STEM: What's the Big Deal?
December 12, 2013
by Amanda Whitener
Open any newspaper, educational resource or international study on global students and you will find plenty of articles and new statistics about STEM – the fields of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
We’ve heard plenty about how STEM is the most important part of our children’s education and how our schools must focus on STEM-related subjects to generate successful graduates. So, what does all this buzz about STEM really mean? Haven’t we been teaching these subjects for years? Why, all of a sudden, is it not good enough?
STEM Is More than Meets the Eye
The answer lies in how we define STEM. Are science, technology, engineering and math the only things you learn from a STEM curriculum? Or, is there more to it?
As a scientist and an educator, I see value in understanding information such as scientific facts, the history of engineering, practical uses of technology and the applications of mathematical formulas. But for me, STEM is really about the process of discovery behind the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
It’s the doing part of STEM that is vital to the development of today’s students: brainstorming, predicting, decision-making, testing and problem-solving. For too long, these skills were put on the back burner in favor of simply knowing – memorizing facts and regurgitating them on standardized tests. But life and work is not a standardized test!
As a result, teachers and programs such as the National Youth Leadership Forum: Explore STEM, an Envision program, are finding new ways to introduce STEM subjects and engage students in ways they never could before.
Is STEM Here to Stay?
Will STEM always be the focus of classroom teaching, summer camps and after school clubs? Probably not. But the STEM process will always be important for incubating the next generation of innovators – those who experiment, try new things and improve on old ideas.
There are already new educational movements underway – STEAM (STEM + Art), for example – to combine STEM critical thinking with art, reading, civics and history. Undoubtedly, these subjects also play a role in helping students learn to process and create. But for now, it is the STEM curriculum that is leading the way to teach students how to think independently and prepare for 21st century life outside of the classroom.
In 20 years, we may not call it STEM, but the processes that ignite innovation will continue to be the most important success drivers for generations to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Whitener is a veteran science educator and serves as a blogger and program manager of STEM programs at Envision.