What Is “STEM Education”?
By Hans Meeder
I spoke at a conference on STEM education this week and I asked the group to discuss and shout out definitions of STEM education. I received a variety of good answers, such as problem solving, collaboration, and persistence. Then I asked the group if their school district or community organization or college had actually tried to create a working definition of STEM education. From what I recall, no hands went up. Based on several workshops I’ve given on the topic, this by far is the norm. Folks are running after something important called STEM, without actually having a common definition of what it is.
In my research, I have actually identified five meanings that people bring to the term “STEM education.”
- Core STEM subject knowledge and skills – STEM means just that – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and the core knowledge and processes within each of those disciplines.
- Core Methods of Inquiry, Exploration and Problem Solving – STEM means the ability to frame problems and solve problems.
- Active Learning – STEM involves certain teaching methodologies, like problem-based and project-based learning (also referred to as “active learning” strategies).
- Career Focused STEM – STEM is about helping students understand and explore the world of careers and how STEM is infused to a variety of career options, not just the well-known careers like scientists, engineers, and computer programmers.
- Integrated STEM -STEM is about drawing the connections between traditional STEM courses and other academic and elective disciplines, emulating the real-life mash-up of knowledge and skills that happens in the world of work.
So, with those five valid and important perspectives on STEM education, let me offer a proposed definition of STEM education that honors and reflects the spirit of each of the perspectives.
STEM Education is a thoughtful, well-planned endeavor to:
- Develop a solid grasp of the fundamental concepts and knowledge underpinning the core disciplines of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics;
- Help students develop critical problem-framing and problem-solving skills in the context of STEM learning;
- Apply active learning strategies to develop deep learning;
- Help students understand the role of STEM skills and knowledge in modern careers; and
- Strengthen the connections across STEM disciplines and to other core academic and elective classes.
Feel free to take this definition and make it a point of discussion with your colleagues and partners. Once you agree on a good working definition of STEM, I believe the other pieces of your STEM strategies will start to make more sense and align with one another.
(In my next blog, I’ll share a definition of STEM Literacy.)