STEM: Defying a Simple Definition

In today’s NSTA ReportsJonathan Gerlach, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator working on federal education policy on Capitol Hill currently on leave from Hillsborough County (Florida) Public Schools, gives his perspective on varying definitions of STEM:

On its surface, “STEM” is the acronym of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, when you pull that first layer away, you reveal the most elaborate puzzle in the education world. Most educators know what STEM stands for, but how many really know what it means? […]

As educators, we seem to consider STEM singularly from an educational perspective in which success in science and mathematics is increasingly important and technology and engineering are “integrated” when appropriate. When you start to divide STEM by subject (the silo approach), it gets even murkier. Can science and mathematics alone be STEM? Does using an electronic whiteboard during a lesson make it a STEM lesson? When my kindergarteners are playing with building blocks, is that a STEM center? If you ask 10 different science, mathematics, technology, and engineering teachers to define STEM, each will give you a very different and unique answer.

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