Apr 9, 2015

What Is STEM?

This question is not a new one.  It is one that has perplexed educators for quite some time.  Not in terms of the general concept of what it is - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics - but in terms of how to make it happen in a school setting.

Our district is in the midst of tackling this question now.  The greatest difficulty is getting the idea across that we are already doing a great many things in terms of STEM Integration now - and that we can also revisit things we have done in the past that were STEM oriented, but went by another name, such as Project Based Learning, or Inquiry Based Learning.

A couple of points to think about in terms of STEM Integration are:

  • STEM is Hands On, Not Lecture - If we truly want students to understand how STEM works, we need to give them experiences that help them understand how things work.  That means laboratory experiences, science experiments and projects, and the ability to create.  Instead of "telling" our kids all of the information (lectures), we need to help them figure it out for themselves, while providing guidance along the way.  
  • STEM is All About Connections - As educators, our curriculum across the board is compartmentalized.  We often leave our students thinking of the world in this way.  I can't tell you how many times I have had a students say, "This is science, why are we doing math?" My response to them is, "Math is Science and Science is Math!"  
    • Making connections means that we need to point out to students the connection between math concepts and general science principles when they naturally occur together.  
    • For instance, if in an environmental science class we are talking about Solar Energy and we discuss the increase in temperature over time of a room heated naturally by the sun, we can apply a linear regression model in graph form.  This is a great way to introduce the Slope Intercept Formula into science.
    • We also need to help students understand the connection between the science, math, and the technology tools we use to study and work with both subjects.
  • STEM has Cross Curricular Applications -  Students need to understand that, as much as these things (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) do not occur in isolation, there are applications in English and Social Studies as well.  
    • I had this discussion with our 9th Grade Principal today.  He brought up several of these points as we discussed how in English, teachers could teach grammar and writing through the use of Technical Writing, which has as much application as writing an essay on Shakespeare.
    • We also discussed Social Studies and the integration of interview, data, and photographs collected during a Crime Scene Investigation (applying math and science to crime).  The information gathered there could be used to create a mock trial in which students argued different sides of the law and rights of citizens as they applied to the crime scene.
  • STEM Needs to Start at an Early Age - In order for STEM to be successful in high school, it can't be a new concept thrust at kids once they enter the 9th grade.  Our 9th Grade Principal specifically talks about helping our elementary schools begin the process of STEM integration. The benefit of this is that students learn problem solving skills at an earlier age and that the level of engagement is much higher. 
  • STEM creates a level of Engagement that could possibly prevent future issues -  Now this idea is not something I have found proof to support, but it is my thought that if we can increase student engagement and build on skills they will use all their lives, as an educational system, we could drastically cut down on failing grades and dropout numbers.  
In studying the ideas behind STEM Integration, I ran across the following videos that may be helpful to our teachers and our district.  

Finally, as our district is trying to up the ante in terms of STEM Integration, I'd like to poll the readers of this article.  Please add your thoughts on STEM to this form...Thanks!

Responses to the Form: