Archive for October, 2011

Protecting the STEM reputation

Some high security science and engineering jobs in the US require that the people in those positions are US born. Whether you feel this is good policy or not, the reality is that fewer students qualify for these positions.

As a result, the Department of Education and leading organizations like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are all investing heavily in STEM education. Bills proposed to revise No Child Left Behind are also including language in support of STEM.

People are promoting their solutions as STEM-related that have nothing to do with a truly integrated environment. As a result of this dilution, the STEM process can seem unhelpful and disorganized.

The blog EducationNews, a new segment appearing on Sesame Street is said to have STEM content. On closer inspection, the Grover 2.0 segments are good exercises in observation of simple machines and phenomenon occurring with magnets. Observation skills are certainly important, but exercising those skills isn’t the same as a meaningful integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Using the STEM acronym too liberally will turn it into a meaningless phrase, and can give good education a bad name.

Defining True STEM Education

Our schools have evolved to teach these skills in artificially separate subjects, like Chemistry, OR Math, OR Engineering design. Then, we anticipate that students will combine these skills later in their career to solve a problem.

True STEM teaching occurs when students are taught to use the combination of many skills to solve a tangible problem.

Creating a classroom environment that is designed to authentically pull these skills together is very challenging, and requires a teacher to have an understanding of a wider range of content in real ways. When teachers look for support in implementing STEM education, we will waste too much time finding the true STEM experiences if they are grouped together with other loosely related resources.

It’s important for those of us who believe in STEM education to routinely describe it accurately to others, and set a high bar for our own efforts of integration. The STEM moniker doesn’t mean the same thing to every person, and I’m afraid that people will lose hope that integrating subjects is a valid pedagogy because it’s so watered-down.