STEM is More Than Coding

You know what I love? Writing that stretches my thinking. Writing that helps me ask questions. Writing that asks me to be reflective of my own practices.

If you don’t follow Adventures in Storytime (and Beyond) I highly recommend you do. Jen writes fantastic programming and reflection posts. Her recent post, S-T-E-M is a Four-Letter Word, got me thinking.

Jen has observed how the ‘T for Technology’ has come to dominate STEM discussions and programs, with a particular emphasis on coding. She lists many reasons why this is an issue (I won’t list them; go read the post).

This discussion is of particular interest to me because I am currently on a working group planning the layout and equipment for a new space focused on STEM learning and digital creativity. It made me question if I had been overemphasizing the T when doing my own research.

When I first started looking into STEM learning spaces I focused on the big picture framework and less on the “this is what to buy and use in programming.” I really like how this article frames STEM through a play framework. It is based on research from the LEGO Foundation. Usually I’m weary of reports from companies that use research to encourage people to buy more of their product, but their messages around play fall in line with other research done by libraries.

From Minds On! Learning Through Play Promotes STEM

When thinking about what to buy I can look back on these concepts and consider if the toys and gadgets facilitate playful learning.

I also liked the “guide on the side” approach described in the Children and Libraries Fall 2020 issue called STEAM Learning in Public Libraries: A “Guide on the Side” Approach for Inclusive Learning. They talk about creating scenarios which lead to ‘playful failure’ where library staff act as a “facilitator [who] chooses prompts, questions, and STEAM activities carefully to set families up for learning explorations” (8). Again, I could see using this lens to think carefully about what to purchase – which hands-on devices and toys will allow staff to create opportunities for families to take risks, make mistakes, and learn alongside them?

Then I got to the point in my research where I started to look into the actual toys and gadgets. Whoo boy, was Jen right! Many of the items I had bookmarked had to do with coding. Things like:

  • Kano computer coding kits
  • Arduino programming kits
  • Ozobots
  • Code-a-pillars

And those things are great! Coding is a skill many people will need to get jobs in the future. But moving forward I want to ensure I am thinking about all aspects of STEM before deciding on exactly what to buy. I really appreciate Jen sharing her thoughts because it will help me make better decisions moving forward.

Do you ever find yourself favouring one letter of STEM over another? How do make sure you are presenting a balanced view of STEM learning in your library spaces and programs? And for my own selfish purposes, tell me about the best STEM toys, gadgets, or programs you’ve run!

9 thoughts on “STEM is More Than Coding

  1. This is so true! Many of the gadgets out marketed as STEM lean heavily into coding. Our library wanted to make sure there were plenty of screen-free options and that the arts were equally represented in our STEAM kits. We have bat boxes, Cubelets, Magna Tiles, an anatomical dummy, Keva planks, Snap Circuits, Makey Makey, Specdrums, a Steel Drum, binoculars…the list is long! My personal favourite are the Cubelets, my daughter loves the Specdrums, and the steel drum is always checked out. I hate our telescope because it’s too big and bulky – my fault! A full list of our kits is here:

    1. Pippa, this is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing the list of items. I find it especially useful to know what doesn’t work! One library I talked to said they would never buy drones again. Looks like I need to catch a ferry ride sometime soon and come say hello 🙂

    2. I really like your STEAM kits, too! That’s something I want to add at our library, you know, in my copious free time, LOL! Also, have to figure out where to keep them. But that’s on my radar, once I get my collection in a bit better shape and my department running smoothly. I’ve been here a year, and had to rebuild programming from nothing, and inherited a very neglected, poorly managed collection.

    3. Bat boxes?! So cool! How does that work? They aren’t borrowed are they? (Because they’d get, you know, poopy…!) And I love the musical components, too!

  2. Thank you for this. It’s so good to hear that my use of counting, shapes, and nature during storytime and craft time are all valid STEM/STEAM related and useful for engaging kids with Science. I knew they were, but validation is always nice! Especially because I have no aptitude for coding!! Luckily, we have some amazing staff here at TCPL who are geniuses at everything Tech. So if anything, I tend to avoid the coding T in STEM, rather than favor one in particular!
    Probably my favorite STEM program for our youngest patrons was back in 2017 when there was a solar eclipse viewable in our earthly neighborhood. We applied for free eclipse glasses from the STAR Library Network which we handed out to the public and that was a huge hit! Since it happened in August, I was able to have a storytime outside, and along with reading fab books about the sun and space while waiting for the countdown, we had a planet dance, solar system songs and fingerplays, and back at the library we had many crafts that utilized what we [mostly] already had on hand, such as paper plate solar systems and solar eclipse mobiles. So Fun!

    1. A planet dance?! I am so there. Thanks for sharing this idea, Kelly. I had heard that the eclipse glasses were a nightmare at some libraries who ran out in minutes and had hundreds of people showing up. I guess it’s a good problem for the library to be a destination spot though.

      1. The rumors about the glasses are true, so this time we got 2000 of them!! And they are already here only…a year and a half early? (For the eclipse with the best viewing for the Northeast.) The glasses are free if you list solar eclipse programs you will be using them with.

  3. Wow, what a pleasant surprise! I’m so flattered by the nice comments about and links to my blog and recent post, and excited to see that someone is actually reading what I write and getting something from it. I know there are a lot of us that do more of the basic science and stuff, but it just doesn’t get the attention or recognition that it should. No one will ever be named a Mover & Shaker for doing baking soda and vinegar experiments. But the basics are so important, and the schools already skip over them in many cases. I’ll have some more specific suggestions and tips in my follow up article, coming soon!

    1. You are definitely not shouting into the void, Jen! I read every post you write. I’m happy to direct some traffic your way. Thank you for helping me think more critically about this topic.

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