STEM education is a concept used broadly in society, but the practice of science, technology, engineering and mathematics isn’t well understood by society, institutions, politicians or policy makers, Monash University researchers say.
A new report by Monash Education Futures shows discrepancies in how professionals define and discuss the STEM discipline, often referring to practical competencies such as problem-solving, communications, ethics and experiments.
Some teachers also struggle to implement new, fun and student-centred approaches to STEM education, citing lack of time for collaboration and instruction, and inadequate resources.
Despite more than $64 million in Federal Government funding to support early learning and school STEM initiatives as part of the broader $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, the sector hasn’t fully embraced the potential for STEM education to boost students’ critical thinking and creativity.
Monash Education Futures Director, Professor Deborah Corrigan, has examined more than 200 research articles, books and reports to gather evidence and provide advice to everyone from parents to policy makers about the importance of STEM education.
Findings are published in the new Spotlight Report 2 titled: ‘Implementing an Integrated STEM Education in Schools: Five Key Questions Answered’.
Professor Corrigan said effective STEM education required dedicated, organised and knowledgeable individuals who are given the time to collaborate and the support to be successful.
“There is one common feature of all STEM learning: the opportunity for students to apply the skills and knowledge that they have learnt or are learning,” Professor Corrigan said.
“Teachers can take advantage of children’s inherent ability to look for patterns when trying to make sense of the world and adopt instructional strategies that bridge the gap between the classroom and real-life experience.
“If integrated STEM education is to become a reality in schools, then schools and teachers must provide opportunities for learning experiences that are authentic to the context, to the practice of professionals, to a person and to values.”
Professor Corrigan says STEM education removes traditional barriers between the disciplines, integrates these disciplines into learning experiences in real-world contexts, and teaches students how to problem-solve and innovate.
International studies have found students in integrated curriculum programs consistently outperform others in traditional classes or national standardised tests, and that science and/or mathematics taught in the context of design boosts students’ achievement, interest, motivation and self-efficacy.
“It is higher-order thinking that sets humans apart from computer data processing. Higher-order thinkers demonstrate nuanced judgement, are able to solve complex problems, live well with uncertainty, are able to self-regulate, and are able to execute sensible judgement when required,” Professor Corrigan said.
“It is clear from our research that traditional notions of classroom, with their emphasis on teacher-centred approaches, need rethinking in order to realise the long-term benefits STEM education can deliver.”
What does the future of STEM education look like for Australian schools? Find out during a live STEMinar as part of National Science Week on Wednesday 19 August.
You can hear from leading experts such as Professor Corrigan, Dr Jared Carpendale and Lucas Johnson (Monash Education), Natasha Ward (Ecolinc, Science and Technology Innovations Centre) and Josephine Blackley (Principal, Christ the King Primary School).