Making Science Fun:  STEM Education And Kinesthetic Learning

By: The Growing Room

Could parents actually begin hearing the words math and fun uttered in the same sentence?  What may have been unheard of for all but the ‘mathiest ‘among us is becoming a common theme for many students. Due to a nationwide effort to provide an integrated, project-based, hands-on approach to the sciences, Science is becoming fun — and it is by design. Students are embracing kinesthetic learning through the STEM curriculum.

What is STEM Education?

STEM is an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.  Coined by the National Science Foundation to incorporate a new “meta-discipline”, the approach requires transforming traditional classrooms from teacher-centered, lecture-based instruction into inquiry-based, hands-on, problem solving discovery sessions. The goal is a student-centered, activity-based holistic approach where students experience the convergence of the four disciplines. Rather than approach subjects as separate disciplines, STEM integrates them into cohesive learning experience where students gain knowledge through actively constructing the world around them.  When students do science they gain the ability to creatively problem solve and apply their critical thinking skills to future situations. STEM is the intersection of learning and fun.

Science and Math Education and the Need for Change

A recent study by the American College Test (ACT) organization revealed that 90% of graduating students expressed no interest in a career or job in the STEM fields. Ironically, the number of students pursuing engineering or computer science jobs is actually falling and it is occurring at a time when the need for skilled STEM workers is soaring.  (It is estimated that within five years, there will 2.4 million STEM job openings.)  At a time of unprecedented growth in the fields of science our kids are opting out.  Why?  There appears to be a general lack of interest among students as they progress from Kindergarten to High School. Many have become convinced at an early age that they are “no good at math”.  They aren’t interested. Many programs attempt to improve math and science education, but topics are addressed separately and a part from other subjects.  This is especially true of math courses. This stand-alone approach fails to engage student interest; they see it apart and distinct from their everyday experiences. To these students math and the sciences are synonymous with boredom. For education and industry leaders this apathy points towards a ‘failure to engage’ the student.  Engaging the student is the very focus of the STEM curriculum with the kinesthetic learning model at its core.

STEM and Kinesthetic Learning

There a Chinese proverb that reads, “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember.  I do, and I understand”.  This is the philosophy behind kinesthetic learning; a model that promotes learning through doing. Kinesthetic learning is a hands-on approach to education that is working.  In his book, The Effect of Activity-Based Elementary Science Programs on Student Outcome and Classroom Practices, Ted Bredderman presents longitudinal studies comparing lecture and activity-based science and math programs.  Research reveals that students in activity-based programs scored 20 percentile units higher than the comparison group. These students also scored higher in creativity, attitude, perception, logic development, language development, science content, and mathematics. Students who are economically or academically disadvantaged gain the most from activity-based programs where the hands-on experimental approach serves as an equalizer in the classroom.

The kinesthetic learning model allows for a better retention of information. In kinesthetic teaching passive learning such as sitting and listening to lectures is replaced by movement and action.  Add the STEM integrated science curriculum and science becomes a hands-on experience that a student will not only remember, but also appreciate.

The Kinesthetic Model of Learning

Take, for example, a 1st grader learning about puddles. A teacher finds a picture of a puddle, she may even describe it glorious detail and have the child read about puddles, but a child experiencing a puddle with that teacher is engaging in learning in a more powerful and meaningful way.  They splash in it, they wade through it, and they touch it. Now, add STEM curriculum to the mix: they float items in it, they measure it, they test the pH, and they examine it under a microscope. If you were in 1st grade, which lesson would you remember? Although information can be remembered if taught through books and lecture, true understanding and the ability to apply that knowledge in new situations requires the kind of in-depth learning acquired through direct hands-on experience. Kinesthetic teaching fosters independent learners. Through kinesthetic learning and STEM’s hands-on approach students experience science fully.  Former U.S. Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett said this regarding the study of science, “Seen only as a laundry list of theorems in a workbook, science can be a bore.  But as a ‘hands-on’ adventure guided by a knowledgeable teacher, it can sweep children up in the excitement of discovery.”

Kinesthetic learning is based in creativity: making it a natural partner for the sciences.  There is a misconception that STEM fields do not value creativity: however, industry leaders are aggressively seeking those students who will push innovation with their ability to creatively apply problem-solving and critical thinking skills.  STEM students are able to apply their math and science skills to creatively solve problems.

Educational Progress In The Sciences

Science education should not rely on rote facts and abstract thought. Education as a living, breathing entity:  that is STEM education. It engages the student who struggles with math.  It inspires the apathetic science student. It provides a means to higher education and the jobs of the future that will shape our changing economy. Most importantly, it leads students down the path to self-discovery of their world, which they will remember long after lectures and memory fade.


 

The Growing Room Academy is pleased to offer a fun innovative after-school STEM curriculum at their beautiful new facility in San Ramon at 2340 San Ramon Valley Blvd. Classes ranging from robotics and Lego-engineering to video game design and Java programming are offered for ages 4-17.  For more info call 925-820-5808 or visit us on the web at www.thegrowingroom.org/academy