STEM is not simply creating lessons that incorporate the subjects each letter represents- science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM is not a subject that involves quizzes and worksheets. This class has a deeper purpose. It is supposed to make up for what is lacking in the subjects that are under test pressure. STEM is supposed to encourage creativity and play. It is based on discovery learning and curiosity. It is more of a practice than an actual topic to topic curriculum. Learners practice learning. They question, investigate, research, develop ideas and face a great deal of trail and error. STEM, if delivered correctly, should produce empowered, life-long learners. Children should leave a STEM classroom with the understanding that they have the power over their own knowledge and path. They can do anything in life. They just have to put their mind to it and learn.
To break it down a little more, STEM incorporates the skills of the scientists, techs, engineers and mathematicians. How do these humans solve problems? How do they succeed in their fields? They practice discovery learning. They are confronted with questions, tasks and problems, and they have to use reasoning skills to seek out the answers. They research and develop models. They think creatively. They use their reasoning skills to succeed in their careers and life.
So, those who break down a STEM class into regimented subject matter are not actually teaching STEM. If a teacher designs a project and requires students to follow a subject structure, students will miss the overall goal behind STEM. For example, suppose a teacher creates a project around the declining population of monarch butterflies, and she breaks the requirements down according to the subjects-
Science- Research the declining monarch populations.
Technology- Create graph using Excel
Engineering- Create a model of the migration routes.
Mathematics- Calculate percentages of population declines.
While this lesson structure does meet all of the requirements on the surface of STEM, students will be missing the deeper value and overall goal of this subject. On the other hand, a teacher would be on the verge of reaching the goals of STEM if she were to simply pose the problem and the question- Monarch butterfly populations are declining at an alarming rate. How can we help? Beginning a lesson in this manner will spark curiosity and concern. Students will have to think creatively and use the very same skills STEM professionals use. Students will have to research, develop ideas and network to accomplish goals. They may face both defeat and success. They may have to modify their approaches. They will have to practice. Students will experience what it is like to be faced with a problem, to learn and then to apply their knowledge to find success. This is the true purpose of STEM- creating active learners that apply their understanding to think critically and make changes in our world.