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Don't Let STEM Become a Fad

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STEM has become the subject of community, curriculum, business, and budget conversations. The media gives it attention. Children's lives are changing because of it. This movement is grounded in the understanding that science, technology, engineering, and math are where the jobs of the future wait for our graduates. It also arises from a demand for schools to focus more in these fields. But, these are not the only reasons we should be learning about and implementing STEM in schools. 

There are students who are interested in technology and engineering and who are motivated math and science learners. Those students are on their way to higher education and advanced academic experiences in preparation for their future work.  There are far more students who have not discovered their strengths, have difficulty in the very subjects schools are elevating and emphasizing or have developed a mindset that these subjects are not "for them". 

STEM or STEAM ( which ever best describes the choices you are making in your school or system)  offers exactly the opportunity to educators strive to create in learning environments, one characterized by student engagement and academic success.  In order for student engagement and academic success to be part of the experience for all students, the simple elevation of the four (or five) subjects does not realize the full potential of the movement. So why STE(A)M?  Schools have served well for a century or more and have been held accountable by subject standards, test results and graduation rates.  A body of knowledge had to be learned by graduation. But, that is no longer enough.   

Our world used to be based on absolutes, or, at least, it seemed so.  We believed words spoken. We ascribed good intentions to actions of others. We trusted the banks who held our money and lent us money. We believed that a medication would not harm us and that products sold to us were safe.  We thought our water was drinkable and our government would not let us down in a crisis. Although now threatened with the loss of Net Neutrality, we still have the opportunity to find all kinds of truths online. How can schools prepare students to determine the truth, and solve problems that we cannot teach them about because they don't exist yet? 

That is where we can learn from STE(A)M.  These subjects exist in the service of each other.  The message to educators is the interdisciplinarity these subjects make obvious.  If we teach the way these subjects are used in the world beyond the school walls, students can experience the dynamism of the connection of the subjects. That is what captures interest.

While attention is being given to STE(A)M clubs, subjects and teachers, it is important to bring everyone's attention to the idea as the lynchpin of a larger shift. Yes, we have written about this before, but we think it bears repeating.  STE(A)M will fade as just another fad unless school leaders and teachers build a foundation for it across the system. The foundation allows for a shift in the way teaching and learning will take place moving forward. On that foundation, parents, community members, politicians, business partners, and higher education faculty and institutions are invited to join.  On that stimulating, common ground learning takes place, adults and students experiment, learn, fail, succeed, and share experiences in order to advance the design of what STE(A)M looks like in K-12 in each district.

As with all things we do, we cannot gather support and momentum if we cannot invite support of others through clear communication about purpose. We have been trapped in the silos of subjects for too long. They have become comofrot zones for us and for parents and students but the world no longer works that way.  Evidence is growing graduation rates and gaining higher standardized test scores, yet neither are guarantors of success post graduation. It may be a generation before the effects of being prepared or not for the world of work. STE(A)M, based upon interdisciplinarity and problem solving, reveals its impact in more immediate ways. Students are engaged, gaps become clear, teachers learn quickly where mini-lessons are needed, achievement can be viewed in performance, learning is embedded in the solving of real problems, and progress is observable. 

STE(A)M can be a program or a club or  a teacher or a class but if it remains at those incidental moments, it will be just another fad and will be short lived. It can also be the way schools build their system of teaching and learning.  If that happens, it will have staying power. It might look like this.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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