What is STEM and why is it important?

STEM project in primary school

What Is STEM?

According to the NSW Department of Education, STEM is preparing young people for the future of work.
The Department claims that “75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills”.

So, what is STEM? How is it helping young people learn in-demand skills and create the foundations for their career aspirations?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. As the name indicates, it does not refer to one disciplinary area, but rather, a cross-disciplinary approach.
Again, according to the NSW Department of Education, this cross-disciplinary approach helps students solve complex problems in the world around them.


● is an approach to teaching science and technology, and mathematics
● fosters inquiry learning in our complex world
● helps teachers guide students to apply their knowledge and understandings, inquire into their world,
and solve complex, authentic problems involving contextually rich projects.

Overall, it could be said that STEM enhances the learning of mathematical and scientific concepts in a more applicable way for students. It removes the boundaries of single-discipline learning, creating a more engaging approach.

According to STEM Learning in Australian Schools (2018), STEM is “the set of disciplines that work together to understand and model the universe so that people can solve problems through harnessing and manipulating the world around them.”

Now that we understand a little more about the benefits of STEM, let’s examine how it’s being implemented in Australian schools.


STEM in the NSW primary school curriculum

Some of the purposes of STEM in the curriculum is to help students to develop their critical thinking skills, their creativity, and their ability to collaborate.

This is not only taught through the syllabus content, but also through the program’s format and its integrated approach.

According to the NSW Department of Education, the program enables teachers to “differentiate their practice in response to the varied ways students learn”. The STEM program has the following attributes.

  • Consideration is given to learning across the curriculum and teachers are also encouraged to have high expectations for all students.
  • Students have a voice in their learning in their:
    • choice of project
    • mode of communication
    • findings/solution materials
    • investigations and strategies to be undertaken.
  •  Co-creation of learning experiences and assessment tasks needs to include all stakeholders – classroom teacher, teacher-librarian, RFF teacher and students
  • Students can experience a variety of strategies, manipulate a variety of materials and develop skills in the use of a variety of tools and equipment.

Overall, the planning and programming focuses on designing authentic learning. It’s all about applying problem-solving skills to real-world issues, where students drive their own learning.

STEM activities and units of work

Under the NSW syllabus, STEM subjects provide many contexts for students to pursue their interests and abilities.

Key learning areas for the syllabus can be found online for Early Stage 1 to Stage 3, as well as Stages 4 to 5. The integrated projects pages also showcase some of the impressive portfolios created by various public schools in NSW.

One example is Crabbes Creek Public School’s bee project. Under this project, students created a plan to inform the community about issues surrounding the bee population, and propose legitimate solutions. They decided on carrying out bee observation in the school grounds, and recording their findings, as well as examining how the sugar bag bee hive is constructed. Using engineering skills, the students designed and made a prototype for the hive. They also decided on a community information session to bring awareness to the local community, where they presented a film production they produced.

Overall, the project called on skills in communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, as well as skills in science, technology, mathematics and engineering.


The value of bigger picture thinking

Both the bee project, and the bushfire project, highlight the syllabus’ emphasis on real-world problems. Rather than learning theoretical concepts in a classroom setting, students are given the opportunity to tackle big questions through a cross-disciplinary approach.

So, how does this approach enhance future-led learning? Well, STEM often tackles pressing social issues. Students explore problems ranging from climate change, to the global water crisis and deforestation. In engaging with real life stories and issues, students must use big picture thinking emotional intelligence and empathy.

According to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, “Substantial evidence from many studies suggests that project-based learning in STEM education can positively impact student engagement and achievement.” For example, a US study found that “project-based learning increased content understanding and led to higher pass rates in state-wide tests.”


Supporting your child with STEM learning

One of the benefits of STEM-led learning is that it is not bound to the confines of a classroom. To continue this kind of learning outside school, you may choose to provide your child with an activity which appeals to their personal interests and sparks their problem-solving skills.

Check out our LJ Harper website for a huge range of STEM resources. You’ll find STEM games, robotics and coding activities, as well as STEM journals and STEM classroom resources.

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