STEM education is an interdisciplinary and practical teaching method of four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This approach allows students to apply principles of mathematics in contexts that make connections between theory and the reality around them.
In a nutshell, it is an innovative way of educating the engineers of tomorrow that boosts the ability to tackle practical problems of everyday life, as well as hard-core engineering.
A STEM curriculum is based on the key idea that disciplines should not be taught as separate and discrete subjects, but in an integrated manner that focuses on real-life application, to create problem-solving skills.
The future of STEM education
With these objectives in mind, STEM educators try to make the teaching experience more similar to real-life situations. If we use technology in real life to find innovative solutions to technical problems, why not use them with STEM students as well?
For instance, why not use 3D printing to teach geometry, why not have a drone in the classroom and show students how helicopters work, and why not use artificial intelligence to improve learning processes and assessment tools?
3D printing is not necessarily cheap, especially for schools that struggle with their budgets, but the investment is well worth it, especially in STEM education. From Mars rovers to ordinary machines and avatars, 3D printing has the advantage of creating objects with which students can experiment.
Some predictions say that by 2050 there will be a 3D printer in every home. This will change the manufacturing industry in ways we can’t imagine, so allowing students to experiment 3D printing in the classroom will help them adapt to the new realities of tomorrow.
3D printing can be a great helper for more theoretical classes as well. For instance, students can print complex geometrical figures, to better analyze them and see how they can be used in real life.
Drones are an excellent tool for STEM classes both at K-12 and at the university level. Math can be more interesting for younger students if you bring a drone in the classroom.
Instead of doing boring exercises, students can calculate the time a drone can spend in the air, how much load it can carry (UPS gained FAA certification to operate a drone delivery service, Amazon is very excited about its PrimeAir Service, so this will be the reality of the next decade), or how fast it can travel.
Drones can help students take pictures and design intelligent maps, which can be integrated into different apps. In engineering classes taught at university, drones are helpful in many disciplines such as coding, mechanics, the physics of flight, etc.
Read more: 6 Reasons why drones are landing in schools
It is estimated that AI will revolutionize student-teacher interactions and will change education as we know it. For the time being, it can simplify administrative tasks for teachers (e.g. grading standardized tests, assessing homework, answering simple inquiries) and let them have more time to focus on preparing lessons, spending time with students, and giving personalized feedback.
In the near future, artificial intelligence will be an essential tool for personalized learning. By assessing students’ strengths and weaknesses, an algorithm can suggest to each student the areas that can be improved and the most suitable content to address the skill gaps.
For instance, the entire classroom takes a test which is graded by the system and, based on individual performance, each student receives differentiated content for the next learning module. Moreover, algorithms may send students motivational messages based on their use of the system.
Read more: The race is on for the AI-powered classroom
We don’t know exactly what education will be fifty years from now. We can safely say that it will be very different. Perhaps technology will play a central role in mass education and teachers will assume other roles, such as personalized tutors and advisors. Perhaps robots will be a common presence in the classroom (they are already used in certain contexts).
What we know is that education should form independent, autonomous, and creative professionals, able to find innovative solutions to the various problems of our complex society. We also know that technology plays and will play an important part in our lives, so using it in education is common sense.
Traditionalists fear its impact on younger generations, while the enthusiasts fear we’re taking things too slowly. Who is right? The proof is in the pudding.
Veronica is a University lecturer with years of experience in language learning, a translator and interpreter, and a life-long learner.