By Devin Partida
STEM gets a bad rap. Popular media often typifies computer and math people as emotionless, overly logical, and lacking human warmth.
However, this stereotyped view misses the whole point of what STEM is for and how it operates. STEM courses prepare students to think creatively, develop their curiosity, and build solid troubleshooting skills that make them intelligent and well-rounded individuals.
As a teacher, you already know why you love your field. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to explain why. Here are eight ways STEM benefits students and equips them for real-world challenges.
1. Value the Process
Students who study STEM subjects quickly learn that failure is just another term for learning.
Of course, a lot of this perspective has to do with how teachers present STEM material. Traditional schools can embed a need for perfectionism and a product-focused mindset into students that will not benefit them in real life.
The ability to grapple successfully with problems comes when you let go of results and instead value the process.
2. Bounce Back From “Failure”
Many people who experience frustration in the real world give up. Resilience is the skill of ignoring discouragement and trying again, even if you’re on your 200th try.
STEM uniquely equips students to develop resilience by developing problem-solving skills and a poignant sense of possibility. Students know answers are out there somewhere – they just have to find them.
Resilient characters are behind much of the technological innovation enjoyed today. A great example is Thomas Edison, who created over 1,000 prototypes of a lightbulb before he made one that worked.
3. Find Creative Solutions
Contrary to popular belief, STEM subjects require a lot of creativity. Students must use all the resources available to them to troubleshoot problems and document their journey to a solution.
These skills apply directly to real-world experiences, whether work-related or not. Technology glitches all the time, and some of these items are more important than others. For instance, circuit boards used across many industries can go down for various reasons.
Thoughtful engagement with STEM material develops creativity and the ability to respond well to real-world crises.
4. Be Patient
Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not a common one. Working on STEM problems teaches students to respond with patience even when they feel frustrated. The difficult questions students face in STEM courses aren’t solved by frustration but through renewed efforts.
In addition, increased exposure to frustrating situations, coupled with guidance on how to respond, can strengthen students’ mental muscles. Students learn to respond with maturity and perseverance when faced with complex problems.
The value of this skill in everyday life and personal relationships, even with oneself, cannot be underestimated.
5. Ask Questions
One of the most powerful things you can teach your students to do is to ask good questions. Working through questions always leads to a deeper understanding of a subject, even when the initial problem remains unsolved. It’s also the basis for strong critical thinking skills.
Questioning is a natural part of working in STEM subjects. For instance, students who are building or programming a robot have to understand its various components. They also need to know how to test and fix each part. This type of careful troubleshooting is incredibly useful in everyday life as well as technical work.
6. Develop Metacognition
Metacognition is the ability to think about your own thought patterns, and it’s a skill that’s essential for developing solid critical thinking skills. If you don’t see your brain as a living, growing tool, you’ll be limited to where your mind is at any current moment.
STEM teachers can strengthen student metacognition skills by asking them to think about their process for problem-solving. Why are they approaching problems in a certain way? Where are their methods strong, and where are they weak?
Metacognition helps students accelerate their growth through experimentation and self-monitoring. This skill leads to better mental health and healthier relationships throughout their lives.
STEM for the Win
STEM courses uniquely equip students to build strong mental habits and effective problem-solving skills.
Instead of producing heartless human machines, STEM courses actually do the opposite – they teach people to grapple successfully with problems that don’t have easy answers. STEM also prepares students to have patience even when frustrated and to value the process of learning over achieving a predetermined result.
STEM inspires creativity and mental ingenuity, and those skills are needed now more than ever. Studying STEM equips students to face real-world challenges with courage and perseverance – and without a need to always be right.
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