Mechanics in STEM Education: The Missing Link

Over the past decade, there has been a push toward STEM education in almost every part of the country. Educators and parents alike now see the value in providing learning opportunities that not only focus on science also integrate this core disciplines with others such as math, engineering, and even art. Some of the benefits of STEM include building curiosity, investigating real-life scenarios, and providing an environment that embraces experimentation as well as trial and error. But still, even with all of the positives that hands-on STEM training provides, the US ranks 24th on the totem pole in science education. So what then can we do to improve our standing? Although there are lots of working parts to the solution, current research suggests that integrating mechanics into STEM education may be the missing link.

Current and Future STEM

Today, STEM education is primarily related to coding and robotics. Although computers and automation do play a part, this approach is limited because the STEM field also requires understanding of mechanics and its integration with electronics (think mechatronics). So what is mechanics exactly? There are several definitions but they all overlap is one way or another. These include:

  • The branch of applied mathematics dealing with motion and forces producing movement.
  • The branch of physical science that deals with energy and forces and their effect on bodies.
  • The practical application of mechanics to the design, construction, or operation of machines or tools.

The fact that students aren’t being exposed to mechanic-related play at school and home shows in our education ranking as well as the economy. Current trending shows that there is a huge labor shortage in the US and Canada when it comes to skilled trade workers because of a lack of skill. One critically understaffed field: service mechanics. So as baby boomers retire and others rise to take their places, how will we make sure that future workers have the necessary skills? The answer is simple: instill them early on through play.

Playing Around With Mechanics

Without which mechanics, the science of movement and interaction can’t be understood. Not only do teachers and parents need to understand and introduce this concept, but we also have to make sure that we are doing it correctly. Things to consider when giving children the opportunity to play with mechanic-based toys/complete mechanic based activities:

  • Make sure that these activities/toys introduce mechanics systematically. For example, a model building kit should not only show the steps to build the model but also explain why these steps are necessary and what other solutions are available.
  • Moving parts must be included! Science can’t be understood fully unless movement is an integral part.
  • Find alternatives that aren’t pricy. Many of the mechanics-based toys are the market today are extremely expensive, leading teachers and parents to shy away from mechanics based play. But thankfully there are some alternatives, DIY and otherwise, that can help make STEM more meaningful. For example, you could make an at home windmill or a dancing duck toy with wood and string.

Craving to learn more about STEM, puzzles and toys? Check out my other articles on LinkedIn. Leonid Shafir

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