The ability to use critical thinking and challenge the status quo is the basis of innovation. So, where does teaching kids how to be innovative stem from?
STEM, of course.
In this article, we explain where STEM and STEAM originated, why this curriculum is so critical for all ages between K-12, how these programs show up in the school choice process, and what makes charter schools leaders in the space.
Read on to discover why it’s so important for communities to support school choice programs that allow more students and families to benefit from the power of STEM.
What is STEM and STEAM education?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM is an educational approach that emphasizes the importance and integration of these subjects in the learning process and school curriculums.
The updated acronym STEAM recognizes the importance of the arts with the letter A. It promotes the idea that creative and critical thinking skills from artistic disciplines are crucial skills.
The STEM acronym was introduced by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2001. In the early 2000s, the U.S. recognized the need to strengthen science and mathematics education in response to the evolving global workforce. Thus, STEM—and soon after, STEAM, in 2006—was born.
In both STEM and STEAM-focused curricula, goals include cultivating problem-solving abilities, hands-on learning, engaging in real-world challenges, facilitating collaboration, and practicing interdisciplinary knowledge to prepare for careers.
Why are STEM programs important for K-12 schools?
For students in kindergarten through high school, STEM programs are incredibly beneficial to their development and future success.
According to UC Irvine, early math skills were the most consistently predictive measure of future academic success for K-5 students.
Programs that incorporate STEM as early as kindergarten are effective because this means young minds can cultivate a strong foundation in critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.
STEM education isn’t only about teaching mathematics or biology. The core belief is developing new ways of thinking, tapping into curiosity, and honing analytical skills.
This ultimately contributes to higher test scores, increased enrollments, and better opportunities for students, families, and schools.
Increasing enrollment and preparing students
When students are young, their minds are the most flexible and can adapt to new ways of thinking.
For older students, STEM education prepares them for college, careers, and beyond. A strong STEM background helps students align with college and career readiness standards, so they are better set up for success.
Students who participate in STEM programs are also more likely to pursue higher education in STEM fields, which can lead to better future outcomes. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM careers have better long-term growth and salaries.
STEM programs are also impactful for minority students. When districts provide equitable access and opportunities to underserved communities, these programs can bridge the achievement gap, break down barriers, and foster a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
Why is STEM important for school choice programs?
School choice allows parents to choose the best schools for their kids.
Guardians oftentimes compare their children’s educational opportunities to see if there are STEM programs at public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, or open-enrollment schools that they prefer.
Since STEM education sets up children for better outcomes and future success, it’s an ongoing concern for parents.
Here are some key factors to note.
STEM programs within school choice options provide students with expanded educational opportunities beyond their local district schools. These programs offer specialized courses, resources, and experiences that foster engagement, critical thinking, and innovation.
Meet students’ diverse needs
STEM education acknowledges and accommodates the diverse learning styles and interests of students. Incorporating hands-on, project-based learning caters to different abilities and encourages students to explore their unique talents and passions.
Empower parental involvement
School choice programs provide parents with the opportunity to actively engage in their child's education. Parents choose schools that align with their child's interests and aspirations. STEM makes choice programs highly appealing. Choice fosters a collaborative partnership between parents, students, and educators.
Meet demand and stay competitive
STEM education is in high demand. Schools offering focused programs through school choice options attract and retain students. This helps schools stay competitive in the educational landscape.
Increase student motivation
By incorporating STEM into school choice programs, students are more likely to develop a passion for learning. They feel inspired to learn as they engage with real-world applications and learn skills they can use in the future. Plus, there’s the added excitement that comes with learning new technology and exploring scientific mysteries.
Why are charter schools leading in STEM?
While different types of schools offer strong STEM programs, charter schools have become leaders in STEM education thanks to the unique flexibility their model provides.
Charter schools evolve and elevate their STEM curriculum more quickly because they have the freedom to adapt their teaching methods and coursework to community needs. This includes partnering with local colleges and research institutions to provide hands-on experiences and real-world connections.
A recent study from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University showed that charter students gained 16 days of learning in reading and six days in math over public school peers.
Non-charter districts can also provide this type of curriculum through school choice programs. STEM can help all types of schools remain competitive and increase enrollment count.
Want to enhance your school’s STEM offerings?
STEM programs in K-12 schools help develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. They also lead to higher test scores, increased enrollments, and better opportunities for students.
STEM education is beneficial for students of all backgrounds. School choice programs offering STEM options provide enhanced opportunities, meet diverse needs, empower parental involvement, stay competitive, and increase student motivation. Many schools enhance their school choice programs with electronic enrollment.