Selling STEM to teachers, administrators and in some ways, the world, I run into all kinds of questions and opinions. Many don’t know what the acronym means, or don’t like the acronym, or actually, just don’t understand what the acronym implies. Many educators view it as a way to teach Mathematics and Science, not an integrated way to teach, discover and learn about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Many public schools, highly rated ones at that, believe they are STEM schools because they achieve in math and science, and use computers. There is a general lack of understanding that STEM is not just traditional math and science. Teaching those subjects with traditional direct instruction, the memorize stuff way, won’t cut it for the future. The scope of what STEM means needs to be explored and understood. Most jobs involve something related to STEM. Think about the need to understand ratio, proportion, and chemistry — how to prepare food. Cosmetologists and hair stylists need to understand chemistry and spatial relations. Everyone needs to know that technology does not mean only computer literacy, but to understand how a computer actually works and what the basics of programming are. The goal is to create students who are prepared for the world by becoming STEM literate. That is all students, not just those who will be scientists and inventors.
The acronym and its consequential implications trouble me. People see in it what they want to see. For this reason I constantly write, talk and persuade. A school principal of a school for math and science, recently asked me what STEM is, and as a result, STEAM. At the same time, he was very receptive to the forward thinking nature of these concepts and my programs. My dismay at this realization leads me to continue on my mission to educate and explain.
Having the experience of a curriculum coordinator telling me just to “make stuff,” and that would fulfill the school’s need for STE[a]M pedagogy, is distressing. It’s not upsetting in the way that a national disaster or the premature death of a child upsets, but to me, it is nonetheless upsetting. We rob our children of their rightful education. All children, today and now. I am not equating it to a national disaster like a hurricane, fire or flood, but I do consider it a national disaster.
In order for students to be career and college ready, they must be “LIFE READY.” By that, I mean they need to be able to think, problem solve and communicate, not just memorize and use someone else’s words. The “education world” understands this by creating 21st century skills — Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. The FOUR C’s have been out there for years. But what are we as educators and parents doing about it besides nodding our heads?
In my pushing of the STEM or STE[a]M protocol as a way to learn for all students, I include being literate: computer literate and communication literate. A student must be able to read and write and communicate through a variety of media. A student must know HOW to find information rather than only memorize the WHAT. Teachers must be facilitators instead of all-knowing authorities. They must admit when they don’t know something and assist in finding out rather than making it up. (Yes, many teachers misinform to protect their authority). It is a journey for students and teachers that winds down a sometimes bumpy and curvy path. It is not a knowledge highway. It is a road where failure may lead to success.
The making stuff to create a STEM or STE[a]M program is just glorified arts and crafts. There must be a direction and purpose. There must be design, understanding form and function, and learning rather than modeling or imitating. Students must answer reflective questions and reflect on their own learning. They don’t need to be a success at everything. They will learn from failure and as a result, create. Education must become a process.
This post serves not only as a forum for me to vent my frustrations, but also a place to think and reflect. To learn and discuss. To absorb these ideas and come up with something new. That is the purpose of STEM.