares his view that the key to retaining students is to engage them early and often.  

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