Since there is a shortage in higher educated individuals in STEM all over Europe, and society requires a general literacy in STEM, more attention should be paid to this issue from early school years on. Consequently, in many EU-countries STEM is prioritized at the educational agenda.
Although many European nations have an increased focus on STEM-education in elementary schools, the nature of such learning experiences and how these might be integrated within the curriculum remain open to debate (English & King, 2015). There is a threshold amongst teachers to really use the STEM-didactics in the classroom.
Some European projects have already focused on specific aspects of STEM, e.g. inquiry-based science education, but the integrated aspect and its possibilities remain often neglected. Furthermore, the potential for STEM-integration in advancing math learning is still less apparent than for science, technology or engineering. Reasons for this are the difficulties to contextualize math contents and let them encompass real-world problem-based learning. Nevertheless, this is important, as in contemporary classrooms mathematics remains mostly abstract and insufficiently connected to the real-world, and as a consequence, it is often not easily understood by the children.
Indeed, studies have shown that an interdisciplinary approach fosters positive attitudes, motivation and problem-solving skills as well as the learning of concepts (Van Houte et al., 2013; Cotabish et al. 2013). Moreover, positive attitudes result in an increase of interest in STEM-disciplines and a growth of competence in an ever-changing global world (Moore et al., 2014). Without doubt, STEM-skills are important for children to obtain 21st century skills.
As a result, in this project, we put forward an approach of integrated STEM-education and its value for math learning. This is not an isolated problem, since all partners experience the same issue. So it certainly needs to be tackled on an international level. Additionally, an important argument for this focus is that our educational systems emphasize the use of language, whereby we often do not see the strengths of children for math learning, when they are less talented for language. Furthermore, one of the biggest problems in STEM-education is that children often do not see the link between abstract STEM-insights and their impact on solving real-world problems. That can be the reason why few young people, especially girls, consider STEM-professions. (Sjøberg & Svein, 2008)
So there is a need to improve the quality of education in math in relation to STEM. Necessarily, a strengthening of the didactical competences of elementary teachers in Europe is needed. Therefore, in STEM4MATH we design a mutual didactical model and good practices to support teachers in teaching math through an integrated STEM approach (interdisciplinary learning approach) to make math more attractive and learnable.
So the main objective of this project is to stimulate a more integrated education in STEM, in which difficult mathematic concepts are profoundly enclosed, and consequently, become easier to learn by children in elementary school.
- a didactical model is designed in order to implement integrated STEM-didactics
- 20 good practices based on an interdisciplinary learning are developed by the partnership for the age group 6-12 years old.
- an interactive learning environment (website) is developed which enables teachers to obtain the necessary didactical insights regarding STEMeducation.
- teacher training courses are offered in the different partner countries.
- knowledge on the cognitive as well as affective impact of STEM-activities on young children is gained, based on an educational design-research study while testing STEM-activities in classes.