TQATA: The Question and the Answer
Sometimes in education I get the feeling that we have a love affair with acronyms. I know we are not alone in this among organizations, but ours seems especially unique. Perhaps acronyms make us feel like we know what we’re doing in the science of teaching which happens to be equal part art… masking the gray area helps to mask the inner insecurity that each teacher has as the only adult in the room. Whatever the reason, STEM is fast becoming the better known of these acronyms. Hence, why my blog posts will be dedicated to STEM (with a slight emphasis on the “S”), and also why an answer to the title question is in order.
TMHA: The Most Honest Answer
The most honest answer is that I don’t definitively know, but then I bet no-one has the 100% complete answer to the question. If someone tells you that s/he does then you should probably just “smile and nod”, and then promptly turn around and walk the other direction. However, since I’m supposed to be writing about STEM, then I should probably define it one way or another… at least within the context of my postings. So, for the contextual sake of speaking the same language, I’m going to give this a “go”.
TSCCOA: The Short Cheating Cop-Out Answer
When in doubt, go to the dictionary. This being the 21st century I visited a couple of online dictionaries:
- merriam-webster.com: STEM (abbreviation): science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
- dictionary.com: STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, considered as a group of academic or career fields (often used attributively).
Personally, I like the latter because it expands a little on the obvious, but short and sweet is good. Especially since the acronym has almost taken on a life of its own.
TLAWAELA: The Longer Answer with an Even Longer Acronym
This is also my most sincere answer for this context. More than anything STEM is the intentional integration of several distinct subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. The emphasis has come with the hope of raising awareness for subject-specific instruction of technology and engineering (especially). At the same time, there is a desire to show how math and science integrate with these areas in a way that is fun and engaging while simulating real-life applications in a challenging manner.
Each subject represented by STEM existed before the acronym, so STEM instruction is nothing new. Every school is already teaching the STEM subjects to some degree. The difference with the fancy-schmancy acronym is the intentional raising of awareness with regards to carefully planned application and integration. Good science instruction is still good science instruction, and the same is of course true for technology, engineering, and math.
One point of reflection that this discussion does bring up is how does one even define the separate subject categories of science, technology, engineering, and math? Again, for the sake of this blog post I’ll try:
- Science: study, explanation, and quantification of natural world around us.
- Technology: any tool not naturally found in nature and created by people.
- Engineering: knowledge applied to solve problems and meet needs/wants.
- Mathematics: study, explanation, and quantification of numerical patterns.
I think the importance of providing tentative and contextual definitions for these subject areas is that we are then able to identify natural points that overlap, compliment instruction, and provide opportunities for integration. For example, under these working definitions we can use math as a vehicle for science in order to design technological tools that help us address engineering challenges.
TAWSASA: The Ambiguously Wrong, Silly, and Snarky Answer
Ditto. Except STEM is whatever you feel it to be, so get in touch with your inner scientist and technologist while meditating about your engineering and math. The answer is all around you… for example, right now I feel like STEM could mean the following if not clearly defined for the context: Stegosaurus, Trilobite, Emu (not extinct but probably should be), Mastodon.
TSA: The Smart Answer
At this point… you may need to go somewhere else for that… so here’s a list to help you out. The first link takes you directly to a thoughtful article that does a very good job in my opinion… so much so that I wish I’d stumbled across it before writing this blog post! The remaining four links are generic websites with thought-provoking material and connections to STEM.
- NSTA Website: http://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=59305
- NGSS Website: http://www.nextgenscience.org/
- WA STEM: http://www.washingtonstem.org/
- STEMAZING: http://www.stemazing.org/
- NGSS Blogging Project: https://tdishelton.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/an-invitation-to-start-an-ngss-blog-reflect-connect-share/
TOCPA: The Obligatory Cat Picture Answer
TLYHBMYTA: The Leave-You-Hanging but Makes-You-Think Answer
Believe it or not, this blog post’s title1 is actually a recent quote from a not-to-be named senior district executive. Hence why it’s important to develop a working definition of STEM given your context. Otherwise, you may be profusely miscommunicating amidst the best of intentions. Now that we have a working definition of what STEM is for this series, we can answer the second part of the question: when are we going to start doing it? “Now” is the simple answer of course because we already do STEM. The extended answer, well, that’s another post…
1) Just as the STEM acronym has become somewhat of a monster all on its own, so has this blog post. Part deux will take place next month. So tune in next time: Same STEM time, same STEM channel.
*Please leave your thoughts, ideas, and gentle public floggings below… thanks!