Monthly Archives: September 2015

STEM … plus plus plus = ???

So STEM. I talked about what it means to me in an earlier brief post. I most often hear it as an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, and math,” as in “STEM Education” (in fact, my professional title includes STEM Education). However, operationally, educators struggle with what it means to be STEM. This, among other problems, has implications for what gets grant funding to try and investigate the effectiveness of a STEM approach. Are we integrating all of these topics in one class? Are we teaching all of them side-by-side? Is it sufficient to integrate just two at a time? How do we actually go about integrating any of these topics together, anyway? What do we mean by “technology”? And the list goes on … Even the federalĀ government’s support of STEM Education seems to reflect a lack of a single answer on this subject.

To add to that confusion, there are now so many groups that want to support this/these efforts (or cynically, hitch their wagon to the popular train), that it has, to my mind, gotten ridiculous. To wit, here is a complete list of all the STEM “plus” or alternative versions I have heard, in no particular order:

STEAM (Arts, sometimes Agriculture)

Ag-STEM (Agriculture)

C-STEM (computers/computing/computer science)

STEM+H (health)

STEM, where the M is medicine instead of math

I-STEAM (innovation)

S-STEM (spatial, i.e. geography/GIS)

S-STEM (space)

If I use all of these different letters as a separate topic and try to make an anagram with a helpful, fun, mnemonic such as STEM, Anagrammer gives me an untold number of options. Some of the problems with STEM plus plus plus are reflected in the words that could result: “chasm,” “mess,” and an anagram of the acronym of my favorite geometric theorem: side-angle-side, which I think some of this chaos of STEM plus plus plus makes educators and researchers look like!

So forgive me if I continue to use “science” to encompass all ya’ll’s flavors. I agree simply calling everything “science” doesn’t really adequately encompass the subtly different ways of thinking that some of these disciplines embody, but I think STEM (especially with all its add-ons) has gotten out of hand. It also remains to be seen who outside of education and research disciplines even know what we’re talking about when we discuss science (especially as a systematic way of thinking), let alone STEM. For now, I’m choosing to say science as the least inside baseball. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions (and more versions of STEM plus!).

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