Here’s a guest blog by Koshi Dhingra, founder and director of talkSTEM on STEM blog, which is created by STEMconnector, the one-stop shop for who’s doing what in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
(Article as posted on STEMblog is below. Here’s the link to STEMblog and the actual article.)
I began teaching science in the early 1990s and, just two years after earning my doctorate in Science Education, the acronym STEM was coined by Dr. Judith Ramaley at NSF in 2001. From my varied conversations with individuals representing the many stakeholders in the STEM Education ecosystem, such as parents, teachers, school leaders, researchers, policy makers and corporates, it is clear that there is no consensus on what is meant by STEM. The term may refer to any one of the four areas of science, technology, engineering or math, a couple, or more. It may refer to a traditional classroom in which algebra worksheets comprise the bulk of the routine work completed by students – to a project based learning (PBL) classroom in which students work collaboratively to answer real world questions. Even when speaking about PBL, the lack of consensus is notable and the term may refer to students working on research papers followed by power point presentations as opposed to collaborative learning groups immersed in authentic classroom experiences using real-world, 21st century tools to answer meaningful questions.
As a parent of three teenagers, it is important to me that my children have the benefit of classroom experiences led by educators who passionately and authentically engage in their fields. Regardless of how the class is packaged and labeled (math, science, art, STEM or STEAM), such educators design engaging and meaningful experiences for their students and involve real-world questions, problems, tools and context. Inevitably, in the world we live in, this involves some combination of science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It also inevitably involves creativity, collaboration, communication, reflection, and many other “soft skills” which are in fact, much more important than the term implies.
As a teacher educator and researcher, now, I am much more interested in identifying windows of opportunity in which “STEAMification” of curricular segments can take place. The strategy that will benefit my children most is immersing them in cognitive apprenticeship experiences in their classes where they learn what knowledge constructing and problem solving activities are executed in various disciplines regardless of the labels used. Given constraints posed by testing and other factors, teachers and school leaders who can identify the curricular episodes in which authentic, contextual inquiry may be designed are serving their students well. Whether it’s a science, math, history, social studies, STEM or STEAM classroom, the focus should be founded in the “authentic.” At this point, STEM and STEAM integration becomes inevitable.
Looking back at the teachers I’ve taught, the teachers my children once had as well as my own teaching practice, I realize that context is key and “STEAMification” of teacher development programs is a must.