What Isn’t STEM?

Hey John,

Last week, I got the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual NSTA Conference on STEM. For those unaware, STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, shorthand for trying to get kids interested in technical fields. With federal support, people from kindergarten to the university level has been trying to grapple what STEM is, and what it should look like, especially in schools with limited funding.

While there were some great presentations (not to mention two of my own), I found myself having more questions than answers about this idea of STEM.

  1. What IS STEM?
  2. What isn’t it?
  3. How can we tell when we’re doing one of these four pieces if we might actually be doing another one simultaneously? For instance, are we doing real engineering or are we doing math?
  4. How can we better support teachers in understanding STEM and actually getting their hands dirty in this stuff?
  5. Will everyone have a common understanding of STEM already, and …
  6. How many people understand the Common Core State Standards to see these connections between STEM and the math / science standards?

I had a few more, but generally, I got the impression that schools have to figure these pieces out themselves, even after a few people tried to define it. That’s fine with me, in fact.

So long as teachers don’t have a voice in curriculum, we’ll continue to wait for the answer, wait for the opportunity, and wait for any number of people to tell us that the STEM initiative is merely for the sake of the American economy. Teachers in the technical fields should relish the opportunity to take it upon themselves to define the characteristics of STEM, find the places where we converge, and find the spaces for divergent thinking.

Perhaps the way we want to prompt students to consider breaking out of the tech silos is the way we ought to think about learning in the technical fields as a whole.

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