STEM education is incredibly important in today’s world, but not just for the reasons you might think. While new technological developments require us to have greater knowledge of technical disciplines like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM education also equips us with foundational soft skills that can be applied to all areas of life.
Here we look at four essential STEM skills that every student should learn, regardless of their potential career path. These skills not only provide the footing for learning difficult technical concepts in STEM subjects, they also help develop a student’s character and all-round learning abilities.
Foundational STEM Skills for All Students to Learn
Foundational STEM skills for the modern classroom include general computer literacy, a working knowledge of mathematics, like algebra, and the ability to handle simple lab equipment. But even more foundational than these technical skills are soft skills, such as critical thinking, adaptability, and teamwork. Without general skills such as these, learners may struggle to process new concepts and may have difficulty executing tasks — even if they appear to understand what’s written on the page.
Many educators strongly believe in the importance of these soft skills both as a grounding for the acquisition of hard skills in STEM, and for the overall development of a student’s character that will help them succeed in life.
“I think the two most important STEM skills students need are creativity and perseverance,” explains Lisa Werner, a Sphero Hero. “Without creativity, students can’t brainstorm solutions to problems, and without perseverance, the problem can’t be solved because the students will just give up!”
Below are four foundational STEM skills that all students should learn, no matter how interested they are in pursuing STEM subjects or careers in the long term.
Successful students tend to be inquisitive, analytic, and determined to obtain a deep and meaningful understanding of concepts. Critical thinking skills enable students to look at information from all sides and solve problems using logic and reasoning — skills essential to STEM education and beyond.
While critical thinking is obviously important in traditional subjects like philosophy and history, it is also a bedrock of STEM. Activities, like scientific experiments, will engage a student’s critical thinking faculties as they attempt to solve problems through trial and error, and by careful analysis of results.
Communication and Collaboration
STEM subjects tend to require a mixture of independent and group work. Students can solve an algebra equation without talking to anyone, but they won’t be able to participate in a complex lab project without the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively with their peers. These skills are essential to classroom activities, jobs, and many other areas of life such as sport, leisure, and socializing.
According to Professor Robyn Gillies, a specialist in learning sciences, successful cooperative learning requires that students “are taught the interpersonal and small group skills needed to promote a sharing and respectful attitude toward others, a willingness to challenge each other’s perspectives and resolve conflicts as they arise, and an understanding of the importance of making group decisions democratically.” This has the positive knock-on effect of making students feel liked by their peers, which can increase their motivation for learning.
Remember, while Archimedes might have had a “Eureka!” moment getting into a bath alone, almost all scientific progress is achieved in teams and research groups. Students must therefore learn to delegate, respect each other’s opinions, and work constructively with one another.
Outside-the-box thinking isn’t reserved for poets and artists. All STEM subjects require a level of creative thought that leads to complex problem solving and innovative solutions to technical questions.
But how does an educator teach creativity? Well, not all questions need a right and wrong answer. You might instruct your students to write some code to move a Sphero BOLT in a specific way, but you could then challenge them to come up with a novel use for a robot that solves an everyday problem. Encourage brainstorming, pose open-ended questions, and give students the time and space to come up with ideas on their own.
Perseverance is foundational to STEM subjects and many other aspects of life, so developing a culture of perseverance in the classroom will serve students well in their academic and working lives.
Technical subjects, perhaps more than any other, are difficult to master and require a healthy mix of determination, patience, and self-belief. A teacher plays a big role in ensuring that all of their students possess these qualities. Research shows that when students have a greater belief in their ability to learn, they are more likely to persevere in difficult subjects, like math, and achieve higher performance.
Giving students realistic targets — and letting them track their progress through charts or posters — can help tricky subjects seem manageable and prevent struggling students from giving up. And rewarding effort as well as achievement can give young learners the push they need to keep going when something is challenging.
STEM Skills are Universal
Equipping students with these essential STEM skills will give them a foundation for scholarly success in a range of subjects while also giving them the tools to become effective workers in their adult lives.
Teaching soft skills isn’t always easy, and it is more difficult to assess these skills since they can’t be demonstrated via a test or through homework. Nonetheless, if teachers can impart these basic but crucial skills early on in students’ learning, their performance in STEM subjects and beyond may improve dramatically.
For inspiration on STEM teaching and ideas for supplementing soft skills with hard skills like coding and robotics, browse Sphero’s free activities and lesson plans for students of all ages and abilities.
About the Author:
The Sphero Team
The Sphero Team is comprised of current and former educators, education content and curriculum writers, product designers, engineers, executive leadership, and other experts in their fields. Learn more about who we are and what we do at sphero.com/about.