Examining Local Issues Can Make STEM Learning Meaningful
Everyone seems to recognize the importance of STEM education, especially in recent years. But it can be difficult to help students understand how some STEM learning can benefit them. Maintaining student engagement is one of the most important keys to improved learning outcomes, so helping students to make a link between their interests and what they are learning can make STEM studies more meaningful.
Find Your Park
One of the best ways to help students connect with STEM learning is to help them explore their natural environment. Helping students to find and use national parks near them can be a great aid in this regard. Most parks have free or low-cost teaching programs that students can participate in. Even if students aren’t in a position to visit the park personally, they can often take advantage of online learning materials provided by the park’s web presence.
Science for the Birds
Another approach to localizing instruction is to focus on the immediate environment. For example, there are a variety of apps that students can use to help them identify and track birds. Not only will this engage students in biology right in their own backyards, but there are math and computer science aspects as well that can be used to motivate student interest. Tracing local animal populations and migrations can help students better understand foundational scientific concepts, such as migration patterns and the impacts of climate change.
The Local Water
A great way to combine local studies with global interest is to engage students in water quality studies. The local aspect makes it easy for students to have a hands-on experience, and their own use of water (whether for everyday use or recreationally) can prompt interest in the topic. And a variety of web tools exist that make it possible for students to collaborate with other classes around the world to compare their results. This topic could combine environmental science, chemistry, math, and computer science if an interdisciplinary approach is taken. If students work on solutions to water problems, there could be an engineering component as well.
There are so many ways to incorporate local issues into the study of STEM—they are truly only limited by the creativity of the teacher. One place to start might be with a scan of the local news: is there a proposal for a new bridge? Students might be interested in visiting the site and learning about some of the design challenges. Are there problems with droughts? Students could explore the causes, effects, and possible solutions.
Taking STEM studies local is a great way to engage students with the broader community and to encourage their interest; it’s also a great way to involve the wider community in the school.