A New Definition for STEM?

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There’s a discussion going on on on of the LinkedIn forums. Someone is trying to come up with a definition for STEM. Here’s the draft:

STEM Education Defined: STEM Education is the integration of the interdependent educational disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math; with the aim of optimizing student learning relevancy for both college and career readiness.

It seems to me this is related to my last post about the tendency Educators have to obfuscate perfectly straight-forward terminology for…. well, I’m still not sure exactly why. Becuase it’s cool?

Here’s my response:
What’s wrong with defining STEM as simply:

The combined disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math?

Why is a new definition needed?

The most useful and enduring terms tend to be the simplest ones.
You’re not going to fix what’s wrong with education in these disciplines by re-defining what they should mean. What needs to be fixed is what and how we teach.

I’ve been a scientist and computer science instructor since 1979. My first two degrees are in Computer Science. I’ve only recently become an ‘official’ educator by earning my terminal degree in Education.

My approach is that of someone who has been living and teaching these disciplines my entire adult life.

Let’s decompose this definition and see where it takes us:

the integration of the interdependent educational disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math;

We can probably agree that it is helpful to name the disciplines that make up the acronym, so:

S = Science
T = Technology
E = Engineering
M = Math

OK so far. What about the first part?

integration of the interdependent educational disciplines

They’re not really educational disciplines – they are disciplines in their own right. You can get PhD’s in them. The acronym STEM is often paired with the word Education to produce “STEM Education”.

The integration of things that are interdependent seems redundant to me. In computer science, as in math redundancy is to be eliminated – so we don’t really need that phrase at all. It doesn’t add anything to our understanding of the term STEM.

That leaves us with:

with the aim of optimizing student learning relevancy

That is a worthy aim, but I would think it’s a given in education. Do we ever NOT want to do this? If true, it also adds nothing to the definition (except more words).

for both college and career readiness.

This is also a given. Do we ever NOT want to do this when we are teaching? See above.

That leaves us with:

STEM: The combined disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math?

The rest should be discussions about the details and the how’s and why’s. Those discussions absolutely need to take place. I think that would be more useful than a new definition for STEM.

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