What is STEM (or STEAM)?

This is such a simple question. Its answer, though, is complex. At least among educators, there seems to be a general assumption when people discuss STEM or STEAM that their audience knows what they mean. The irony in this is that communication in science and mathematics depends on clearly defined terminology. Yet here we are, tossing about another edu-term in our schools and the internet. Since this blog is just being born, let’s bring clarity to this term from the start.

For starters, you might earn $200 on Jeopardy! for knowing the acronym: STEM = Science + Technology + Engineering + Math (in STEAM, the A is often Applied Arts). But an acronym doesn’t define a term.

From here, it may be helpful (if obvious) to state that STEM is NOT simply a 21st century buzzword for what we’ve always meant by “science.” That would make it S. Which is a really impractical acronym.

So what is it? For the purposes of this blog, STEM refers to the natural interconnectedness and interdependence of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEM is NOT simply a lesson that has a component of each individual discipline. It’s not an elective class. It’s not even really a program. STEM is an educational framework central to 21st century literacy.

Science, mathematics, and engineering are formalized disciplines, replete with their own bodies of knowledge learned through centuries of work and study. STEM isn’t trying to repackage these or forcibly combine them. Rather, the productive 21st century citizen is able to apply the knowledge and skills of each of these distinct STEM disciplines to identify questions and problems in life situations, to explain the natural and designed world, to communicate and reason with evidence, and to approach problem-solving with creativity and persistence. STEM builds the 21st century competencies of non-routine problem solving, self-development and self-management, innovation, systems thinking, and adaptability.

Visually, STEM education can be pictured as a rope of four strands, each of which represents one of the separate disciplines. Together, they form a strong tool that is meant to be applied in the natural world. This image forms the basis for any implementation of STEM or STEAM in education.

STEM Instructional Model.png

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Author: andy

STEAM educator, father of two, husband of one, folder of origami. When I root I root for the Timbers. Opinions my own.

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