STEM is not a new concept, it’s been around since about 2001. The integration of Science (S), Technology (T), Engineering (E) and Math (M) was created to help bring about a more integrated approach to teaching topics that can naturally go together. It is an outstanding idea that can help teachers and schools develop curricula that crosses over. It can foster team teaching with multiple departments. It can help inspire students to consider a field like engineering for a college major, because they’ve had lots of exposure to it at an early age (the same applies to the other pieces of STEM).
As a science teacher I’ve always tried to integrate and design things that crossed over. One example of crossing into STEM design would be more than just content – but in action and planning. In Life Science we had students in their technology class design a web page that would serve as a travel website for a biome. Spiraling the type of content you teach in any grade will allow you lots of opportunity to integrate and execute STEM in all of your lessons.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been teaching a while…and I’ve seen the great teaching hot trends come and go. We had integrated science, backward design (UBD), spiral curriculum and now we have STEM. Each time a new trend came out I became a little too aware that these acronyms became more of a public relations tool and less of a mantra for the improvement of curriculum. In this way STEM too may get lost if a school only buys into saving face and claiming that they really do STEM.
A school that really buys into STEM will get away from the teacher centered classroom and try to make an inquiry based classroom (as much as possible). It will require problem solving, discovery and exploratory learning which requires more planning and design by the administration and teachers. Adopting this type of teaching is a conscious decision that can require schedule change, classroom change and even subject matter changes.
Hopefully STEM will not get lost like other trends because it has some really solid principles that can help create independent thinkers. Even if your school does not adopt STEM you can always take small steps to create an environment of inquiry that inspires students to do what they do best…be little explorers!