Obviously in the library world, language arts is a big part of what we do. There is demand for more in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) realm as the schools are moving to new science standards. So how do we combine the two into fun, engaging programs that don’t feel too much like school? Can it be done in such a way as to both encourage children to return and assure parents and teachers that we are a valuable science resource to them and the community at large? Most of us have a pretty firm grip on the language arts end of this, since that’s a big part of who we are. But many of us feel less in control of the STEM end of things.
So what is a good way to approach the problem? When planning a new, untested STEM program, I start with a concept or project I would like to get across or create. Once I have a handle on that, I look for books and other media to support what I want to accomplish. This does not mean that I choose exclusively non-fiction books which discuss whatever the topic may be. Instead I look for fiction, picture books, short video clips, and other engaging media which somehow address the topic without necessarily specifically “teaching” about it. I also pull books for display from both fiction and non-fiction which address or relate to the topic. This not only helps to move the collection, it also assures that if one of my chosen books isn’t working out, I have lots of others on stand-by. Many of us go about program planning in a similar way. Then I engage the children with the stories, drawing them into discussion related to the topic, encouraging thinking ahead to the project or questioning why we might be reading those specific stories.
So then, what qualifies a program as a STEM program? The reality is that pretty much anything we do can probably fit into the STEM arena. Something as Simple as The Ear Book by Al Perkins can lead to a whole program related to the science of sound. Projects could range from creating paper-and-craft-stick kazoos, to building string-and-cup “telephones”… which also pushes the project into the realm of engineering. Or the same book could be used as part of a program relating to the senses… making it a biology connection. Technology can be incorporated into the program by using tablets, e-media, and more. Stories ranging from simple counting books to Sir Cumference… (by Cindy Neuschwander) and his various adventures will engage our charges with math. The key is to remember that STEM is really a part of every day and every thing we do.
Another way to approach this would be to start with the academic standards for the age group the program is designed to reach. Familiarizing myself with the standards for the group will give me a better feel for what they are learning in school. This will make it simpler to tie what we do in the programs to what they are already learning and practicing. This is also an excellent way to get a feel for whether the program goals fit the age of the audience developmentally, and makes us a more valuable resource to teachers as well. Chances are, what we are already doing has some ties to STEM and with minor tweaking, can be considered a foray into STEM without much effort. With a little planning, programs can easily be encouraged to bloom into a combination of STEM and language arts!