What is STEM Education?
The acronym STEM represents Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but the concept of STEM education reaches far beyond those terms alone. STEM is an approach to teaching and learning that integrates the content and skills of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with behaviors needed for success in the 21st century workforce. These behaviors include engagement in inquiry, logical reasoning, collaboration, communication, investigation, and creativity. STEM-proficient students graduate with skills and knowledge necessary to pursue post-secondary study and careers in any field.
Why do we need STEM in education?
Incorporating the STEM approach to education fosters students’ abilities to think critically, increases literacy in STEM areas, and cultivates the next generation of innovators. Innovation leads to new products and processes necessary to rebuild our economy. This innovation and literacy is dependent on a solid knowledge base in STEM fields. Employment projections by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014 require significant mathematics or science skills, making it clear that most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science.
Who is responsible for STEM?
STEM is for all students. Therefore employees at all levels, including classroom teachers, special area teachers, special education teachers, gifted and talented teachers, and support staff should engage students in STEM activities. School and district level administrators are vital to STEM success as they are responsible for organizing financial and human capital to promote STEM integration across the curriculum. Investing time and energy into procuring grants will play an important role in early STEM transitions. Responsibility for successful STEM programs also extend to policy makers who allocate funding and set educational mandates and to businesses who can partner at all levels to support authentic STEM implementation.
STEM Education in Action
Elementary School Level: At the elementary level, STEM classrooms actively engage students in questioning and hands-on activities while investigating global issues and solving real world problems. Teachers facilitate student engagement, foster student investigations, guide students through the problem-solving process, and plan student projects that center on students’ interests.
Middle School Level: Building upon the foundation developed at the elementary level, middle school instruction shifts to further develop critical STEM skills through guided instruction. Teachers facilitate learning by designing activities that analyze and integrate content from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to investigate global issues, answer complex questions, and develop solutions for challenges and real world problems.
High School Level: STEM at the high school level is designed to develop STEM proficient students and promote advanced preparation for students interested in post-secondary study and careers in STEM fields. STEM proficiency continues to advance as students progress through grades 9-12. Students demonstrate independence and become more focused and sophisticated in their approach to answering complex questions, investigating global issues, and developing solutions for challenges and real world problems. STEM proficient students graduate with basic skills and knowledge required for college and career readiness in any field.
Advanced preparation programs provide students with opportunities to explore different career paths and college majors through advanced coursework, career academies, magnet programs, specialized STEM programs, internships, and dual enrollment opportunities. Program specialization varies from site to site.
STEM is an educational challenge—one that requires financial investment and restructuring of educational institutions. While the investment may seem steep, concerns raised about U.S. economic competitiveness have provoked our nation’s STEM experts, innovators, and leaders to get more directly involved in developing solutions. Engagement on education reform issues from those within STEM sectors and their efforts to help school systems develop, assess, and adopt effective innovations are a critical factor in improving student achievement.
STEM Resources for Educators:
▪ Articles: Teaching Community
▪ Website: Discovery Education: STEM
▪ Website: INTEL: STEM
Sources: National Science Teachers Association
Article by: Kristen Robertson