Students as Innovators: Why STEM Learning Matters More Than Ever

With the projected growth of STEM occupations, STEM education is critical. Providing early and diverse opportunities in STEM fosters important future-ready skills like collaboration and problem-solving while preparing students for a rapidly evolving job market. Through hands-on activities, coding resources, and virtual platforms and tools, educators can engage students in meaningful STEM learning experiences, nurturing essential skills to ensure future success across career paths.


STEM education offers tremendous benefits for every student, regardless of the type of career they may have in mind. One of the primary benefits of STEM education is its alignment with the skills that are projected to be in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in STEM occupations is expected to grow by 10.8% from 2022 to 2032, compared to just 2.8% for non-STEM occupations.

As the world of technology continues to advance rapidly and the demand for STEM-related jobs increases, we need to provide all students with opportunities in STEM. Building knowledge about STEM and engaging in STEM-related learning activities is vital for individual growth. It will empower students to navigate a constantly evolving job market. 

Providing opportunities early and often in education is essential. Doing so does not always require a lot of materials, and STEM is not just about technology. There are many hands-on activities to choose from, and we have to remember that the most important thing is to provide these opportunities for students because of the many benefits. Of course, we want students to build skills in the content area we are teaching, but bringing in STEM can be a great way to extend that knowledge and foster collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving through real-world applications. Students become more engaged and excited about learning; they ask questions, explore new ideas, discover problems to solve, and work toward finding solutions. These experiences cultivate adaptability, curiosity, and resilience, just a few of the essential skills needed in any career path as we look to the future.

When we connect learning to life and the real world, it makes the experiences more authentic and meaningful and will spark more student interest in learning. Students will see how STEM impacts their lives and hopefully, it will motivate them to explore potential careers they may never have considered. STEM activities help students to develop a mindset that is valuable in any professional environment.

Start by exploring Defined Careers, where students can learn more about the different careers that are in demand for the future. The Defined Learning website offers project-based learning (PBL) tasks that align with real-world professions, providing a context for why STEM skills are vital and helping students identify where these skills are needed. The Defined Learning resources connect academic content with career pathways and offer students insight into how what they are learning applies to future job opportunities.

While we recognize the importance of STEM, it can sometimes be a challenge to find the right activities and resources, as well as obtain the necessary funding to provide a variety of materials for students. Even with limited resources, teachers can incorporate engaging STEM activities in any classroom. Here are 4 ideas to explore, some with and some without technology.


  1. The Marshmallow or Bridge Challenge: Teams work to build the tallest tower, and they can only use specific materials such as a marshmallow, spaghetti, string, and tape. Students can learn about engineering principles by designing and constructing a bridge or a tower that can hold weight. These activities encourage teamwork and problem-solving. You can even select random objects and task students to design a structure or create something innovative that is connected to the content being taught. In the process, they will be developing STEM-related skills and essential SEL skills.
  2. Coding and robotics resources: Coding with Blackbird Code,, Scratch, or Tynker are great ways to introduce students to the basics of coding through the creation of simple animations or games. With Scratch, students can choose from interactive lessons to create interactive animations and games. We use a lot of different programs and robots in my eighth-grade STEAM course, and recently, we have been using the KaiBot. Students took the lead and set everything up on their own. I gave a basic overview and then placed it in their hands.  They designed programs to have the KaiBot perform a variety of movements and sounds as a first step and really enjoyed the opportunity to create on their own.
  3. Nearpod: With Nearpod, teachers have access to a library of lessons that are focused on STEM. Students can participate in a virtual STEM career fair, and explore different aspects of STEM, such as AI, coding, virtual reality, and more STEM-related topics. Lessons can be created to teach the content and then add activities for students to complete STEM challenges with classmates or provide solutions to some challenges presented. 
  4. PASCO Scientific: Offers tools for hands-on science and STEM education, including sensors, interfaces, and lab equipment designed to make learning interactive and engaging. My students are working independently to learn about sensors and coding through the Code Node and the vehicle sensors kit. 

Prioritizing STEM education isn't just about preparing students for the careers of the future; it's about helping students develop the right skill sets that will enable them to be successful. Whether we start with hands-on STEM challenges, dive into coding or robotics, or explore emerging technologies such as AI and bring in problem or project-based learning, the benefits will be great. These opportunities will help students to evolve as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and lifelong learners will have a tremendous impact on their future, regardless of career choices. 

About the Author:

Rachelle Dené Poth is a World Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant, Speaker, and the author of seven books about education and edtech. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915 and connect on LinkedIn.


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