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What is STEM and STEAM education?

By definition, the word STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. You may see STEM and STEAM used interchangeably in the news. The meaning of the added ‘A’ is Art. STEM education is beneficial to students developing minds because it integrates all of those subjects into cohesive lessons instead of being taught individually. STEM education has seen a huge increase in popularity, with more and more schools making it an integral component of their classrooms.

Through STEM activities, students have an opportunity to develop the skills that many careers need, and that so many students lack. STEM helps break traditional gender roles, and has helped to bridge the ethnic and gender gaps that are sometimes found in the math and science fields.

STEM after school programs focus on real world learning, hands on problem solving, and conceptual thinking. Children begin to understand skills in the way they will be used in real life and in the workforce. Jobs rarely require the use of one specific skills, and STEM learning shows students how different skills and subjects compliment on another.

Why add the ‘A’?

Adding arts into a STEM program means the activities and projects incorporate creative thinking, application, and discovering, into the real life situations. Adding the arts, has more of an importance for elementary school aged children, as this is where the foundations for learning are made.

Whether you call it STEM or STEAM, the underlying idea is the same, learning is done by integrating all of the components into one lesson plan.

Why add the ‘A’ - What is STEM education and why is it important?

Why is STEM education important?

So is STEM education just another buzzword or trend enjoying its five minutes of fame? The answer to that question is simply – No. STEM has historically been a part of education in the USA since the 1990’s. Today, education is moving away from memorizing facts and instead focusing on thinking critically and evaluating ideas to gain a greater understanding of why and how.

In a time in which students can spend some much time with a screen, it is imperative to give students time to explore and grow, learn through trial and error, and learn in ways that reflect real life.

STEM fosters a love of learning, and makes subjects and classes that may not seem fun to children, engaging and exciting.

Why is STEM education important

Six Benefits of STEM Education

Below are six benefits of STEM education:

  • Application of real world skills – STEM activities allow students to practice skills needed for future jobs and adult life, and apply what they know to a variety of scenarios and situations. STEM activities provide opportunities for concepts to become more concrete.
  • Problem solving – Students must think about a problem, and use critical thinking skills to create a plan to solve it.
  • Teamwork – Students learn to communicate and work together towards a common goal. Students have an opportunity to learn from each other through each group member’s unique strengths and ideas as to how to solve the problem.
  • Confidence in using new technology –Students learn to embrace new technology instead of being unsure.
  • Ingenuity and creativity – This type of problem solving may lead to new ideas and innovations.
  • Encouraging experimentation, trial and error, and resilience – Students develop a “let’s try it and see” attitude, which allows them to take risks, knowing that they can falter and try again in a safe environment. Learning from failed attempts builds confidence and resilience.

STEM Careers

The world is changing. There are almost twice as many STEM job openings as there are non-STEM job openings in today’s job market. STEM careers include:

  • computer science,
  • engineering,
  • physical science,
  • life science,
  • and mathematics.

Building a foundation in STEM education can spark student’s passion for future careers.

Statistics regularly show that females are underrepresented in STEM related job fields, and STEM education is geared towards breaking traditional gender roles, and getting female students interested and confident in science and math.

What are the benefits of STEM

So how do you get kids interested in STEM?

Lucky for parents and educators, STEM works directly with the way children’s minds naturally learn and work. Many STEM after school enrichment programs are made to feel like games and play, instead of traditional school activities. It shouldn’t take much work to get your child excited about STEM time.

Be sure to encourage your child’s curiosity, their desire to ask questions, and their drive to explore. During play times offer open ended toys (i.e. wooden blocks and arches, play silk, nesting toys, magnetic tiles, marbles, figurines), and building materials (i.e. plastic cups, wooden craft sticks, glue, paper, rulers, cardboard tubes or boxes) on a regular basis.

What is STEM education and why is it important

Another way to peak your child’s interest in STEM is by encouraging their passions. If your child is interested in dinosaurs, do STEM lessons with a dinosaur theme. If your child is really into flying and airplanes, do stem activities that go along with flight. STEM lessons can be easily adapted to whatever your child is currently passionate about. When the activities match children interests, they will be more engaged and excited to complete the activity.

At Apollo after school program activities, students have access to STEM lessons regularly, and during our Chicago summer camp, children will participate in daily STEM activities that go along with weekly and daily themes. As part of our daily summer program for kids, students will build, create, study cause and effect, and engage in scientific reasoning, while also learning about themselves and how to work with a team.

STEM gives children an opportunity to learn in a natural way – through investigation, exploration, and critical thinking. Keep checking the blog in upcoming weeks as I will be adding some fun summer STEM lessons that you can do with your children at home!

FALL in love with STEM through these activities

This fall, we encourage you to find time to try a few of these fun fall themed STEM activities together:

Candy Corn Tower

Students work together in a small group to stack and build a tower made out of candy corn. See how tall of a tower each group can stack in 15 minutes. The group must be able to balance a candy pumpkin on top of their tower. This one is a lot trickier than it sounds!

Candy Corn Towers - Apollo ASP STEAM Programs

Spider Webs

Use marshmallows and toothpicks to create a spider and spider web. The more intricate the design the better.

Cotton Swab Skeleton

All students will need is tape, cotton swabs, and scissors. Students will need to cut and attach cotton swabs to create 3D people or animal skeletons.

Cotton Swab Skeleton - Apollo After School STEM Programs

Bone Bridge

Students will need Q-tips, clothespins, wooden craft sticks, pipe cleaners, yarn, and tape for this activity. Decide ahead of time if you want the goal to be who can make the longest bridge without it touching the ground, or whose bridge can hold the most weight without it collapsing.

Spider Parachute

For this activity you will need coffee filters, tape, and plastic spider rings. Children need to create a parachute to safely float a spider down from a predetermined height and land on a target.

Apple Towers

Use straws and tape to build a tower strong enough to hold up an apple.

Apple Tree

This is a good activity for younger children. You will need cardboard tubes, green wooden craft sticks, and red craft pom pom balls. Stand the tube up to make a trunk and overlap the wooden craft sticks to create the leaves of the tree. The challenge is to see how many red pom pom ball “apples” can be balanced on top of the tree. This activity goes well with the book Ten Apples up on Top

. Apple Tree - Apollo After School STEM Program

Candy Grabber

Gather tools to create a contraption that can pick up a piece candy off of a flat surface. Some materials may include cardboard, yarn, tape, straws, cups, wooden craft sticks, paperclips, peel and stick magnets, and maybe even some of those fun plastic vampire teeth as well. Pulleys or grabbers work well for this challenge.

One of the most beneficial aspects of STEM activities are the accompanying conversations. Remember to ask your child plenty of open ended questions. Open ended questions are how inquiry begins, and what leads to understanding. This type of questioning allows children to communicate, make sense of their ideas, and grow their vocabulary. Try asking some of these open ended questions and pay attention to the type of response you get.

  • What does that remind you of?
  • What do you notice?
  • Describe what happened?
  • What do you like/not like about this?
  • How does it feel?
  • How are they alike/different?
  • What would happen if…?
  • How can we find a new way to do it?
  • Can you explain?
  • What made that happen?
  • What information would you need to make a decision about…?
  • What are the most important parts?

So what is STEM education and why is it important?

STEM education means combining multiple subject areas into one well rounded lesson. These activities benefit children by focusing on real world learning and understanding. Have fun, and be sure to let us know which of these STEM activities you tried on Facebook or Instagram!


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