What’s up with #STEM or #STEAM?

A recent article in New York Times, Education Life, has an article entitled, Where the STEAM Jobs Are/Aren’t?  The author, Steve Lohr, missed the opportunity to focus his research and writing on the value of integrated studies in K-12 education.  Instead he focused on the availability of jobs in these markets.  Sure that’s important, but it’s an end not the means for getting there.
Most educators I know in the STEM/STEAM movements are looking for ways to integrate these curricula in school, rather than have a child’s studies siloed into academic disciplines.   While the reality and availability of jobs are important aspects of the STEM/STEAM conversation, preparing students to think across the boundaries of the disciplines is much more important.  STEM/STEAM programs designed well teach students how to use their math in understanding science concepts, apply engineering principles when addressing a science or technical challenge, and learn the value of artistic expression to illustrate how cells function.  In STEM/STEAM studies, students are expected to collaborate, write, and communicate their understanding of the concepts  they study.  The incorporation 21st Century skills with important content knowledge is the focus of well-designed STEM/STEAM curricula.  When students engage in this type of work, they become more invested in their learning.  They see the connections that serve as the framework for understanding complex problems.  As a result they are better prepared to take on the challenging jobs in the STEM/STEAM fields.  Systems thinking is what we should be designing for.

Whether the jobs are there for them is of concern, but their effective preparation for those jobs is the work of school.  Effective preparation requires that we are thoughtful designers of STEM/STEAM curricula that integrates the disciplines.  In order to be successful designers, educators need to be well versed in the connections between disciplines.  We have to understand how scientists, mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists, writers, artists and other professionals think, problem solve, create, and use their knowledge of different disciplines to understand the task at hand.  In my experience working with educators on STEM/STEAM curriculum development, we have our work cut out for us.  We have learning to do.

The challenge we face as educators is that most of integrated curricula has to be written by us because publishers of curricula have not innovated sufficiently around the integration of content.  They still write and publish math textbooks, science textbooks, social studies textbooks.  This requires us to think about the design, write the materials, and test them in the classroom.  We need to create networks to share ideas.  Hopefully, our design of curricula is for the daily classroom experience and not merely for after-school programs.  It would be unfortunate if students sat in siloed classrooms all day and then had interesting STEM/STEAM experiences outside their normal classes.  I don’t think that should be our vision for STEM/STEAM education in America.

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