STEM or STEAM? We're Missing the Point
STEM education is one of the most talked about subjects in our country today -- and for good reason. From our K-12 system and post-secondary institutions to business, industry and government, most everyone is focused on -- or at least has something to say about -- STEM education as a key solution to improve educational performance and solve the persistent workforce development problems that plague our nation.
But what exactly is STEM education? It's much more than science, technology, engineering and math, which are usually taught as discrete subjects with math down one hallway in the school and science down another. Rather, STEM is the applied, integrated approach to those subjects. It is about using math and science to solve real-world challenges and problems. This applied, project-based way of teaching and learning allows students to understand and appreciate the relevancy of their work to the world around them. Arguably, STEM is at the core of everything.
I'm often asked why science, technology, engineering and math are the only words used to create the acronym, and when Project Lead The Way (PLTW), the STEM organization I am proud to lead, will change STEM to STEAM, STREAM or STEMM -- incorporating art, reading or music into the acronym. If that is the debate, we are clearly missing the point. It's not about adding to the acronym, but instead adding to the relevancy of learning. It's about showing students how technical concepts relate to real-world situations and providing them with hands-on projects and problems that help them apply concepts in a new context. It's about nurturing students' curiosity and helping them develop creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. STEM isn't simply the subjects in the acronym. It's an engaging and exciting way of teaching and learning.