More and more teachers, parents and students are hearing the phrase “STEM education,” but what is it really? Why does it matter? And how does it factor into a child’s education? This blog post will explore the fundamentals of STEM education and its place in education.
STEM is an acronym, popularized in the early 2000s that stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” As the acronym implies, STEM programs are meant to cover a broad range of topics in these related disciplines, not only by teaching discrete skills, but also by allowing the subject matter to overlap and interact to create a “meta-discipline.”
Whereas prior education models were focused primarily on teacher-to-student relationships, a STEM model seeks to foreground an approach driven by problem-solving, exploration, and engagement that requires students to engage organically with the concepts and discipline-specific approaches to learning.
Is STEM The Best Option?
Many educators have raised concerns about the STEM paradigm, since it can sometimes be seen to ignore the humanities, arts, and other pursuits that are part of a liberal arts education. This has led to questions about whether a STEM program can teach all students adequately. After all, some students may have an affinity for literature, while others may lean toward computer science.
Defenders of a STEM approach believe that all students can benefit from the program because it fosters ingenuity and independent thinking while allowing students to explore any subject with the skills and habits of mind learned in STEM. These skills, proponents believe, are imperative for the jobs of tomorrow.
How Is STEM Integrated into Existing Curriculums?
It is often argued that a STEM approach is most effective when it exists as its own, comprehensive curriculum. Instead of the four component parts (science, technology, engineering and math) being taught separately, program advocates believe that adopting and teaching the program as a whole is imperative to its success. This means that the classes, subject matter, and application of skills should ideally all connect, creating a continuity between different learning platforms and processes.
For a host of reasons, it may not be ideal for a school to adopt a STEM program in this manner. There are, however, ways of integrating the principals into an existing structure. One of these would be an increase in the emphasis placed on familiarity with technology. For example, by encouraging students to use more advanced computer programs and integrate applications and data into their daily studies, educators can dramatically increase students’ competencies in several of the STEM areas.
A STEM education might raise the eyebrows of some parents, particularly those who have a strong belief that the humanities play a vital role in a child’s education. There is no question that the humanities are essential to a liberal arts education. However, STEM doesn’t mean forsaking these other classes or materials. In fact, a properly administered STEM program is meant to complement and augment study in other disciplines.