Here’s an excerpt from the Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Strategic Plan:
“We want to make sure that we are exciting young people around math and science and technology and computer science. We don’t want our kids just to be consumers of the amazing things that science generates; we want them to be producers as well. And we want to make sure that those who historically have not participated in the sciences as robustly — girls, members of minority groups here in this country — that they are encouraged as well. We’ve got to make sure that we’re training great calculus and biology teachers, and encouraging students to keep up with their physics and chemistry classes…. It means teaching proper research methods and encouraging young people to challenge accepted knowledge.”
President Barack Obama, National Academy of Sciences, April 2013
Increasing opportunities for young Americans to gain strong STEM skills is essential if the United States is to continue its remarkable record of success in science and innovation. Numerous advances, from mapping the human genome to discovering water on Mars to developing the Internet, would not have been possible without a skilled and creative STEM workforce. New technologies and STEM knowledge lie at the core of our ability to manufacture better, smarter products, improve health care, preserve the environment, and safeguard national security. Individuals prepared with the skills and knowledge to invent, build, install, and operate those new technologies are essential. In addition, a basic understanding of STEM topics and concepts is necessary beyond the workplace in order for citizens to make informed decisions on issues that are increasingly at the center of local and national political debates, such as environmental regulation. STEM literacy is also critical when it comes to making sound personal consumer choices, from health-care decisions to purchases at the grocery store.
Despite references to STEM in a range of official documents like the one above, there really is no consensus on what we mean by it. I don’t think that’s a problem except for the fact that most people tend not to realize this and believe that their understanding is THE definition of what constitutes STEM. Recently, I asked a few friends involved in different professions two questions relating to their understanding of STEM and their thoughts about their own (and/or their kids’) identities as STEM doers/ practitioners.
Just for fun, I thought I’d try out a quiz format for fun this week:
Can you match these five professions to statements A-E below?
I English teacher and Debate coach
II Environmental biologist
III Elementary Science Teacher
IV Sociology Professor
V Financial Services Professional
For even more fun, can you match each of the responses to the second question (Responses 1-5) to the profession (I-V) and to statements A-E.
Correct answers will be posted next week so check back!
Please do post your own responses to these two questions as comments. It would be great to start a dialogue on what we see as being STEM, what activities as relating to STEM, and so forth.
What is “STEM” (Science Technology Engineering Math) in your opinion? If you’re not familiar with “STEM” just tell me about whatever you understand by this term even if it’s a specific aspect.
A. STEM encompasses so many different areas that it is almost meaningless except as a very broad platform from which to talk about educational and career arenas in which certain groups are consistently under-represented. I think of it more as a way to give attention to literacy in arenas that are increasingly important in a truly relevant and future-thinking education rather than a set of targeted career trajectories.
B. I equate STEM with engineering and the physical sciences. I think of it as more applied and connected to applications.
C. STEM is both a curricular tool and an education paradigm that places increased emphasis on core concepts found in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The goal is to increase higher level thinking and student skill level in these areas. It is frequently presented in contrast with humanities-based curriculum or “classical education.”
D. In an educational perspective, STEM is an integrated study that includes more than one of the STEM acronym components. In addition, STEM is authentic, having real world applications or an actual, open-ended problem at its heart. Often, STEM includes other disciplines not included in the acronym. For example, writing is often included. As are the arts. Even P.E. can be a part of STEM. Other acronyms have been used such as STEAM, but this really waters down the intent of STEM. We, as a country, have been falling behind in some areas of STEM. The acronym is a way to focus on strengthening educational programs to prepare our children with the skills they’ll need to adapt to rapidly changing technologies and ways of doing work that may not even be on our imagination’s horizon.
E. STEM is the study of science, technology, engineering, or math using a practical, hands-on, interactive approach. Any one of those four content areas or a combination of them being experienced in a non-lecture, nontraditional classroom setting is STEM.
Do you do “STEM” in your life? Do your children (if you have any) do “STEM”?
- I do little related to STEM. My kids do math and science inside school and play with Lego sets or other building toys, including once doing a Lego robotics week camp.
- Yes I “do” STEM in my work and daily life, and am also a fairly “STEMmy” type thinker in general.
- Personally, most of interests are in the soft and social sciences or in the arts. I research a number of topics that are science-related both for work and for pleasure, certainly deal with technology on a daily basis, live with the impacts of engineering decisions made on my behalf and use basic math daily. I prefer to spend leisure time with literature, history, philosophy and art.
- I do STEM almost every day. Mainly as I think about designing new education products or designing STEM lessons for my students. Doing STEM is needed before teaching STEM. So, I have to practice a potential lesson to make sure I can adequately guide my students when I’m leading the lesson.
- In my work, I describe a company’s financial statements and key metrics such as its market capitalization or gross margins. I use basic technology common to the business world such as email, videoconferencing, etc. I have one child who has created his own websites sharing some of his interests with friends. In addition, my kids like to cook which involves measuring and learning how temperature affects different foods. Finally, they enjoy building with legos.