Blog: Encouraging creative thinkers — the benefits of STEM learning | Russell Lightfoot

Students conducting science STEM experiment

I want to start by saying how nice it is to be back teaching at New Morning School. My family moved to Michigan in August but for those of you who don’t know, we have lived here before and I taught the kindergarten class at NMS for three years.

Time certainly flies but I have loved getting the opportunity to teach some of my previous students, who are now in the fifth grade. It’s also been great getting to know the other students as well.

I have always enjoyed teaching science but have never really had the chance to teach STEM. The kids have been enjoying the science we have been doing so far this year but I have definitely noticed how much they love the STEM lessons we have done and how they become engaged in the activities. Maybe it’s because the lessons are on a Friday afternoon! Or is it because, to quote Jean Piaget:

“The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover.”


What is STEM learning?

That’s the great thing about STEM, the kids can be creative thinkers and to try out ideas without the fear of getting things wrong.

For those of you who are not familiar with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) I thought it would be interesting to share what I have learned and the benefits the children get from it.

So why STEM?

STEM is becoming a more important part of education and the world economy.  The reason for this is that the careers of the future will most certainly be centred around STEM fields, while also invoking 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, cultural awareness, collaboration and problem-solving.

Advantages of STEM learning for students

There are many advantages the kids will get when taking part in STEM lessons.

For one thing, STEM learning improves creativity. Students are encouraged to come up with creative ideas and to problem solve. Let’s think outside the box!

Another plus for STEM learning is it increases team collaboration. Often, in the real world and in the workplace, teams are required to solve and complete multifaceted problems. In light of this, STEM education prioritises collaboration and teamwork in its syllabus to teach to kids the importance of communication and leadership towards achieving common goals.

STEM leaning also develops communication skills. Communication skills are perhaps the most important of all life skills. Having the ability to discuss and convey complex concepts to others while also learning from one another will be the key to achieving success in a child’s life as they grow up. Group activities in STEM promote sociable skills like active listening, open-mindedness, and open them up to giving and receiving constructive feedback.

STEM boosts critical thinking skills

It also empowers critical thinking skills. The kind of material offered in a STEM education is focused on engaging kids in critical thinking.

Critical thinking is the process of actively conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, and evaluating information through observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication. Students are encouraged to answer questions or solve problems not based on memorization but based on actively engaging with the material to understand the issue at hand and solve it using logic.

These situations better reflect what is expected of them in the workplace – experiencing situations like this early in their education will better prepare them for their futures.

STEM learning boosts curiosity. STEM is all about empowering kids to ask “why” and “how” questions. STEM will provide students the opportunity to explore their imaginations to come up with imaginative solutions. Curious students are invested in their education and are the driving force of innovation and discovery.

Cognitive skills boosted by STEM learning

STEM tower middle school

Cognitive skills are also strengthened by STEM learning. These are the brain-based skills that enhance thinking, reading and learning. Much like a muscle, it can be exercised and strengthened through training. When engaged in STEM subjects, students can develop and strengthen their cognitive skills and learn the basics of coding and engineering in primary schools. This approach will develop kids’ cognitive abilities and aid them in the speed and quality of their problem-solving skills.

It also introduces STEM careers at early ages. Studies show that a majority of careers will be centred around STEM subjects or will have STEM components to them. By introducing STEM at an early stage of a child’s life, you are introducing them to a world of opportunities and nurturing the skills needed to succeed in the 21st-century.

STEM also teaches how to take initiative. Learning is evolving into more of a fun activity. STEM gives curious students the skills to tackle problems confidently and facilitates a more positive feeling about learning, greater self-confidence in students, and diffuses negative biases that contribute to the growth of individuals who are curious, confident and take the initiative when dealing with challenges.

Media literacy is enhanced by STEM. Unlike other curriculums, STEM students learn by research and inquiry. Inquiry requires students to engage in active learning by generating their own driving questions and seeking out answers through reading and research. In this way, they can apply what they have learned to daily life.

The social-emotional benefits of STEM learning

Another plus: When it comes to social-emotional abilities – which bring about happiness and success in life – STEM education encourages children to improve their SEL skills before becoming active members of society. Aside from personal development, including SEL strategies in teaching empower students to learn more academically.

So there are many advantages to teaching STEM. If you want to find out more or if you have some spare time and desire a STEM project to do with your kids at home, there are so many good resources online. Like I said earlier, kids love getting involved in these types of activities.

This quote from author Heather Shumaker sums up STEM learning pretty well:

“Playtime is precious. Play builds brain pathways for thinking, creativity, flexibility, empathy, and many other lifelong skills.”

Russell Lightfoot is a STEM teacher at New Morning School in Plymouth, MI.  He can be reached at