Since the early 2000s, the U.S. education system has focused on STEM education. While school districts across the country have worked on offering a more robust curriculum that includes science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math for about twenty years, access remains a problem.
Research shows students in high-poverty areas have fewer science materials and less access to advanced mathematics like calculus or physics. Similar research shows limited access for students with disabilities. As a result, far fewer disabled students graduate with a STEM degree than their non-disabled peers.
Those in the education sector start to wonder, how can STEM and coding skills be accessible to all? Here are some ways to help close the gap:
1. Create an environment for STEM to thrive
For starters, it’s important to create a classroom environment that gives STEM the best chance for success. What kind of vibe is that? Research shows STEM education does best in classrooms where:
- Student involvement is a priority
- Engaging lessons are the norm
- The ability to learn from mistakes is encouraged
- Teamwork is promoted
For STEM to work, there has to be a certain buy-in from educators. Fortunately, research shows educators do believe in STEM/STEAM education and find value in its cross-curricular nature that benefits students.
Before you can evaluate your school’s STEM accessibility, the right environment must exist to facilitate its implementation.
2. Introduce STEM at a young age
How early is too early to start STEM? Research supports introducing STEM during early childhood. Even kindergarteners have the ability to develop STEM and STEAM skills. You might not see a five-year-old pouring over a trigonometry equation or writing code, but they can, for example, solve for x in a mathematical equation, recognize patterns, and have a strong interest in all things art.
STEM also encourages a child’s natural curiosity. That curiosity is often at its peak when children are young. They want to ask questions, look for clues, and be guided to find answers.
By starting STEM early on, it provides a foundation that kids can build upon. Plus, early access means the curriculum is more likely to continue throughout a child’s education.
3. Design a class project that centers on STEM or coding
When planning a curriculum, consider creating a class project with STEM as a focus. Rasmussen University has a great list of 11 STEM projects you can try, like building a hand crank winch or simulating an oil spill by asking kids to remove oil from water.
A class in Oregon tasked its students with creating an app. As a team, they had to identify a need for an app, and then develop, code, test, and present it to a panel of teachers.
The idea here is to incorporate STEM lessons in a way that’s engaging. The hands-on nature of these projects encourages participation so subtly that kids aren’t aware that they’re using science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math.
4. Turn to a trusted STEM source
Figuring out how to provide better access to STEM curriculum within a school can be a challenge. As a result, many educators lean on companies like SAM Labs to provide a trusted STEM curriculum that’s accessible to all.
Through app-enabled construction kits, SAM Labs helps K-8 educators bring coding to life with tools, lessons, and support that make it easy for every teacher in every class to implement.
Aside from having all of the course materials needed for each grade level, SAM Labs ensures each lesson reaches underrepresented and underserved students.
For ELL, for example, there are vocabulary activities with every lesson. As a result, everyone in class – no matter their knowledge of the English language – is able to take part in the lesson. Visual instructions provide additional support, as opposed to text-heavy directions that are more confusing for ELL students to decipher.
In economically-challenged schools, the lessons start with basics and build on the lessons learned. This kind of progression levels the playing field and gives all students an easy entry point.
Disabled students will enjoy the hands-on activities that are incorporated in each lesson and can learn from the soft skills presented for each project. The visual nature of the instruction is beneficial too.
A strong STEM curriculum isn’t just an emphasis on certain subjects, it’s also meant to improve critical thinking skills, problem solving, and collaborative efforts. These skills will help students long after they leave the classroom. Making sure every student has access to these lifelong skills is a mission for everyone at SAM Labs, who believe STEM can unlock potential in all learners.
Lisa McEwen is an award-winning writer and journalist with a passion for writing about education. She has written for large universities like Harvard and DeVry University, as well as dynamic educational startups like SAM Labs.