Today, discussions about quality education and preparing children for success invariably mention the importance of STEM. But what is VOICE? Why does it matter? And how are private schools prioritizing STEM to help students become tomorrow’s leaders, innovators, and game-changers in an increasingly information and technology-based world?
What is VOICE?
The acronym STEM stands for ‘science, technology, engineering and mathematics’. The four core disciplines span countless school subjects, from coding and robotics to chemistry, algebra, biology and even economics. STEM learning encompasses integrated interdisciplinary education that makes taking in information fun and interactive: Rather than focusing solely on textbooks, theory, and memorization, students immediately put what they learn into practice through hands-on experiments, projects, and activities.
“What parents should look for in a STEM program is not what students learn from, but how they learn. How do they access the curriculum content? How do they interact with others? To what extent are they able to exercise their curiosity?” says Glen Herbert, chief of marketing and communications at Rosseau Lake College in Rosseau, Ontario, where students’ STEM education includes a mandatory canoe trip to help them understand their place in the natural world. “People don’t generally associate canoe trips with STEM,” he says, “but they should, because [canoe trips] reflect the same set of core outcomes: creativity, collaboration, application, agency.
Why is STEM important for students?
Introducing children to STEM early and then integrating it during their school years gives them time to explore possibilities, discover new topics and nurture their passions. “STEM programs work to make science inviting, approachable, and inspiring,” Herbert says. “They’re also trying to refocus students’ relationship with science.”
STEM’s inherent “learning by doing” approach not only helps stimulate the subject itself, but enables students of all ages to develop complementary, highly transferable life skills such as problem solving, reasoning, communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking– all of which are invaluable, both at school and beyond. “It’s one thing to have a great idea, quite another to effectively explain it to others, and quite another to lead a team of collaborators to bring that idea to fruition. says Herbert. “STEM programs require all those skills.”
In the long run, robust STEM education in primary and secondary education ensures that students are also successful in post-secondary academia. “STEM courses are very important because the fields of science, math, and technology offer our students fantastic opportunities to innovate and make a difference in our world,” said Dr. Mark Lee, deputy school principal at the Royal Crown School in Scarborough, Ont. “Pursuing university majors in these fields provides our students with strong career opportunities in an increasingly competitive global market.”
In view of that, and looking even further afield, STEM-related careers – and the need for highly skilled workers – are growing exponentially. It is vital to provide students with a solid STEM foundation upon which to build their future and thrive in all aspects of their lives. “The more students can have those kinds of experiences,” Herbert says, “the better prepared they are for the work environments they find themselves in as professionals.”
How do private schools prioritize STEM?
When it comes to STEM, every private school is different. Some make it their core focus, while others take a more holistic approach, integrating elements of STEM into lessons, programs, and activities. At Delano Academy in Thornhill, Ontario, the “T” of STEM technology is the hub. As a member of Microsoft’s global Showcase School partnership, Delano embraces a technology-first approach to educating its students. “[Technology] is embedded in how our students learn and how educators teach in every way,” said Sharon Levy, vice president of Delano Academy. “We are committed to future-proofing our students, using the very latest hardware and applications that support the 21st century learner.” The school also runs the STE(A)M factory (the “A” stands for “doctor”), an incubator and accelerator that further encourages its students to invent, create and design.
At St. John’s-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg, STEM begins in kindergarten, where young students learn to use tablets and computers, and continues through high school, when students can choose from a wide variety of STEM courses and select the one that interest them most. “Not only is technology integrated into every course, class, and lesson,” says director of admissions and marketing Lindsay Stovel, “but students are also expected to use technology resources in all aspects of their learning.
and communication. Our goal is to provide a technology-enriched learning environment that enables the development of critical and creative thinking, social responsibility and lifelong learning.”
In many private schools, STEM is also part of their selection of extracurricular activities, organizations and field trips, and some organize science fairs or math competitions, or organize after-school clubs where students can hone their coding, design or robotics skills together with peers who share their affinity with share a particular STEM discipline. “We look forward to the recovery of our after-school activities program,” Lee says. “It will be aimed in part at providing opportunities for students to apply and expand their knowledge in STEM subjects in a community context through participation in internships and clubs.”
While the approach to STEM and the extent to which it is a part of everyday learning varies from school to school, it has eventually become an indispensable part of the general curricula of private schools. “One of the goals of all high-quality STEM programs is to get past the prejudices we may have about science,” Herbert says. “In the past, scientists were seen as lone geniuses. STEM programs adopt and promote the idea that science and technology are not domains dominated by lone geniuses scurrying and brooding over finite problems. Rather, they are a celebration of the community of people around the world who, by working together, will solve the problems we face and make the greatest progress together.”