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In the education world STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is the current hot topic. There’s no secret about why this is; technology is the biggest moneymaker in the world of business today. Not only are tech products and the concepts behind them driving the global economy, but technology promises the solution to end all sorts of problems within the world, ranging from health care, to global hunger, and more.

As a teacher, I have spent a lot of time researching whether teaching STEM concepts are really worthwhile for my students as a whole. I’m an English teacher by training, but I find myself in a unique spot where I am teaching a technology course for the first time this year. At first, I was a little reluctant because teaching something like how to code just because a lot of other schools are doing it makes very little sense. If 10 percent of my students go into a technology-related field, I would be extremely surprised. Realistically, this number is likely to be 5 percent or lower–and that’s still a bit higher than the national average.

If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it correctly. I didn’t want to just jump on yet another educational bandwagon, and sacrifice the learning of my students as a result.

What I found was that in the end, the vast majority of students do not need to know how to code or many of the other concepts that STEM promotes. Think about this at a personal level: how often do you use Calculus in your job? How often do you need to design a vehicle that can fulfill a very specific function? How often do you use HTML? These are fun to learn, but learning how to do things like this needs to feed into a larger purpose for our students. Teaching these activities for the sake of teaching them is not productive. Even if we capture the attention of a handful of students and they move into research professions, the impact that it will have on the rest of the students will be negligible at the best. There needs to be a purpose behind teaching these skills, and it needs to be present in each lesson presented. This is true of middle school STEM lessons, or college level classes.

At the middle and high school levels, that purpose will vary, but I prefer to focus on the problem solving side of things. This is a skill that most students do not have, at least according to anecdotal observation. When a complex problem arises, students often do not know where to begin. STEM skills enable students to take a complex problem and break it down into easily solved components. This is transferable to every other class and subject, and when this is the focus of STEM lessons at the lower levels of education, students are suddenly better able to tackle their work, regardless of what career path they may want to pursue.

So is STEM absolutely a must in our schools? No, not at all. What is necessary is the skills that STEM teaches. That doesn’t include the computer skills that are being so heavily touted, but rather the critical thinking component. If our students can think deeply about issues, they can find success in any field that they wish to pursue, STEM related and beyond.

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  1. Michelle Crapo

    I agree a little and disagree as well.   In the US STEM is lagging.    So there will be a shortage.   As we become more world wide, that means companies will be looking outside of the US for the talent.   That’s good – as long as our kids have something marketable.

    If you are not teaching STEM at the high school or middle school level – then how do they know if a career would be good for them or not.    English combined with technology gives us some awesome technical writer.

    I think there needs to be at least a minimum exposure.   Then more core courses that are offered for those that want to continue.

    My Story:

    I graduated high school in 1987.  (Just setting up what was available then.)  I took one word processing class and ONE – the only one – programming class.   Then I made the mistake of going to my consular – who in his opinion thought that me going to college for “programing” was stupid.   All the programming would be done by the time I graduated.   Now remember those were the days when the floppy disk was really floppy.   The internet was a phone line.

    I did different jobs for 2 years – not going to college.   Then I was working at a bank and taking a night accounting class.   It required some basic knowledge of if/then/else.   I was in love.   I was lucky, my parents allowed me to stay at home – for free, and paid for my college.

    Yes I graduated in a technical industry.    Not originally in SAP, but there.   I think if more people were encouraged in school, they would find out just how fun it is.    Then they could follow through on STEM in college.   Maybe even get a scholarship.

    Where I do agree with you – is after the first simple course – offer it as an optional class.   I bet you’d be surprised how many would take it.

    BTW – I use almost all the things you listed above – of course +More

    Michelle

     

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