Five Tools That Are Transforming STEM Education
The K-12 classroom doesn’t look the way it used to.
Since ancient times, scientifically minded people have tried to figure out the mechanisms behind the physical world. Astronomers observed the movement of the sun and stars, biologists watched humans and animals interact with their environment, engineers noticed the angular similarities behind structurally sound buildings. They may have had simple tools to aid them—a basic measuring device, a compass, perhaps an early telescope.
Today, teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics mostly stick to the theoretical aspects. Students must know the number of degrees in a triangle, but rarely do they get to put that knowledge to use through structured lessons.
The tools listed here are transforming the way teachers approach STEM education. Integrating these new tools into their lessons can help teachers teachers reinforce theoretical concepts by demonstrating their real-world applications. By showing students that the knowledge is relevant and useful, teachers can help them unlock new realms of creativity in all scientific realms and possibly change their future career trajectories.
Whether they’re used to create food, organs or mechanical parts, 3-D printers allow engineers to make their designs tangible and physical. And that’s just what they can do for students, too; as 3-D printers have become less expensive and more ubiquitous, schools have begun integrating them into their science and engineering curriculums. Students have used 3-D printers for projects ranging from dioramas of real or imagined constructions to engineering the fastest model car to reconstructing of eyeballs to better understand how they work.
iPads have been a contentious addition to some classrooms. But many educators report that iPads have drastically altered the way information flows in their classrooms. Teachers can send notes and worksheets directly to students during class, and students are able to turn in homework digitally for near-instant feedback. Communication between teachers is also much easier, whether they are sharing notes at a meeting or sharing lessons plans from across the country. Although some evidence indicates that they may distract students, iPads open up new possibilities to make conceptual information more tangible, from studying new vocabulary with approved apps to sketching out designs and graphs.
Graphing Calculators for the 21st Century
Sure, the TI Nspire can add. It can do matrices and chart derivatives. But it can also do a video simulation to test a graphic hypothesis. On its full-color, backlit screen, students can view photos applying and overlaying graphs to see math’s application in the images of their everyday lives. The operating system allows saving and even linking to a designated computer. A calculator like this helps students get the most out of math and science classes, giving them a chance to apply their newly learned formulas and knowledge.
Used as manipulative teaching aids, raw materials for the next great robot, or simply building blocks for young students, Legos are great tools in the STEM classroom. Lego itself has developed a curriculum for how to use its products in schools. Lessons range from helping young students pair math concepts with how they are written to creating sophisticated robots that can complete specific tasks. Lego also organizes a number of robotics competitions for students from age 6 to 18.
Charting points on a graph to understand negative and positive slope may not be the most engaging lesson for restless middle and high school students. But for some schools, high-tech flight simulators may do the trick. Kids can get in the cockpit of a simulated airplane to “fly” over cities and navigate the appropriate trajectory. Students who dream of becoming pilots can see how math and science are used in the profession, while others will have a better grasp of the scientific concepts that could be used in any field in the future. Because one flight simulator station costs about $4,000, educators have had to apply for outside grants to bring flight simulators to their schools.