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As STEM has become a greater focus for education at all levels, teachers and parents are looking for ways to incorporate STEM topics into other areas of education, including language arts and the humanities.
There are so many creative and interesting ways to accomplish this goal, from reading STEM-themed books to in-class projects and cross-subject collaborative learning. By tapping into your own creativity, you can find countless ways to combine STEM in the language arts classroom. Indeed STEM is often combined with the Arts and discussed as STEAM in education and learning.
Language Arts gives students the tools they need to unlock the doors to STEM learning.
Blurring the Lines
We tend to draw hard lines between subjects: physics is about gravity, chemistry is about molecules, biology is about animals, language arts is about reading and writing. But, as a very wise professor once pointed out, nature does not know about these lines, we create them to make it easier for us to understand our world.
Nearly 20 years later, I still heartily agree with this comment. To take it further, language arts and the humanities can teach us about communication, collaboration, engagement, creative exploration, and access to information across time and space. How wonderful that we can communicate with ancient scientists (think Plato or Galileo), the professor next door, or the Engineer in China, through written communication!
Begin with the Books
A great first step for incorporating STEM into a Language Arts classroom is to read, evaluate, and write about STEM using reading assignments – either the books you’ve always used or a STEM-themed book.
I read Jurassic Park in 5th grade. Fast forward a few decades (more than a few movie adaptations), and with the benefit of my education in biology, I still think back to how that book portrayed science and the ethical problems it presented. It was one of the first examples I saw where popular culture and scientific inquiry came together in a fun and interesting way. The fact that I remember and think about that book all these years later makes me realize (again) just how influential books can be.
These days, there’s a huge number of books focused on a STEM topic. From toddler board books (yes, two of my favorite baby books are Newtonian Physics for Babies and Baby Loves Thermodynamics!) to picture books like Andrea Beaty’s lovely stories including Ada Twist Scientist and Iggy Peck Architect, and a host of young adult and adult fiction. With a quick trip to your local books store or a search on Amazon, you can find a book or story to engage any student’s interests.
A great starting point for finding engaging books to use in the classroom is Megan Kelly’s blog post, where she included a list of young adult STEM novels that have worked for her students.
Some other ways to incorporate STEM topics into reading or writing assignments include:
- Read a book about a famous scientist or engineer
- Ask your students to research a STEM topic or person important to their field
- Discuss the connections between events or science in a book to their daily life
The list goes on and on…
Projects Get The Creative Juices Flowing
When researching this article, I came across a lot of great ideas from teachers for incorporating projects into the Language Arts classroom, as well as opportunities for LA and STEM teachers to collaborate.
The possibilities are endless and creative. Some quick ideas for language arts projects include:
- Designing and even building a house (or a boat, a car) for one of the book characters,
- Calculating the size of a farm that would be needed to support the characters,
- Writing instructions for activity relevant to the latest book assignment.
Another great approach is for Language Arts and STEM teachers to create a joint learning unit. To use my Jurassic Park example, students could read the book when they study genetics in biology class. Both teachers could use the book for assignments such as:
- How good is genetic science? How much more do we know now than when it was written?
- What were those engineers thinking? Is it possible to build something that would hold a dinosaur?
- What is the role of ethics science (spoiler: a big one, most people with a graduate degree in science have taken an ethics course), and did the scientist violate their ethical responsibilities?
I love this approach because project-based learning and cross-subject collaboration demonstrate so clearly the connections among our educational subjects.
But Most Importantly …
Get curious! Encourage your students and children to get curious about their world, and to think creatively about how to solve the problems around them. After all, STEM at its core is really about creativity: How does a lightbulb work? Where do those animals sleep? How big is this mountain? What keeps this bridge from collapsing?
And reading and writing are the perfect tools for exploring that creativity and developing critical thinking skills. Even books that are not specifically about a STEM topic can be used as a springboard. Encourage your students to ask questions, to think about what sort of STEM-related problems the characters may have to overcome, or to write about something that interests them – whether it’s birds, trees, slime, coding, or car engines.
A few questions that come to my mind are:
- Do the characters spend time outside? How do they adjust to seasons and the climate?
- Where does their food come from?
- If they travel long-distances, how are they transported and how far are they really going?
- If the characters were placed in our modern world, would their house stand up to floods and forest fires?
What gets you curious? Start there, and bring your students along. Your enthusiasm about your own interests will get them thinking, writing, reading, and likely talking a lot as well!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a good resource for finding STEM books?
Check out Amazon, they have a good selection of STEM-oriented books for young kids and toddlers. Also, check out blogs from teachers. They have read and used the books themselves, so it should be a great starting point.
What is STEM ELA?
STEM ELA is the concept of incorporating science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts into the English Language Arts classroom.
How do you incorporate STEM into literacy?
There are many creative ways to incorporate STEM into the literacy curriculum. Think about including literacy components into STEM lessons. For example, recording experimental observations into a lab notebook, and then transferring those notes to a more formal document is a good way to blend these learning objectives. Likewise, a well-structured presentation on an engineering design will also draw on both literacy and STEM concepts.
Allison is a biologist, educator, and mother with a passion for making STEM accessible to everyone through her writing and teaching.