The importance of authentic student learning experiences: science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education

Education is always changing. Sometimes we may ask ourselves, “Didn’t yesterday’s learning in the classrooms meet the needs of today? Why the need for change?” The answer may lie within our communities. As we take a closer look at skills employers need in their workforce, we may be surprised to learn that teamwork, collaboration, flexibility and the ability to identify and anticipate change are among the top skills employers look for. These skills are best developed through learning experiences rather than direct instruction, and one way to accomplish this is in the classroom.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning offers an opportunity for students to build the skills needed beyond the classroom. STEM experiences allow students to focus on real-world issues and problems. Some learning/project examples include:

  • How to prevent soil erosion.
  • Growing food during a flood or drought.
  • Solving a city’s design needs.
  • Building earthquake-resistant structures.

All of these projects not only emphasize real-world issues but allow students the opportunity to work collaboratively, learn to be flexible and identify changes needed to resolve problems.

When students are provided with learning opportunities that allow them to experience a collaborative, productive struggle, they connect and learn from each other. Testing out their theories and running experiments help students learn through trial and error while allowing them to view failure as part of the learning process. Life isn’t about having all of the answers but improving yourself to seek them out. Businesses thrive when they have employees who keep improving their skills. STEM offers students the knowledge they need to obtain those skills. Reach out to your local schools and businesses to see what support they can provide to help establish programs that develop lifelong skills students need to be successful in school and beyond.

Central Rivers Area Education Agency (CRAEA) is proud to support STEM education for students and educators through many unique opportunities including:

  • Investing in resources, such as zSpace, a virtual reality learning experience.
  • Providing access to professional books that emphasize design thinking, maker spaces, engineering and resources that support innovation.
  • Providing schools access to a variety of STEM equipment like Ozobots, BeeBots, Cubetto, Spheros, Makey Makeys, littleBits, drones and countless other resources.

The Iowa Governor’s STEM Council currently has 12 programs offered on the 2021-22 STEM Scale-Up Program menu. These are offerings that support STEM initiatives for students in grades PK-12. Every educator in Iowa is eligible to apply. The Iowa STEM impact map showcases the positive influence the Scale-Up Program has made from 2012-2018. The Iowa STEM Council also offers learning opportunities for educators who make an impact in the lives of students through their integration of STEM in the classroom.


Cari TeskeCari Teske is the Director of Media at Central Rivers Area Education Agency, based in the Marshalltown office. She can be reached at Central Rivers Area Education Agency provides leadership and service to 53 public and 18 non-public schools in an 18-county area of north central Iowa. Learn more at