Time and reflection on the past offers an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-boot. I look back at the many articles and posts I have written and sometimes chuckle a bit. I really meant what I said when I said it. And, I meant it with fervor, truly. So with that same sincerity and enthusiasm, I reflect and offer yet another idea.
I think we have all evolved around the definition of STEM education and STEM for all. We recognize the need for STEM related workers and also STEM literacy to function well in the world.
What is STEM or STEAM education now? What should it be? What should it include? I ask this of myself all the time as I receive numerous inquires to weigh-in on what STEAM is. I compel myself to examine with sincerity and always evolve my thinking.
STEM education is certainly taking hold. There are STEM programs in many schools, or at least something in that format being called STEM. Students like the idea of design and build. Certainly this hands-on, experiential, and practical way to teach math and science content resonates. Of course, I hope that students and teachers alike understand that they are using that content to “engineer” a new technology. Experiential learning, building with your hands and also exploring the world of computer science and programming continue to get my attention.
Many programs are calling themselves STEM or STEAM and often, parents don’t always know what that includes. They know that they are supposed to have these opportunities for their kids. They think about their children’s’ future workforce and monetary success. My fear comes from my experience that an integrated, thorough protocol is not happening in that many places. The idea of STEM and STEAM as just another recipe using a questionable question to make something qualifies. Often the deep learning or iterative phase is short or nonexistent. We need to examine what it is, what we want students to know and be able to do, and what the outcomes of STEM/STEAM programs should be. Critical thinking and problem solving should be high on that list. Teaching those skills is not a quick fix. Please – those who are really doing it – call me out!
And then there are maker spaces which run the gamut from true creative and design thinking workspaces to just places to copy and do some kind of arts and crafts. (So glad you can’t throw things at me!)
So what is it that I envision?
It is an education that includes everyone. It is an education that creates whole children and thinkers. It is an education that encourages and allows children to think and question, fail and try again and reflect. It is taking what is learned and applying it to something new – critical thinking. I want students to experience art and music and literature and the value of history and be able to use the skills that knowledge gives them to be more profound thinkers. I want students to understand the scope of history and our world and how thinking and ideas have evolved. I want students to use what they learn, and if they are going to engineer, be sure that this is better for the world. I want students to value their role as a person who is a part of the world, consider that world and the future — not just themselves and how much money they can make. I want students to think, “Are they hurting someone or something else? Are they making the world better?” I want students who have empathy and understand its importance.
The goal should be more than just workforce development. That is what Higher Education has become. We need to add to these technical oriented programs so that students can experience the vast scope of knowledge and what that knowledge brings to life. Otherwise we are creating job-ready people with no heart and no humanity. Will this be a happy, fulfilled population? Or will there be a continuous yearning, not knowing what one is yearning for?
There are some curious statistics, and it will be interesting to see what the future brings. Many people with STEM degrees don’t work in STEM fields. Why is the question.
This suggestion is a grand one, and to add to technical degrees will take more time, and as a result, cost more. I believe this cost is valid. I fear for that the world that this selective, narrow education will create. Whole people needed.
Links to explore: