STEM education, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics was an initiative recently brought about in an effort to encourage education in fields that currently lack the experts to fill job vacancies. This particular initiative has taken these much needed specialties and further integrated them into regular curriculum in an effort to avoid simply achieving highly qualified candidates in one field, but to instead educate people in a more well-rounded way to still make them qualified in a particular subject, but to have a broader academic experience.
The STEM initiative came about in the United States because domestic highly qualified candidates were too difficult to find and the country had to recruit from other nations in order to find the talent they required. Now, the nation has refocused academic efforts on maintaining a domestic group of citizens that is more able to focus on these specialties. In fact, this has become one of the key factors in the public agenda set forth by the Department of Education in the United States.
To help achieve the aim of this initiative, educational games have been put into place to help educate students. These games have fallen under some heavy scrutiny and many people are still unsure on how they will impact student’s learning.
Benefits of STEM educational games
Learning by playing games has quickly emerged as one of the most effective ways to teach material. According to a study done by Federation of American Scientists, games have proven to help students learn on a higher level by using strategic thinking, interpretive analysis, problem solving and planning and adaptation to quick changes. These additional learning mechanisms set students up for a stronger future in the real world where these skills are required to be successful.
When games are used to teach materials, students go beyond simple comprehension of content and learn new thought processes. These thought processes can take them further in life allowing them for experiences outside the classroom and in particular, within STEM careers that demand these thought patterns.
Furthermore, with the growing prevalence of digital use being seen in today’s job market and daily living, literacy in digital media is also an important attribute for any qualified candidate in the STEM job market. This digital literacy allows students to harness a better understanding of the technology they will be working with in the real world, which can ultimately allow them to be more effective and require less training on the tools used daily to perform their job.
Impact on Students
With an estimated 80% of all jobs available in the next decade requiring skills in math or science, STEM educational games set students up for more success in the long run. Not only will they be receiving the content they need for a future career in the fields of math or science, but through game play they will also set themselves up for stronger thinking habits and more literacy in the tools used outside of the traditional paper and pencil. With recent studies showing only 29% of high school graduates are ready for higher science education and only 43% for higher mathematical education, students are leaving high school at a significant disadvantage. With a renewed focus on STEM subjects taught using modern technology, high school students will have a better opportunity to advance themselves, their education and their careers.
Disadvantages of STEM educational games
While the benefits are very convincing, there are still some disadvantages to this innovative way of teaching. Perhaps one of the biggest is the inability for teachers to have a clear cut way of developing this type of curriculum. Because most high schools leave curriculum up to the teachers to create, STEM educational games can be sometimes difficult to know how to best fit in to the educational material.
This becomes even more prevalent at the elementary school level where teachers are not specialized in a particular subject. Because of this, many elementary school teachers are left feeling even more uncertain of how to use these programs.
With the lack of guidelines comes less effective although well intended material. This has shown in some studies to leave students who went through STEM educational programs at the same level as those high school students who did not.
Challenges with STEM education
Because of the difficulty in knowing and understanding the guidelines that must be followed to successfully teach STEM education, some teachers are becoming certified in this type of education in particular. While this is an important step, finding the funding for teaching this type of curriculum is not easy. It is estimated that the biggest funders of this program and the development of educational games in particular will come from grants from the government.
STEM educational games are excellent learning tools and are thought by many people to be the future of education. However, without better training for teachers and more funding, this type of education could be delayed. Still, the overall impact of better preparing the youth of today and setting up the nation for more success as a whole is one that cannot be ignored and is worth continuing to pursue.
Tess Pajaron is part of Open Colleges Australia, an online course provider for exemplary tesol courses. She regularly writes about study/work abroad experiences and education. On her spare time, she loves to travel.
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