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STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education has continued to see a growth in popularity across schools all over the country. That’s largely because it can work for kids with different learning styles and uses things like experimentation to make otherwise complicated subjects a bit easier. 

The ideas and concepts behind STEM are here to stay, and will only continue to grow as technology advances. STEM jobs were anticipated to grow by 13% from 2017-2027, and while literacy isn’t one of the core principles of STEM, the importance of STEM education to overall literacy is huge. 

How? 

One of the biggest roadblocks some children face when it comes to reading is learning challenges. Not all kids learn the same way, and listening to a lecture or even a book being read isn’t going to “stick” for some children the way it does with others. STEM can encourage students to follow their curiosities and do their own experimentations and explorations to understand what’s being taught/read and to get excited about literature. 

Let’s learn a bit more about the connection between early STEM education and overall literacy, and why educators and parents should be fostering this connection as much as possible. 

Why is STEM so Important? 

Before we even dive into the connection between STEM and literacy, it’s important to address how beneficial STEM learning is for a variety of other reasons. It’s not just some “educational fad” or new way of doing things. It takes core concepts that have worked for years and applies them in ways that work for kids with all different learning styles.  

In early education formats, especially, the benefits of STEM learning include things like: 

  • Hands-on experiences can help to deepen a student’s mathematical and scientific knowledge.
  • Memory retention that can show an 80-90% retention rate.
  • Gamification to increase productivity and motivation.
  • Language development that breaks down cultural communication borders.
  • Collaborative learning.

Experiential learning is great for almost everyone. Kids of all ages can benefit from being more hands-on and learning in ways that go well beyond what a textbook could ever teach. If you have a student who plays or is obsessed with sports, teaching them about how big data is used in sports is a great way to get them involved in STEM. The Oakland A’s literally changed the game when they began using computer analytics to determine pitcher assignments and placements. They set the bar for the rest of the MLB that remains today.

With so many benefits already in place for those who do STEM learning, knowing that it’s an important factor in literacy can feel like the cherry on top of something that’s already wonderful. So, what’s the real connection? 

STEM is Built Into Stories

You can encourage children to be ready by introducing them to books they’ll enjoy. You undoubtedly know some of your students’ interests. Chances are, there’s a STEM-related book that will feature those things. For example, do you have a student who loves art but struggles in math? Consider ‘This is Not a Maths Book’ that uses art activities combined with mathematical concepts. Your student will be learning about math while doing what they love. And, you already know STEM concepts are easier to retain!

Is your little one the tablet master of your home? Kids as toddlers have proved to be adept at using and manipulating mobile technology. For these kids, learning about coding and web dev at an early age can lead them into a STEM career like back end development. This career is seeing a salary outlook of six figures and isn’t likely to slow down. Find them books and other learning materials about coding to help them learn about the nuts and bolts of their favorite tech.

When kids know that there are books out there catering to the things they’re interested in, they’re more likely to stay committed to them. They’re also more likely to pick up another book, and another, until reading becomes a hobby and enjoyment, instead of a chore. 

When STEM concepts and literature come together, it offers kids the opportunity to learn more than one thing, without really realizing they’re learning at all. It’s a sort of “kill two birds with one stone” concept that is beneficial for everyone involved. 

So, while it might take some research on your part, finding the right books to help your students with STEM can make a big difference in their lives, and turn them into lifelong readers and hands-on learners. 

Bringing Literacy to Life

There’s sort of a “double connection” when it comes to how STEM and literacy work together. While you can pick up almost any book from the shelf and find some way to connect it to a STEM principle, it’s just as easy to bring that principle to life. 

What does that mean, exactly? 

Let’s use a book specifically designed for STEM learning, ‘Peg & Cat: The Pizza Problem.’ This book is based on an animated series, so chances are, kids will already know the characters and be excited to read it. Plus, what child doesn’t love pizza? By simply offering to read the book, you’re getting kids excited about literature and learning. 

The book is based on different ways to slice a pizza to give everyone what they want. For example, how can both Peg and Cat get an equal portion of pizza? What happens when customers come in with four orders? While there are plenty of comical moments to keep kids entertained, the book is really teaching them all about the importance of fractions and how they can be used every day. 

You might already be connecting the dots here, but you can bring the story to life by having a pizza party for the class and dividing each pie up while learning more about fractions. 

That’s just one example, of course. Getting creative from reading a book to real-life interaction can be a fun challenge. Try things like: 

  • Going on a nature walk with your class to identify bugs, trees, and leaves after reading about the environment.
  • Downloading kid-friendly coding apps and allow them to create a game after reading about computers or a futuristic story.
  • Having your students bring in recycled materials from home to create something new after reading about sustainability.

Because the book options are endless, the opportunities for real-world experiences are also endless. Again, you can go back to what your students are most interested in and what will hold their attention as it transfers from the page to in-person learning. 

Early STEM education has already found its footing. But, we still haven’t tapped into its full potential or benefits. By connecting it to reading, teachers across the country can help to improve the literacy rate while getting kids interested in experiential learning, all at once. 

About Indiana Lee

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Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, social justice, environmental conservation, and more. You can follow her work on Contently (https://indianaleewrites.contently.com/), or on twitter @indianalee3.

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About the Founder & CEO

Dr. Koshi Dhingra has dedicated her career to STEM education and is passionate about having every child live up to their potential. Seeing a lack of girls and other underrepresented youth in STEM programs, she founded talkSTEM in 2015 to address the imbalance. She has a doctorate in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University, has years of experience teaching in graduate and undergraduate programs, and has held leadership roles in universities. She advises and collaborates with a broad range of educational institutions globally. Dr. Dhingra began her career teaching science in middle and high school in New York. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, three children, and two dogs.

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