Balancing Between STEM and Social Studies

By Frankie Wallace

STEM subjects have been a buzzword in the educational world of late, and with good reason. The subjects — science, technology, engineering, and math — are all classic boogeymen of the classroom. Challenging students and teachers alike, these four topics have often been seen as the more difficult parts of any curriculum.

Now, though, as the STEM phenomenon continues to catch fire, the subjects have once again assumed a position in the limelight, which is an undeniably wonderful thing. However, it’s important for educators to avoid a pendulum swing of attention that could ultimately leave other subjects neglected in the wake of the growing STEM momentum. 

If you teach multiple subjects to the same students, it’s absolutely essential that you strive to find a balanced approach that addresses each subject properly and leaves each student with a well-rounded education. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for ways to create an interdisciplinary curriculum that balances STEM topics with other classroom essentials like social sciences, art, and the humanities.

Use STEM Tech Across Multiple Subjects

The modern classroom is in a perpetual race to keep up with the times. From physically advanced items like smartboards to cloud-based educational solutions like Google Classroom, the modern educator has their hands full simply obtaining and implementing these kinds of items. 

There’s no doubt that adapting to the continuous change can be a lot of work. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that the constant technological turnover presents a golden opportunity to incorporate STEM concepts across multiple subjects at once. 

For instance, if you are able to purchase new educational tablets for your classroom, you’ve just introduced a new form of tech to your students. If they use that technology to download applications that help with subjects like art and English, you can simultaneously expose your students to multiple subjects in a hands-on environment.

Combine Art and STEM

Also known as STEAM, the combination of art and STEM subjects can provide a rich atmosphere to guide student dialogue, inquiry, and critical thinking. While STEM is often associated with complex things like robotics and 3D printers, adding an art element to the mix can often help teach the core concepts that are at work.

At its root, STEM isn’t about the fancy gadgets and gizmos. It’s about skills and ideas. Core engineering concepts can be taught with cardboard boxes and string. A handful of LEGOs can be an ideal way to incorporate math and science. 

When you dial back the complex elements and aim for the core concepts, it’s easy to see where the art can also come into play. Having students build a spaceship out of a lump of clay, for instance, can be a great way to both study how a spacecraft is built and work on sculpting at the same time, developing not only their brain but fine motor skills necessary for art creation.

Combine STEM and Real Life

STEM can often feel high-minded. Nebulous concepts like math algorithms and scientific theories can be difficult to grasp. However, if you combine STEM concepts with real-world examples, it can be an excellent way to bring the topics to life and make them more relatable.

For instance, teaching cybersecurity to younger students can open their eyes to the very real dangers that face technological development. It can also provide a grounded example of the barriers that must be overcome if they pursue a career in the tech field.

Another example could be following a humanitarian crisis as a class and incorporating STEM elements into your analysis. For instance, in response to the 2019 headline story of the Amazon forest burning, students could study the geographic areas that have been affected. They could also study the scientific repercussions of the damage on the environment and even use mathematics to calculate things like how large of an area was damaged in square miles, acres, square kilometers, etc.

Combine STEM and History

STEM and history may seem like strange bedfellows, but they can actually be incorporated into one another quite easily. Just a few suggestions include:

  • Using a tablet or other tech to create a timeline of historical events.
  • Use a camera and editing software to film a report — if you’re feeling especially ambitious, add in an extra artistic element by having them film themselves as they act out a historical scene.
  • Look up mathematical systems and methods in historical contexts such as how the Romans built the Colosseum or how to write numbers as an Egyptian.
  • Focus a portion of your historical studies on the history of different STEM subjects such as space exploration, the origin of the Pythagorean theorem, or how alchemy and astrology were once considered critical sciences.

Incorporating STEM with Other Subjects

The emergence of STEM into the educational spotlight has been a necessary step for modern education. As teachers scramble to incorporate these critical subjects into their existing lesson plans, though, they must remember to balance them out with traditional subjects like social studies and art. 

Intermingling the various subjects together can be an ideal way to cover them all in applicable, hands-on scenarios that engage students and provide an educational synergy that is difficult to achieve when each subject is taught individually.

I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort is starting this summer, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to receive a reminder email to sign up for Early Bird Access on June 8.

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