Connecting social studies and STEM
Kate Dodson and Darren Faust
June 2, 2016

STEM is one of the most popular concepts in education right now. Like a popular TV series, it even has spinoffs: STEAM, STREAM, and eSTEM. Arts and robotics seem natural fits with STEM, but what about social studies?  How can educators connect “the forgotten core subject” with science, technology, engineering and math? Are you ready for SSSTEM?

Kate Dodson, social studies teacher

In my social studies classroom, everything we do is project-based: I may briefly explain topics or we may discuss them for a day or two, but then my students get to work using apps and their knowledge of today’s society to create virtual timelines, evolution projects of culture, presentations and more. My students constantly look back into the past to figure how we have developed into our modern society, but also look at the world we live in today.

STEM to me is real-world application of knowledge and skills, and I use it to develop projects that cross all curriculums and focus from the past all the way through to the modern society. Every single decade that my students dive into, they look at what would have been considered “technology” at the time, whether it be the 1910s or the 2000s. Science is also easily integrated into my class because we talk about the global world we live in, which is a world of science. Math is much more straightforward. For example, when we explored unemployment rates throughout the Great Depression, my students charted and graphed the data they found.

I believe that social studies is the forgotten core subject. People often don’t feel like it’s important for students to learn about dead people, but what they don’t understand is that because of those people we have science, technology, engineering, and mathematics! And STEM itself is social studies, because it is a way of exploring the world and where we came from.

Social studies is everything around us, from the geography, to economics, to government, to the way people think and feel. I want my students to feel like the subject comes alive, whether they are researching the evolution of blues music or looking at businesses in America.

Darren Faust, general education teacher

Using an online curriculum and other resources allows me to make the connection between social studies and STEM at any time. When students select a social studies topic online they immediately see many articles related to that topic and related science content. Yesterday I had my students reading about Ancient Rome. As they were reading online, they found information relating to the Roman’s building techniques. We then had an engaging discussion on their aqueducts and how/why they worked. My favorite moments are when students make connections between social studies and science on their own.

Another time where my students learned both STEM and social studies was when we learned about ancient Egypt. One of my students noticed that the early Egyptian society started around the Nile River and made the connection to Mesopotamian society starting around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers as well. We were then able to make connections between the importance of rivers and the development of early civilizations. We were able to research and discuss the science behind what rivers do that would be beneficial to a new civilization.

Student choice is an important part of my teaching. I believe students have more buy-in to the lesson when they have choices about what they learn and how they provide evidence of their learning. Textbooks are “boring” according to many students; I would rather give them a choice of articles that are fairly short, but concise. It helps if they are also visually appealing, with photos, maps, or illustrations.

When it comes down to it, my job as the teacher is to show my students why social studies is important. I have to show them that learning about Rome, for example, can help us learn about building and engineering today. I have to show them that learning about Mesopotamia gives us great insights into how societies formed and what lives were like. Getting excited about social studies engages them in the learning process, and makes those valuable connections between social studies and STEM.

Kate Dodson teaches sixth-grade social studies at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston, W.V., where she uses online curriculum from Defined STEM.

Darren Faust teaches sixth-grade general education at Jim Maples Academy in Porterville, Calif., where he uses science and social studies materials from Kids Discover Online.

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