I'm not a religious person. I do, however, believe that we all have talents that we should use to leave this world a better place than we found it. To that end, I have been, and continue to be, very fortunate to have opportunities to discover and hone my passions for science and STEM education...all with the end goal of bettering our world. In a three-part series, I'll attempt to tackle the following questions: What is STEM? Why STEM? How do we do this?
What is STEM?
Over the course of the past year, and especially the last month, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the purpose of STEM education and what I have to contribute to the field. I started by defining STEM, which I actually did for the Cotsen STEAM conference in February using bits and pieces developed by our Fullerton STEM Ecosystem Team.
Breaking it Down:
Set of Skills: You can think of these as the 21st century skills, the NGSS science and engineering practices, the CCSS math practices, etc. If you've spent any time looking at these, I'm sure that it's no surprise that there's a significant amount of overlap between these skillsets. These are the tools in our metaphorical tool belts that we use to do our work. While we should develop these skills within a specific context, the important attribute of a skill is that it should be transferrable to a new situation. Given the pace at which our world is changing, transferability of skills is a must.
Mindset: Having a growth mindset has become the vogue term within the world of education. With its healthy attitude toward failure, I think the growth mindset is certainly inline with the STEM mindset, but with an added emphasis on the risk-taking that is inherent in the processes of inquiry and innovation. I'd also add in that the STEM mindset features a relentless pursuit for both questions or problems, and answers or solutions. It embodies what it means to be a restless learner, which I've referenced previously.
Body of Knowledge: This is the part, as content experts, that teachers tend to have under control. There is an awful lot of content knowledge amassed within the STEM disciplines. I don't think I need to elaborate here very much.
Solving Meaningful Community & Global Problems
At the "Engaging Girls in STEM" town hall event hosted by Riverside County Office of Education, Paula Evans reminded us that, "Without context, STEM is just a gimmick." It was a simple statement, but the more I reflect on it, the more wisdom I see in those simple words. This is why I loathe the index card towers and think that just driving robots around is a missed learning opportunity. Here, inquiry-based pedagogies such as 5E and project-based learning (PBL) play an important role. Done well, they encourage students to ask and answer meaningful questions and identify and solve relevant problems. That's the heart what I think we're here for - but more on that tomorrow.
Bringing it full circle, the biggest point that I'd make is that STEM is not just science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It's greater than the sum of its disciplines. So, let's erase the periods between S.T.E.M., as it's traditionally written, and let it stand as its own entity.