February 28, 2012 AT 1:25 pm

An answer to your question! #12 Quite simply: “Whats STEM?”

Vincere asks:

Whats STEM?

Well, this is a good opportunity to take a step back and define our acronym. STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math education and has become the go-to term when describing educational efforts in the fields. I enjoyed researching the response to this question because I don’t think its true meaning is very well known and coming up with a clear-cut answer wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

As described by Thom Markham, Ph. D, an advocate of Project Based Learning, which is one of the root philosophies of the implementation of STEM education:

Most people don’t know the history of STEM education. The term was first coined in the 1890’s by the Committee of Ten at Harvard, as a response to the gaps in the agrarian school system of the 1800’s. STEM described the attributes of a good industrial school system that would raise the standards of excellence for modern students.

To realize the potential of STEM education in the modern era, I think we’ll need deeper thinking than has been evident so far. Here’s the primary problem from my perspective: Succeeding with STEM education in the 21st century requires systemic change at a scale far larger than the Harvard professors had to envision 110 years ago. Without adopting inquiry-based, student-centered, skill-driven approaches to teaching and learning—all nested in a system that values innovation—STEM education will become just another term for additional math and engineering courses.

In addition, there are numerous resources available online that supply both teacher and student resources for educating STEM based topics. The purpose of this content is to help emphasize the importance of skills like critical thinking, problem solving, intellectual curiosity, etc:

U.S. Department of Education
STEM Education Coalition
PBS STEM Education Resource Center
US News and World Report STEM Education Blog
History of STEM Education in the US Timeline

On an aside…..my biggest problem with the use of the acronym in todays educational system is the sheer lack of support for Technology Education (the T & often E in STEM). Tech Ed departments are often under staffed, over populated and rely on curriculum that reinforces the stigma of Tech Ed being “shop” class. In the world of education, humanities, mathematics, and science are all driven by state and national standards for the content that is taught. This is a double-edged sword as those teachers do not have a lot of flexibility to bring creativity and new topics into their classroom. The flip side is that they are guaranteed students, as their classes are mandatory for graduation. Tech Ed on the other hand has very few standards, and sometimes none at all. And we are not guaranteed students, as our classes are often not made mandatory for graduation! This again is a double-edged sword as the teacher has all of the freedom in the world to develop and teach new curriculum, but has to fight tooth-and-nail to balance curricular rigor with student enrollment.

It is interesting that even the US Department of Education’s is confused about STEM site has their STEM category is labeled “Science and Math (STEM)”……

Well, I hope this answered your question has at least steered you in the right direction!

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  1. STEM lacks Art & Design, which is something I think is important and often overlooked.

    STEM + Art = STEAM

    More info can be found in at a previous Adafruit post — http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2012/02/12/call-it-steam-not-stem-by-jerry-isdale/

  2. I took computers in college and they didn’t refer to it as shop. They referred to it as “Lab”.

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