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What is STEM?

Here at CeMaST we get asked this question a lot, and we have to ask ourselves this a lot when deciding whether or not an opportunity to collaborate or seek funding fits our mission. The following points summarize our stance on what "STEM" is and what it isn't.

  • STEM is an acronym that refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Often, alternatives to STEM are proposed, such as STEAM (to incorporate art) and STREAM (to incorporate reading or religion). Our stance on this is that interdisciplinary learning experiences are often better representations of the real world than education that erects arbitrary boundaries between disciplines. However, acronyms should reflect deep, meaningful learning experiences. Individually, the STEM disciplines already inherently involve creativity and reading, so this is not reason to add a letter to the acronym. Additions to the acronym should only be made when a specific program or learning opportunity is truely integrated with the added discipline.
  • Sometimes there is an assumption that a program must involve all four STEM discplines equally to be considered "STEM." Our stance is that it is most important that learning experiences should simulate as much as possible authentic practice in the discipline. When a learning experience is made to be authentic, it ends up reflecting the degree of disciplinary integration that is appropriate for the STEM discipline.
  • Integrated STEM instruction is an approach teaching the STEM subjects in an interdisciplinary way, mirroring how STEM disciplines are applied in the real world. Often "STEM" is used synonymously with "hands-on" learning, but it is so much more than that. Many "hands-on" activities do not support the conceptual development of STEM ideas, nor do they engage students in the authentic practices of STEM disciplines. Integrated STEM learning is hands-on/minds-on, such that students are engaging in deliberately chosen and sequenced activities that foster STEM-relevant skills while also allowing students to think like scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.